Let's talk about Ashtyn Davis
☀️ Good Morning!
Today marks the start of mandatory minicamp, it’s only a 2-day workout but it seems significant in some way. We’ll go over the quick throws and then get into our main topic of the day, Ashtyn Davis.
✍️ The Buffalo Bills signed former Jets guard Greg Van Roten to a one-year deal. The much-maligned guard was always likely to end up in the AFC East considering how much criticism he received from fans, it tends to work out that way. GVR isn’t expected to start in Buffalo but adds some veteran depth.
🖊️ The Chicago Bears have signed former Jet defensive tackle Mike Pennel. The big man played two years in New York between 2017 and 2018 appearing in 32 games, starting 10. He had a career-high 35 tackles in 2017 and his highest-graded PFF season in 2018 (86.2).
1️⃣3️⃣ PFF released their pre-season rankings for offensive line groupings recently and they had the Jets ranked 13th under “High-End Potential” - My hope is that this line finishes in the top 10 this year, but that rests on the ability to stay healthy, especially at the tackle positions. “There’s so much talent along this front five, but it’s tough to bump the unit up into the next tier with so many unproven players”
The Jets worked hard this off-season to remodel a secondary that ranked 30th in the league last season in terms of passing yards allowed per game (259.4).
First, we saw DJ Reed and Jordan Whitehead join through free agency, then Sauce Gardner was added during the draft, leaving just one position that didn’t see an upgrade, free safety.
We’ve spoken historically about Lamarcus Joyner and his success at the position, and while some see Jason Pinnock as a strong safety, his best games came in weeks 16,17, and 18 when he lined up as a free safety.
Over the last two months, the Jets have been running a number of voluntary workouts and one name keeps popping up as a standout performer and that’s 2020 third-round pick Ashtyn Davis.
Growing up Davis had some hurdles to overcome, his father’s drug use became a lifestyle and 10 days after he failed to show up for Ashtyn’s 12th birthday he checked into rehab. Just before Davis heard his name called by the Jets his dad was celebrating 11 and a half years sober, Davis has a tattoo on his arm of a triangle inside a circle, a representative of mind, body, and spirit protected by God, the date underneath represents the day they got their dad back.
Ashtyn’s parents have spoken historically about how his dad’s struggles motivated Davis to become the player he is today, with each bone-crunching hit a release of built-up frustration. But Davis’s journey from pee-wee football to division one starter wasn’t straightforward.
He spent much of his high school career as a wide receiver, but his scholarship offers came as a result of his track career rather than his football one. He won league titles in the 110 and 300 hurdles as well as the 4×100 and 4×400 relays and as a result he boasted offers from Cal, Washington, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and UC Santa Barbara. He actually joined the track team on a bit of a whim during his junior year in high school, it was an idea by his quarterback for him and his receivers to spend more time together and increase their playing speed.
His success in the hurdles was also serendipitous, his track coach accidentally entered him into the hurdles event my mistake, he fully expected to turn up and compete in the 100m sprint. Not only did he shake it off and compete in the hurdles, but he went on to have great success with a 7-step technique in between the hurdles, instead of the more traditional 8.
Davis may have been a more accomplished track athlete than a football player, but his goal was to compete on the gridiron, the only issue there being that he didn’t have a football scholarship and the Cal track coaches said that they would rescind his offer if he played football. Davis decided to bet on himself and he walked on at cal as a track athlete and later as a walk-on member of the Golden Bears football team. To enable him to do this his parents needed to take out a loan to pay for his studies, it was a gamble that was to pay off.
When Davis got to Cal he had absolutely no idea who he needed to talk to about getting a tryout with the football team, he googled and fired off email after email until eventually, he got a response.
He made the team as a walk-on in 2015 and redshirted before playing predominantly as a slot cornerback in 2016. Following that 2016 season, Gerald Alexander joined the Bears coaching staff as a defensive backs coach. Alexander spent the final year of his playing career with the Jets back in 2011 and was recently the defensive backs coach with the Dolphins under Brian Flores before being fired this off-season.
Under new head coach Justin Wilcox Davis earned a scholarship and his career started to take off after being moved to free safety for the 2017 season.
“Ashtyn Davis is just a special guy,” Wilcox said following the Red Box Bowl. “In this day and age to have a guy basically beg his way into the program as a walk-on hurdler and come in and play scout team receiver, and then they moved him to defense and he was playing corner, and then we got here. I mean the guy has got just everything you want as a person. He’s an incredible human being and he’s just the most humble athlete I think I’ve ever been around. He has no idea how good he is. And even if he does, he’s just so humble you’d never know it.”
Davis who grew up a San Francisco 49’ers fan blossomed into one of the better safeties in college football in 2018 being named first-team All-Pac-12 Conference by the Associated Press after recording 4 interceptions. He followed that up with 2 more interceptions his senior year and although he couldn’t work out a great deal in the pre-draft process due to injury, the Jets took a chance on him in the third round, a pick that was seen as good value at the time.
Coming into the league Davis only had two years of starting experience at free safety under his belt, that’s just 1,044 coverage snaps over four years and less than 1000 coverage snaps as a safety. He joined a Jets team that had completely lost their way, under Adam Gase and Greg Williams it became clear that there would be a new system in place as soon as the curtain fell on 2020. He struggled his way through his rookie season allowing 3 touchdowns against 0 INT and just the 1 PBU. Due to some injuries and Marcus Maye being on the same team, he appeared in just 402 total snaps with only 176 of them coming at free safety.
Fast-forward to 2021 and due to injuries to both Marcus Maye and LaMarcus Joyner, Davis got more run at his more natural free safety position but he had to wait. Due to a foot injury sustained in 2020 that required surgery, Davis missed much of the off-season programming and was on the PUP list to start the season. But after being thrown into the fire in mid-season, he made a home for himself at FS.
He still allowed 3 touchdowns, but this time he also brought down 2 interceptions and his coverage grade jumped from 45.1 in 2020 to 66.1 in 2021. He was still a touch late often arriving after the pass had been completed (he allowed 80% completion into his coverage) but he also only allowed 3 receptions on 7 targets over his final 5 games. It’s a small sample size but it's worth mentioning.
Davis is entering the 2nd year of the Saleh/Ulbrich system and by all accounts, he’s playing much faster, if you don’t think to think as much you can play with more freedom and when you play with more freedom your athletic traits seem to shine through and Davis has some of the best athletic traits out there. He still needs to work on his angles as his pursuit angles and run defense angles were pretty terrible in 2021, attributing to his 43.1 grade against the run and 12.9% missed tackle rate, but in 2020 both of those stats were among his better grades (72.7 against the run and 2.7% missed tackle rate).
Davis made improvements in some areas in his second season, whereas he saw declines in others. If he can put it all together it would go a long way to saving that Jets 2020 draft class and making this secondary a difficult matchup for anyone. It’s OTA’s so I’m taking it all with a pinch of salt, but maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel with Davis.
In an end-of-season interview with the official website, Davis expressed how happy he was to finally be entering an off-season healthy: "I'm excited for next year. The more we learn and the more we get comfortable I think we will do great things. I cannot wait.
"With me just going into the offseason healthy I'll be able to take my lumps in OTAs and keep leaning going into the season with my best foot forward. I know I need to work on my tackling, getting the scheme down. I think I have a good understanding now."
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