With the preseason and roster cutdowns in the books, the New England Patriots are now fully on to their upcoming 2022 campaign.
The Patriots currently have 53 players under contract plus 16 more on their practice squad. Leading up to the regular season opener, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the men competing for roster spots and playing time to find out who has the best chances of helping New England build on its 10-7 record.
Today, the series concludes with the highest jersey number currently issued — that of veteran defensive tackle Carl Davis.
Name: Carl Davis Jr.
Position: Defensive tackle/Interior defensive line
Jersey number: 98
Opening day age: 30
Size: 6-foot-5, 320 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 ERFA)
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 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. Even though he failed to carve out a regular role and eventually saw only limited playing time in his first year in Foxborough, Davis received regular action during his second season with the team. In total, 20 of his 56 career games have come as a member of the Patriots.
What did his 2021 season look like? Before the start of the 2021 free agency period, the Patriots brought Davis back into the fold via a one-year contract. While the deal was a minimum salary contract with no guarantees, it gave the veteran defender a chance to carve out a role along a rebuilt defensive line. Davis did just that: not only he did he make the Patriots’ 53-man roster out of training camp, he ended up appearing in 17 of their 18 games during the 2021 season.
Aligning primarily as an early-down nose tackle in New England’s odd fronts, Davis was on the field for 276 of a possible 1,135 defensive snaps (24.3%). He ended the season with 18 run-game tackles and also put up four quarterback disruptions, including one 9-yard sack. His numbers are more a reflection of his usage rather than his performance: Davis saw only irregular opportunities along a D-line that also featured fellow interior defenders Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy and standout rookie Christian Barmore.
That being said, Davis did struggle at times. His most prominent game in terms of playing time share, for example, saw the Tennessee Titans gain 271 rushing yards. The defensive tackle, who played a season-high 41 percent of defensive snaps that day, was not the lone culprit. However, his inability to consistently clog lanes and stand his ground against double teams was an issue — an issue that was on display in other games as well and likely contributed to the Patriots deactivating him for the playoff game in Buffalo.
What is his projected role? Despite the Patriots investing considerable resources in their interior defensive line last offseason, Davis was able to carve out a semi-regular role in 2021. Based on the fact that he made the 53-man roster this year, it seems the team again has a plan for him in mind. How will it look like? That remains to be seen, but his size and abilities to serve as a two-gapper in the middle of the New England defense makes him a valuable commodity to have in select situations.
Does he have positional versatility? New England likes to move 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 on the interior and anywhere between the 0- and the 3-technique spots. He can have plenty of value in such a role, but he should not be expected to have regular success elsewhere.
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 the last two years are any indication: New England used him as a member of its field goal and extra point blocking units as well as on the punt return team. That said, he played only 15 combined snaps on special teams between 2020 and 2021.
What is his salary cap situation? The Patriots re-signed Davis one month into free agency, bringing him back on a one-year contract at a total value of $1.19 million. However, his salary cap number is actually lower than that and stands at only $1.05 million: Davis’ deal qualifies for the veteran salary benefit, meaning that not all of his $1.04 million base salary is hitting New England’s books; only $895,000 do. The rest of the pact includes a $50,000 signing bonus, $43,000 roster bonus and $59,500 in like-to-be-earned active roster bonuses.
How safe is his roster spot? As noted above, Davis being able to survive roster cutdowns is an indication that the Patriots have a plan for him in mind this year. Does that mean he will remain on the team throughout the 2022 season? Not necessarily, but he offers a skillset that differs from the other D-lineman under contract. Accordingly, it would not be a surprise to see the 30-year-old spend the entire campaign on New England’s active roster yet again.
One-sentence projection: Davis will serve as the Patriots’ DT5 throughout the season, once again playing roughly one fourth of defensive snaps.