Ever since the St. Louis Rams signed quarterback Austin Davis as an undrafted free agent in 2012, fans and media members alike have had high hopes for the 24-year-old signal-caller. Davis played collegiate football at Southern Miss, which immediately led to Brett Favre comparisons.
It would be a stretch to think Davis will ever turn into the type of player Favre was. Yet, it is wise to have realistic expectations for a quarterback who has shown the ability to make NFL-esque throws. On tape, it’s clear he has a fluid throwing motion and active feet in the pocket.
Additionally, Davis throws a very catchable ball and never stares down a receiver too long. The only downside to his game is his weak arm. At times it’s easy to see he has trouble pushing the ball down the field. In terms of NFL arm strength, one would rank his towards the bottom.
However, his limited physical attributes shouldn’t take him out of contention for the Rams’ backup quarterback position. Last year he finished the season as the team’s No. 3 quarterback. This year it’s time for him to step up and force eight-year veteran Kellen Clemens off the roster.
St. Louis’ coaching staff has confidence that Davis has done enough to make a giant leap from Year 1 to Year 2. Head coach Jeff Fisher told Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before training camp started that he felt good about Davis and was happy with the progress the second-year player made during the offseason.
Despite his progress, the Rams opted to bring back Clemens this past April. The re-signing didn’t mean the organization had lost faith in Davis. Fisher and general manager Les Snead simply didn’t want to hand the No. 2 quarterback job to him. They wanted to make him earn it.
Moreover, they yearned to make sure his improvement off the field translated into improvement on the field. Based on the numbers, there are no questions surrounding Davis’ evolution. At the end of the 2012 preseason, he amassed 220 yards on 22 completions while throwing zero touchdowns and one interception.
This year, Davis has garnered 255 yards on 22 completions with one preseason game left to go. Furthermore, he managed to find the end zone once against the Green Bay Packers. His ability to protect the ball and play turnover-free football has only helped his bid to become Sam Bradford’s backup.
According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Davis has the 18th-best passing grade in the league so far this preseason. His grade ties him with the likes of Pro Bowl quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan.
Yes, his ranking is deceiving because he is performing against lesser talent than the other three players. Yet to totally discount his positioning on the list would be foolish. Whether Davis has an abundance of time to throw or is under pressure, his production is consistent across the board.
As you can see in the chart above, Davis has only struggled when opposing teams blitz him. While under pressure, PFF awarded him with a plus-1.0 grade based on the fact he secured the football and connected with his receivers 58.8 percent of the time.
Any quarterback can perform at a high level against no pressure. The ones who make it in the league can step up in the pocket and deliver an accurate pass when the rush is bearing down on them. This factor has helped Davis separate himself from Clemens.
Clemens has been downright awful when defenders are breathing down his neck. On 11 pass attempts under pressure in three games, the second-round pick out of Oregon has completed two measly passes on 11 attempts and posted a quarterback rating of 4.7.
In addition to a plethora of off-target throws, Clemens doesn’t get rid of the ball quick enough. Which, in turn, means he is taking unnecessary coverage sacks. Sometimes diving deep into the numbers helps support what you see when you turn on the tape.
Another factor working against Clemens is his salary. If the Rams kept him instead of Davis, they would be on the hook for $870,000. As you can imagine, keeping the younger quarterback would be easier on their wallet. He carries a cap number of $480,000 in 2013.
Plus, Davis actually has developmental talent. The same can’t be said about Clemens. He reached his ceiling a long time ago. At 30 years of age, he’s not going to get any better. He served his purpose during his tenure in St. Louis. Now, it’s time the team embarks on a new adventure.
To sew up the No. 2 quarterback job, Davis couldn’t do any more if he tried. He has shown the he has what it takes to hone his craft. His numbers have been better from a statistical standpoint, and he shows more promise on tape.
With Thursday night being Davis’ final audition, will Fisher and Snead make the appropriate decision when it’s all said and done? For the sake of the Rams, let’s hope so.