1. RotoViz likes him. That’s worth something, right? Let’s review the endorsements. First, there’s this pre-2013 draft, 3000 word love letter from The Oracle, wherein Davis is compared favorably to DeMarco Murray, Trent Richardson, Stevan Ridley, and Darren McFadden, among others. Then there’s this bit, comping him to Ben Tate, Roy Helu, and Rashard Mendenhall. More recently, the RB Prospect Lab gives him a score of 64. For reference, that’s the same score as Gio Bernard, and 1 point behind Maurice Jones-Drew and Jamaal Charles, as prospects. In other words, he’s got the physical ability to be a solid RB. Right now he’s the 49th RB taken in dynasty startups; RotoViz ranks him as the #31 dynasty RB. Bargain.
2. He finished strong. As Arrowhead Pride noted recently, Davis saw the bulk of his action last season in the final four regular season games, and the Chiefs’ playoff game. In the first three months of last season, he notched only 21 attempts and 4 receptions. In the final month? 49 attempts and 7 receptions. He acquitted himself well, and apparently is doing well so far in OTAs this offseason. It may just be coach speak, but here’s what Andy Reid said about Davis:
As the season went on we were able to give him the ball a little bit more. Coming into this season we’ll be able to mix it up a little bit better than what we did early in the season last year.
I wouldn’t take that to mean that Reid plans a committee or anything, but it does sound like he has some trust in Davis.
3. It’s an Andy Reid Offense. Over his 15 year coaching career, Reid has almost always featured just one RB. The only seasons where there was a non injury related RB by committee were 2003 (Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook) and 2001 (Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter). This is why Andy Reid is known as the Running Back Wingman. Over his career, Reid coached teams rank in the 63rd percentile for offensive yards, and 68th for points scored. Yes, it’s good to be a RB in Andy’s Offense. But wait, you say, Jamaal Charles is the focal point of the offense, right? Right you are. I’m not suggesting Davis will wrest the starting job away from Charles. I’m saying that, if and when Davis gets an opportunity to start, watch out. Remember Bryce Brown’s 2 fantastic starts in 2012? Davis is physically very similar. He could put up some big numbers.
4. Opportunity is likely. Yes, it’s true that Davis probably has limited opportunity this season, despite the Reid quote above, as long as Jamaal Charles is healthy and productive. But let’s remember that Charles will turn 28 this season, and is coming off the two highest volume seasons of his career. As Zach Dietz has previously noted, in general, RB production falls off a cliff around age 27. Could Charles be one of those ageless greats, like LT or AP? Sure. But he could also just be human, and nearing the end of the line. The RB Sim App shows that most of Charles’ comparable players performed worse in the season following one like his 2013. So age related decline seem like a reasonable thing to expect for Charles over the next season or two. Davis is the likely beneficiary.
That’s well and good for down the road, but in the short term there’s another way Davis might earn some more playing time. With the departure of Dexter McCluster, the possible release of Donnie Avery, and the uncertain recovery of Travis Kelce, the Chiefs are short on proven pass catchers. I’m not saying Davis will split out as a WR, but those targets have to go somewhere. Albert Wilson is a reasonable bet, but keep Davis in mind, too. Also, Davis demonstrated some return ability last season, a role that is currently vacant.
5. A potentially unexpected source of opportunity. There’s another reason why Davis might get an opportunity sooner than expected: Alex Smith. Let me explain. No, actually, let’s let Over the Cap explain:
…the $18 million asking price is not outlandish based on what Smith has done the last few seasons. It’s a valid asking price given the Cutler contract and will likely be around what Smith earns from the Chiefs or another team in the NFL.
Sounds crazy, right? I encourage you to read the entire article at Over the Cap, but the gist of it is that there is no longer a “middle class” when it comes to QB salaries. You’ve got the $18 million guys like Rodgers, Ryan, Flacco, Stafford, and Romo at the top end, and then you drop all the way to Smith and Carson Palmer at $9 and $8 million respectively. Then the Bears signed Cutler to a contract that puts him in the same class as Romo and the top-tier salaried QBs. Smith actually compares very favorably to Cutler, as OTC demonstrates. Then there are a few QBs who entered the league around the same time as Smith who might get extensions in the near future (Rivers and Roethlisberger, for example). Those extensions will likely be in the $20 million range as well. Smith has no reason to accept less at this point.
So the Chiefs are basically playing a game of chicken with Smith. If they don’t offer him a contract near what Cutler received, there’s a good chance another team will, since that’s becoming the going rate for a veteran QB. Then the Chiefs will need to address their QB situation, which will either be expensive, or involve switching to a young QB, which may not be something Reid wants to do. So one way or another, there’s a good chance the Chiefs will need to pony up some money for a QB. But they only have $3 million in cap space this year, and just $6 million in cap space next year.
Know how they can get another $6 million in cap space? Cut Jamaal Charles next year. Now, if Charles stays healthy and puts up numbers similar to his 2013 numbers, I don’t think the Chiefs would cut him. But if his production lags, or he suffers an injury? First, let’s remember that the Chiefs spent a relatively premium pick on Davis (3rd round, 96 overall), despite the fact that he was frequently projected as a 7th round pick. Since 1990, the only RBs the Chiefs have drafted earlier than Davis are Jamaal Charles himself, and Larry Johnson. So obviously they liked him and hope to use him. Second, if Charles’ production does decline, why wouldn’t the Chiefs release or otherwise part ways with him? Look at the list of active career rushing leaders: 5 of the top 10 were let go by their original team. And that was under the old salary cap system.
So what are the odds that Jamaal Charles becomes so unproductive that the Chiefs cut him next year? Probably slim. What are the odds that a 28 year old RB with a 2015 cap number in excess of $7 million dollars gets cut? Better. What are the odds that any RB who plays as many snaps as Charles (845 last season, 3rd among RBs) gets injured? Probably decent.
The point is that Davis is essentially cost free, is a talented and capable runner, and is oh-so-close to a high volume opportunity in a RB friendly offense. What are you waiting for?