With training camp and preseason underway, the New England Patriots are fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 80 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in August and September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we are taking a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.
Today, the series continues with defensive tackle Carl Davis.
Name: Carl Davis
Position: Defensive tackle/Interior defensive line
Jersey number: 98
Opening day age: 29
Size: 6-foot-5, 320 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2021 (2022 UFA)
What is his experience? Following an impressive career at the University of Iowa, Carl Davis entered the 2014 NFL Draft as one of the better prospects along the interior defensive line. As such, he was selected in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens. He did spend the first three years of his professional career in Baltimore but was unable to rise beyond reserve status: Davis appeared in 28 games for the club before eventually being released as part of the Ravens’ roster cutdowns ahead of the 2018 season.
Despite being a possible practice squad candidate, Davis never made it to Baltimore’s scout team and instead was claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Browns. He remained with the team throughout the 2018 season, but played only 31 defensive snaps over five games. Nevertheless, he re-signed with the club the following offseason. However, Davis never set foot onto the field as a Brown again: he was released in August, and spent the 2019 season with the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars.
After appearing in a combined three games for the two AFC South squads, he eventually found his way to New England during the 2020 season. Once again, however, he failed to carve out a regular role and eventually saw only limited playing time all year.
What did his 2020 season look like? Just two days into the 2020 offseason, Davis was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the upcoming year: he was found to have violated the policy against performance-enhancing substances. Regardless of the suspension, the Jaguars did re-sign Davis in free agency. He was later released after the draft, re-signed, reinstated following his league-mandated absence, and eventually let go in mid-October after his roster exemption was lifted.
Davis eventually joined Jacksonville’s practice squad one day later, but did not stay there for long: the Patriots poached him off the developmental roster by signing him onto their 53-man squad the very next day. In New England, Davis finally saw some in-game action again by appearing in three contests while trying to fill the big-bodied nose tackle position that has been vacated due to Danny Shelton’s free agency departure and the mystery ailment that had knocked Beau Allen out of the season.
In that role, Davis appeared in three games as a Patriot and played a combined 51 snaps on defense as well as an additional 11 in the kicking game. Registering three tackles as well as a pair of quarterback pressures, the journeyman looked like a solid addition to fix a leaky run defense. However, he had already dealt with a concussion when arriving in New England and later was sent to injured reserve because of the same issue. Even though Davis returned to practice in mid-December he never was activated off IR.
What is his projected role? The Patriots invested considerable resources in their interior defensive line this offseason, which in turn will make it hard for Davis to carve out a regular role. However, that does not mean he has no value to the club. After all, he looked good last season as a big-bodied tackle aligning everywhere between the nose and the 3-technique spots. Heading into 2021, he could therefore serve as a rotational and package-specific member of New England’s early-down and short-yardage defense.
What is his special teams value? Due to their athletic profile, defensive tackles usually do not see plenty of action in the kicking game. Davis will not be an exception this season, but he should still see some snaps in the game’s third phase — at least if 2020 is an indication: New England used him as a punt rusher as well as a member of its field goal/extra point blocking units. He was not used in any special teams capacity during this year’s preseason so far, but he offers some experience.
Does he have positional versatility? New England moves its defensive linemen all over the formation to create the best possible matchups for the hybrid front seven, but Davis’ positional flexibility is still comparatively limited. He will align primarily as an interior lineman and, as noted above, can play anywhere between the 0- and the 3-technique spots. However, he should not be expected to have regular success on the outside of the defensive line.
What is his salary cap situation? Davis returned to the Patriots in free agency by signing a one-year contract that qualifies for the veteran salary benefit. As a result of this, his base salary this season is actually higher than his cap hit: Davis will play on a $990,000 salary but his cap number is only $858,824 with no guarantees embedded into the deal. The defender does therefore currently not qualify for Top-51 status and will only count against New England’s books if he makes the 53-man roster.
What is his roster outlook? He may have been an under-the-radar signing in free agency, but Davis has made a solid case for himself this summer. The 29-year-old has played some good football in practice and preseason, and appears to be the frontrunner for the potential final roster spot along the interior defensive line. Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr, Henry Anderson and Christian Barmore are all locks to make the team, and Davis could very well be the next in line.