Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Draft Projection: Round 6–UFA
NFL Comparison: DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Lest we forget, in the most challenging league that college football has to offer, Knile Davis racked up 1,468 all–purpose yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore.
His fluidity and quickness as a runner was, at one point, as impressive as any running back in the country. He constantly shrugged arm tackles, burst into the second level, and was chiefly responsible for pushing Arkansas into the 2011 Sugar Bowl.
Prior to the start of the 2012 season, Davis, returning from a broken ankle was set to repair the subsequent broken hearts of Razorback Nation with an enormous, All-American–caliber season. He would storm unabated through opposing defenses and into the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. Of that, most everyone was certain.
Unfortunately for Davis, most everyone was incorrect in their assumption. The Preseason First Team All-SEC running back managed only 377 yards on 112 carries, never accumulating more than 70 yards in a game.
What happened, exactly, is anyone's guess. He wasn't exactly allowed much opportunity to succeed with offensive coordinator Paul Petrino's insistence on throwing the football. Only once did Davis receive 20 carries in a game, and he logged fewer than eight rushes in four of Arkansas' last five contests.
By the first week in October, it was clear that John L. Smith's preference was Dennis Johnson, after which point Davis saw little more than the occasional cameo.
Beyond simply blaming his lack of production on a decrease in volume, however, there is legitimate concern with regards to the absence of explosion that was previously synonymous with Davis' game. He seemed sluggish, unsure, and incapable of escaping the initial wave of tacklers.
A broken ankle isn't of the career-ending variety, obviously, and Davis never seemed to favor the leg. He just wasn't the same player. An objective evaluation is complicated by the number of variables related to his decline in production.
Still, an optimist would point to the collegiate career of a runner like Arian Foster, who watched his rushing total dip from 1,193 yards as a junior, to 570 yards during his senior campaign. Foster, who also seemed a step slow, a tick off, watched as his draft projection plummeted from the first day to the seventh round.
The Tennessee product ultimately went undrafted, a fate that may await Davis.
As for the general manager responsible for the modest investment that it will require to secure the services of the former team captain? Well, he's swinging for the fence with house money. Zero risk, All-Pro–level reward.
If I was in charge: With apologies to Jonathan Dwyer, I just don't see him as a permanent answer in Pittsburgh, and Rashard Mendenhall isn't likely to receive another opportunity.
Davis could provide an ideal combination of power and speed for a team that particularly values the former. Better yet, with Davis' descent from first round to the end of the draft, the Steelers can supplement elsewhere, and punctuate the weekend by securing the rights to Davis.