How much do you value upside? If you're selecting a defensive lineman in this draft class, that's a question that must have come up in the draft room several times already. If you're looking for safe players, you can find them in this class, but if you're trying to swing for the fences, those athletes are also on the board.
One of those "swing for the fences" players is Carl Davis of the University of Iowa. Coming out of high school, he was a developmental defensive tackle with a large frame who had scholarships from the likes of Michigan State and Wisconsin in the Midwest but not the Ohio States, Michigans or Notre Dames.
Entering 2013, his redshirt junior season, there was little to say that those schools or even Iowa should have made an offer, though.
In three years, including a redshirt, Davis had only made 16 tackles while with the Hawkeyes. The narrative of his career changed quickly after that season, though, when he started every game as a movable defensive tackle, earning a second-team All-Big Ten nomination by the coaches in the conference.
Why did it take so long for him to start to show flashes of elite talent? One would guess that with the way college football is currently being played, high tempo and no-huddle, it's hard for raw, large bodies to stay on the field, as defenses are more about consistency and assignments than talent at this point. Davis might have just needed a little more time in the oven.
This makes sense, as the Hawkeyes have had a history of developing NFL talent on the defensive line such as Mike Daniels, Jonathan Babineaux, Adrian Clayborn, Colin Cole and Karl Klug. Judging Davis by his measurables and college tape, one could guess he has a higher upside than any of those former Iowa players.
According to Mock Draftable's database, the three most comparable athletes to him based on his combine measurables are Leonard Williams, Deandre Coleman and Ndamukong Suh.
Williams is considered the top defensive lineman in this class, possibly even the top defender. Coleman nearly declared in 2013, which may have landed him in the first round, but went undrafted in 2014 after a disastrous senior year. Suh, on the other hand, is one of the top-five defenders in the league and, per the team's Twitter account, on Wednesday signed a deal worth more than $100 million with the Miami Dolphins.
If Coleman had not had such a massive slip-up of a 2013 season, all three of these athletic comparisons could be highly regarded to the point where one could see a progression of Davis as one of a future Pro Bowler like Suh.
Still, at this time the public isn't viewing him in that way. According to Play the Draft, an interactive stock market-type approach to the draft, the over/under placed on his draft position is 35.1, a fringe first-rounder. That doesn't line up with Williams and Suh, who might both be second overall selections in their respective classes.
The most interesting part of this is that I'm not sure I'd even take Williams over Davis. Williams is a solid player himself, showing out at USC for three years before declaring at the age of 20. Davis is three years older but more versatile. Williams can play 5-technique, his primary position at USC the last two years. He's a strong two-gapping defender but lacks burst to create pressure or burst into the backfield, so he's more than likely going to be limited to defensive end in a 3-4 defense, as he's a square peg in a 4-3.
Davis has tremendous size at 6'5", 320 pounds, but he has better burst off the line of scrimmage than Williams. Because of his size and strength, he can two-gap across the board in a 3-4. Unlike Williams (6'5", 302 lbs), who can only play over a tackle as a 5-technique, Davis is massive enough to give nose tackle a shot at the next level as well.
In a 4-3, where he played in college, he's probably a 1-technique, lining up in the A-gap. Really, the only spot he can't play on the defensive interior is 3-technique, a position for undersized and quick defensive tackles. While he's quick, it's hard to make the statement that the 6'5", 320-pounder is anything close to small for his position.
The best comparison to him as far as style is concerned is Haloti Ngata (6'4", 340 lbs), a big-body player who has played in a 3-4 as both an end and tackle and just signed to the Lions, a 4-3 team, presumably as a 1-technique. He was a pressure creator on the interior for nickel and dime reps.
For example, here's part of Ngata's draft scouting report from CBS Sports:
Ngata is a big, physical athlete with a thick, hard body, long arms, big bubble and hands. He is a rare-sized defender who is not only light on his feet, but also possesses very impressive strength. He shows a fluid running stride and a good feel for leverage and balance. His straight-line charge is explosive and he generates a bone-jarring hand punch coming off the snap.
Ngata's is a disruptive force who commands constant double teams. He can be sudden charging from the backside and shocks blockers back on their heels with his quickness and strength. He holds his ground firmly at the point of attack, but will struggle to disengage when he gets high in his stance, letting blockers attack his body. He plays with a good motor, but does run out of gas late in games. He is best served playing in-line, where he can handle multiple blockers to free up his edge rushers and blitzers.
Ngata wound up falling to the 12th overall selection in 2006, and in 2015, he's still slated to make an impact in the league. That should also be Davis' floor as a draft selection, not his ceiling.
His lower-body strength makes him hard to beat initially at the point of attack, even against double-teams. Against Nebraska for example, a team which has historically been known for its line play, he was the focal point of the offensive line's game plan and still was able to come out of the match with positive tape. His upper body isn't a joke either, as he's able to bench-press college guards while stacking and shedding for two-gapping assignments.
He really can do a little bit of everything. He was even an option man at times against Nebraska. On one rep, he could have brought down both the running back and quarterback running the option on the same play.
Joe Goodberry, a noted member of the Internet draft community, was also impressed by the lineman. On this play against Indiana, Davis used a club move, bent like an edge-rusher, kept balance, crossed the face of his man, changed direction and came down with a sack.
There are only so many players at the NFL level who can manhandle a lineman with brute force while athletically moving throughout the process. Davis did so well over 300 pounds. He's rare. Period.
Williams' upside is Aaron Smith, a former one-time Pro Bowler with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Smith was a good but never elite player in the NFL, winning with two-gapping ability that is less and less valued the deeper the league leans toward the passing game.
Williams isn't a bad prospect by any means, but I don't think "Aaron Smith upside" is truly what teams are looking for when they draft players in the top five, which by all accounts is where he's being projected to come off the board.
Instead, I would rather use a later first-round selection to ensure I land Davis, who is a little up and down at this point and older than Williams but on tape has skills that translate to a higher upside at the next level, such as heavy hands and the ability to get into the backfield.
In short, I would rather wait a year to develop Davis completely and play him on 80 percent of the snaps that Williams does, because when he's rested, Davis is going to be able to make a much higher impact if he progresses than Williams can.
Ultimately, what a player can do on Day 1 only matters in that scope: Day 1. Williams may be the better player now, but at a lower upside, it's entirely possible, some might even debate probable, that the team who drafts Davis will be further ahead in two years because of the selection.
If a team is in "win now" mode, I can completely rationalize the selection of the USC player. Early in the draft, though, you're looking for franchise pieces to build around. That's Davis, not Williams.