Of the Patriots defensive tackle group, two are in contract years and could be playing on other teams in 2021. The other two players projected to make the roster in 2020 are a journeyman rotational defensive lineman and last year’s fifth-round pick. The team certainly could use some long term stability at the position, especially in a year where quality defensive tackle options could be had.
One of the players that projects to go in the Top 40 picks is Alabama lineman Raekwon Davis. Depending on which year you watch, you’re looking at a potential game-changer inside or a guy who couldn’t build on a breakout sophomore campaign and regressed to a lower level of play. Depending on which level you believe is the baseline moving forward, Davis is either a Day One or Day Two selection.
Name: Raekwon Davis
Position: Defensive Tackle/3-4 Defensive End
Size: 6’6” 311, 33 7/8” arms, 11” hands
Combine numbers: 28” vertical, 9’3” broad jump, 4.86 5-10-5 shuttle, 7.95 3-cone
Expected Round: 1st
Strengths: Davis has elite physical tools at the defensive tackle position with the ideal blend of length, strength, and athleticism. He can fit any type of scheme either as a big defensive tackle over the middle or a two-gapping defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Davis is great against the run, using his strength to stack and shed offensive lineman at the point of attack. His sophomore year was an indication of what his potential upside as a player could be with the right coaching.
Weaknesses: While Davis had the great sophomore year, he struggled to repeat that production the following two years, which will drop him from Top-15 consideration to maybe a first rounder. He’s a better fit for a two-gap scheme, where interior lineman are asked to be more disruptive than productive. With all that athletic talent, he’s a boom/bust prospect who will need the right type of coaching to get the most out of him.
Who would he have to beat out? Davis would be guaranteed a spot based on his draft selection for the next two seasons, but it puts Deatrich Wise Jr., Byron Cowart, and Beau Allen on the bubble with two of them likely getting the axe this summer.
How many downs could he contribute: The Patriots rotate their linemen by series, not by downs, so he’d be on the field for all three downs. He’d be more effective on run downs vs. passing downs. For special teams, I can see see him being on the field goal/point-after block units as a long and strong guy to form/push the pocket on those plays.
2020 Role: Davis would be competing for the #3 DT role in camp. After Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler, the rest of the snaps at the position is up for grabs. His experience playing in a similar scheme at Alabama will help him adjust to the NFL and could be a part-time contributor as a rookie.
Long Term Role: When the Patriots likely lose Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler to free agency, Davis projects to be a bigger part of the rotation. The Patriots rotate their linemen by series, so he could end up being on the top unit as a longer, stronger guy next to a guy like Cowart or Allen in 2021. Depending on what they do at the position over the next calendar year, Davis could be their #1 option. His potential special teams contribution was already listed above, but he could see time on the field goal and field goal block units as I’ve seen Vince Wilfork and Alan Branch on those units in the past.
Why the Patriots? Even though DT isn’t a pressing need for the team this year, Belichick’s decisions are always make the move a year early than a year late. Davis could be an intriguing option for the Patriots if they trade back from 23 and he’s still available in the 2nd round as a plug and play DT with 4 years of control. Davis isn’t as much of a projection in the Patriots scheme as other DTs in the draft after playing in a similar scheme with similar duties at Alabama.
Why not the Patriots? The two biggest reasons why the Patriots won’t take Davis if available is simply the value isn’t there in the first two rounds and the team isn’t a fan of his regressed play as an upperclassman. I don’t believe Davis will fall out of the first round, as I think some team will fall in love with the attributes and upside.
Verdict: Davis would be a solid option towards adding longer term certainty to a position group that doesn’t offer much. There are a lot of concerns that make Davis a high bust probability defensive tackle, but his ability to anchor against the run in a 2-gap scheme fits the Patriots’ defensive scheme. The regression in play is likely something that Belichick has discussed with Nick Saban, so he may have an idea of what happened. I don’t believe that Davis will make it to the Patriots pick to begin with, but I’ve seen stranger things happen in the draft (especially from the AL East’s attempts to catch up to the Patriots in the previous decade).