- The Washington Times
Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Washington Football Team had several targets that the team liked who were still available by the time the franchise finally got on the clock during Thursday’s NFL draft.

But when it came time to give its selection, coach Ron Rivera and company opted to address one of the team’s biggest weaknesses.

Washington used the No. 19 pick on Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis — a late bloomer who rocketed up draft boards because of his versatility and speed. 

Davis, a 6-foot-3, 234-pound prospect, recorded 102 tackles with 1½ sacks and three interceptions as a junior this past fall, his lone season as a starter. He made the decision to turn professional and then wowed scouts and other talent evaluators at Kentucky’s Pro Day, running a 4.37 40-yard dash. 

Davis has sideline-to-sideline speed and can be a factor in stopping the run and the pass — something Washington badly needed. 

“It’s a surreal feeling, but it’s not weird to me at all,” Davis said. “My entire time I played with a chip on my shoulder. I always just stayed the course and trusted the process, and now that everything’s happened the way it is, I’m just ready to show the world who I am.”

Last season, Rivera voiced his displeasure with the team’s linebacker corps. Despite Washington having a top five defense, the team’s linebackers struggled to be consistent. Rivera, a former linebacker, criticized them for being hesitant and shuffled the lineup throughout the season to try and find the right combination. 

Davis should, in theory, help solve that issue. Speaking with reporters, Rivera said he was impressed with Davis’ “tempo” — the way the linebacker can sprint to the ball and also react fast to plays. 

Rivera said Davis was the top rated defensive player on Washington’s board when the team had to give its selection. 

“He’s the kind of fit in terms of his position flex,” Rivera said. “He can play all our linebacking positions. He’s got that kind of athletic ability. He’s what you look for in a football player.” 

Rivera often said throughout the draft process that Washington would “read and react” to what the teams did in front of them. The comments left open the possibility that if a quarterback Washington liked enough well on draft night, the team would be willing to trade up to grab him. The team, after all, still doesn’t have a clear long-term answer under center after signing 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick in free agency.

As the first round unfolded, there were signal-callers who slid down the board. Despite predictions that five quarterbacks would go within the top 10, only three were taken: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence to Jacksonville at No. 1, BYU’s Zach Wilson to the Jets at No. 2 and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance to San Francisco at No. 3. Lance’s selection was the true surprise as experts and league insiders predicted for weeks that Alabama’s Mac Jones would be the pick. 

With Fields and Jones falling out of the top 10, there were questions whether Washington would trade up for one of them. At No. 10, the Dallas Cowboys did trade back with an NFC East rival — but they reached a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, who grabbed Heisman Trophy winner wideout DeVonta Smith. 

A pick later, Fields was finally taken as a team traded up for him. But it was the Chicago Bears who pounced. The Bears, who desperately needed a quarterback even after signing Andy Dalton, sent the Giants four picks for the Ohio State product: No. 20, No. 164 in the fifth round, a 2022 first-rounder and a 2022 fourth-rounder. 

Jones, meanwhile, went to the Patriots at No. 15. 

But as the quarterbacks went elsewhere, general manager Martin Mayhew said Washington never seriously considered trying to get in the mix. He and Rivera preached patience, instead choosing to stick to their draft board. 

When it was time for Washington to pick, players like Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramorah, Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw and TCU’s Trevon Moehrig — prospects linked in various mock drafts to Washington — were still available. But the overwhelming consensus in the room, Rivera said, was to pick Davis

The Davis selection, he said, was about fit. Rivera also said Davis progressed over the course of last season and has a lot of potential.

“If you watch the way he started the season and watched that progression and growth, you see it,” Rivera said. “You feel comfortable knowing that this kid is still growing. He hasn’t even come to his ceiling in my opinion. I think this young man has a high ceiling.”

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.