There have been many surprises for the New York Jets this year, who despite Sunday’s loss at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have still defied conventional wisdom with a 4-6 record. For a team that was picked to go winless by many pundits, the record is a shock.
At the heart of this shock is linebacker Demario Davis, the key behind one of the league’s most underrated defenses.
The Jets traded for Davis this offseason, sending former first-round pick Calvin Pryor to the Browns in exchange for the linebacker. Pryor wasn’t happy in New York and not a great fit in head coach Todd Bowles’ locker room. Davis is a former Jets draft pick in his own right, a high-character addition to a young team with an equally high motor and work rate.
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But even though Davis was a well-known and reliable quantity on and off the field, few expected him to piece together a season like this. Broadly speaking, few thought the Jets would be this good and believed that the team would suck Davis into their vortex of ineptitude.
Instead, the Jets are defying expectations and Davis is the poster boy of this year. The type of year that, in all honesty, should land the Jets linebacker in the Pro Bowl.
His 82 tackles this year easily leads the Jets and puts him third overall in the league. It is a number that is more impressive when considering that it is the highest tackle number in the AFC.
In addition, he has 3.5 sacks, the most among any player ranked among the NFL’s top 25 tacklers this season.
These in and of themselves are good enough to land him in the Pro Bowl.
But Davis has also been surprisingly good in coverage. The knock on him during his first stint in New York was his ability in the passing game, a match-up several years ago against the Philadelphia Eagles where he struggled to contain a couple of wheel routes helped produce this narrative.
The indictment was perhaps overblown based on that solitary game but Davis has been nothing short of a lockdown in his coverage in 2017. Through the season’s first six games, he was ranked tenth overall out of 48 insider linebackers with just 0.71 yards per snap in coverage.
No game better exhibited this than in Week 6 against the New England Patriots where Davis was targeted three times but allowed just one reception for one yard.
Couple that with his importance in the run game and his pass rush and suddenly Davis has produced a Pro Bowl and All-Pro caliber year.
The addition of Davis was perhaps largely overlooked this offseason given the fact that the Jets were supposed to be deplorably bad. His emergence as a truly elite linebacker has elevated an entire unit, a defense that has carried these surprising Jets to a better than expected record.
The end reward of this should be a Pro Bowl appearance. Anything short of this would be unjust.