The New York Jets go upside again. This time with a versatile weapon for Gregg Williams and Brant Boyer. It’s time to meet, Ashtyn Davis.
With the 68th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the New York Jets select… Ashtyn Davis, Safety, Cal. This was the first shock pick of Joe Douglas‘ short career as a general manager. It’s strange to think about the Jets selecting a safety with a premium pick.
With Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye already on the roster, there’s no place for a safety to play immediately. It’s a good thing that Davis isn’t a traditional safety. He’s a defensive weapon that has been moved all over the field. He spent time at safety, corner, linebacker, and edge rusher during his time at Cal.
Davis isn’t a Jamal Adams replacement. He’s a very different player. He’s a different breed of safety who is fast and excellent in zone coverage but weak with fundamentals. Davis is much more likely to be a replacement for Maye in the future than Adams.
It’s also possible the Jets look to move Davis to corner where his speed, more on that later, and size will play up to an extreme degree. It’s possible he competes for the second outside corner job. He could also be a future replacement for Brian Poole in the slot.
Davis is also a phenomenal special teams player. He’s an excellent gunner thanks to his speed and tackling ability, but he really shines as a returner. Davis was one of the most electric kick returners in college football.
Davis was a zero-star prospect coming out of high school. He was a track and field athlete in high school. He wasn’t on a college football team’s radar until his freshman year of college when he made the Cal team as a tryout in spring. Davis was immediately red-shirted as the coaches worked with him.
He came back and played nine games the next year. He earned a role as a special teams player and was named the team’s special teams MVP that year. Davis also started three games at corner.
Davis returned for his sophomore year as the team’s return man and started six games at safety. He was ninth in the country in kickoff return yards and was once again named the team’s special teams MVP.
Davis’ junior year was his first real experience as a defensive player. He was named the team’s starting safety, starting 13 games. He was named honorable mention All-Pac 12 after a phenomenal season that saw him intercept four passes, defend five other passes, and record 36 tackles.
Davis followed that up with an even better senior season. Davis started 11 games and played in 12, he earned second team All-Pac 12 for his performance. He intercepted two passes, recovered two fumbles, and forced another one.
While all this success in football was going on, Davis was also dominating the college track and field circuit. He won a 110-meter hurdle title and was named a second team All-American in the 110-meter hurdle. Davis was also named an All-American in the indoor 60-meter hurdle.
An injury cut Davis’ senior season short. He was forced to miss the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine as a result.
It’s impossible to know specifics without the combine, but it’s clear that Davis is an all-world athlete. The Jets tout Davis as the fastest safety in the draft, and they’re likely right.
Based on his track numbers, it’s very likely Davis would have run in the low 4.3 range at the combine. It’s likely Davis would have shot up draft boards with the phenomenal combine that he was expected to put up, but he never got the chance.
Davis isn’t the strongest safety in the league and he isn’t the smoothest athlete, but the potential is there. His athleticism needs to be refined and reined in. If the Jets can get him to be more under control and better understand how to utilize his athleticism on the field, he could be great.
As it stands, Davis more of a track star than a football athlete, but that can and likely will change.
The most obvious strength for Davis is his special teams value. He’s going to be used by Brant Boyer in all phases. He’ll likely be asked to return kicks, be a gunner, and be on the punt return unit in some capacity.
On defense, Davis’s greatest strength is his versatility. He can play safety or corner, making him a chess piece for defensive mastermind Gregg Williams.
Davis’ speed is a huge plus for him. It helps him make tackles in open space and makes him one of the rangiest safeties in the draft class.
Lastly, Davis has shown strong coverage ability. He’s exceptionally strong in zone coverage where his speed allows him to cover large swaths of the field. Ideally, he’d be used as a single-high safety where he gets to play center field, which is currently Marcus Maye’s role.
Davis has also had good reps in man coverage, though he’s more comfortable in the slot than at safety in man coverage. He’ll help the Jets lock down deep threats and speedy slot receivers without question.
Davis is also renowned for his character and toughness. This should come as no surprise considering his story as a walk-on. Davis is a locker room leader that Cal rallied around. He could have future captain written all over him.
Davis struggles with the fundamentals. He can get wrapped up in the idea of making a big play too much. He goes for the big hit instead of a wrap-up tackle, leading to missed assignments, which is a common mistake for the California kid.
His instincts and play recognition aren’t up to snuff because he simply hasn’t played football long enough. A year on the bench or playing in a limited role would likely help. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll also be playing with the most instinctual safety in football in Jamal Adams.
He needs to become a football athlete. His speed translates over to football, but he’s not a smooth athlete. His hips can get tight and his strides can be long at times, which gets rid of his leverage in the open field.
Davis also prefers to bait throws rather than play lockdown coverage. He plays off intentionally in hopes quarterbacks target him and when they do, he often pays the price. He’ll need to be better about tightening his coverage in the NFL.
Finally, Davis needs to find a positional home. It’s easy to rely on his versatility as a strength and move him around the field, but that’s not best for the team’s long-term plans. Davis needs to be able to focus on one position and learn everything he can about that position because his lack of familiarity with football is a severe weakness.
If the Jets are going to raise his football IQ high enough for him to play a significant role in year one, he’s going to need to focus on a single position. Anything else seems to be asking too much of the rookie.