It's been a couple of months since the melodrama that is the NFL Draft, and the rush to sign the top undrafted rookies that follows is just as interesting. The Chargers signed a strong group of undrafted free agents to their 90-man-roster, and will go through training camp and the preseason with these rookies, finally cutting the roster down to a final 53 before San Diego travels to Glendale to open up the regular season against the Cardinals on Monday Night Football.
Many, if not all of the undrafted rookies will not make the final roster, but the Chargers have made stars out of undrafted free agents in the past. Have you heard of future Hall-of-Famer Antonio Gates, who has made eight Pro Bowls in his illustrious career as a Charger? Yeah, he was undrafted. Malcom Floyd, Mike Harris and Kwame Geathers also made the Bolts without having their name called at Radio City Music Hall. The most recent diamond in the rough for San Diego through undrafted free agency came in the form of Jahleel Addae, who made the team last year out of Central Michigan and is challenging for the starting job at strong safety in this year's training camp.
So, out of all the undrafted rookies that the Chargers brought into camp, which have the best shots at surviving the final cuts and setting up permanent residence in San Diego? We took a look at all of them and profiled the players who have a realistic shot to crack the 53-man-roster. Today's player is none other than Chris Davis, the former Auburn Tiger who is known around the country as the guy who ran back a missed field goal against Alabama to win the Iron Bowl.
Davis' return against the Crimson Tide is by far the defining moment of his football career, but he was an accomplished player before the iconic play. Davis started three years at cornerback for Auburn, playing on the boundary. Common thought is that the field corner is the better player because he's responsible for more of the field, but the field corner is often not even in man coverage and is often aided by linebacker and safety help. The boundary corner plays much more man-to-man, and having played boundary corner in college helped give Davis the one-on-one experience he'll need to make it in the NFL.
Another requirement of playing the boundary corner is the ability to crash the line and bring down a running back through traffic, and Davis has that ability. At 5'10", he doesn't have the height of the new-age prototype NFL cornerback, but he's taller than both Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers, the two splashy additions in the San Diego secondary. Draft scouts evaluated Davis as a great open-field tackler who is strong in press coverage and is able to re-route receivers off the line, a talent that defensive coordinators love. He totaled 74 tackles in 12 starts last year with 15 pass breakups. His tackling would be a welcome sight in a Chargers secondary that struggled last year to bring down ball carriers on the first try, and a cornerback that can knock a wideout off of his planned route can completely throw off the quarterback's rhythm. He uses all 200 pounds he has to get off blocks well, and is very physical for a cornerback. If he were to make the Chargers, he'd be best suited to play in nickel and dime coverages.
While his strengths bode well for Davis, he has drawbacks that gave cause for concern headed into the draft. He has short arms and isn't very fluid with his movement, allowing wide receivers to gain separation when they make their breaks. He doesn't have great ball skills, and failed to record an interception in his college career. He also struggled against larger wideouts and in the red zone, and both weaknesses were exposed at the climax of the BCS National Championship Game against Florida State. Davis drew the assignment of covering 6-foot 3 Kelvin Benjamin, and Benjamin made him look diminutive in catching the game-winning touchdown over Davis.
When evaluating Davis' chances at making the roster, it goes beyond his ability. Shareece Wright, Richard Marshall and Steve Williams are locks to make the team, and the team spent a first round pick on Verrett and recently plucked Flowers from Kansas City. Davis is locked in competition with Greg Ducre, Marcus Cromartie, Crezdon Butler and Brandon Ghee, and unless he performs at an elite level in training camp, his chances at making the final roster are bleak. He's been practicing with the third team thus far in training camp, and has impressed against mediocre competition.
Chris Davis, Auburn cb who returned Alabama's missed Field goal, had a nice interception at chargers camp. He's battling to make the team.— Alex Flanagan (@Alex_Flanagan) July 26, 2014
The fact of the matter is that if Davis makes this team, it won't be as just a cornerback. He'll have to show the ability on special teams that he showcased at Auburn if he wants to make it in San Diego. He has elite speed (4.55 40-yard-dash at the combine) and his success returning punts in college will have to translate over to the pros. He only returned 17 punts in 2013, but averaged 18.7 yards per return. If you think that his return against Alabama was a fluke due to the Crimson Tide having the field goal team on, then you need to watch his return against Tennessee for a touchdown. Davis muffed the ball, then weaved his way through the Volunteers en route to an 88 yard touchdown. With Keenan Allen's emergence as a top-tier wide receiver making him too valuable to put back to receive punts, and Danny Woodhead's ineffectiveness at kick and punt returner, Davis could carve out a role there.
Chances that Chris Davis makes the final roster: 35%. Davis is a solid cornerback who will find a job somewhere in the NFL. It just likely won't come in San Diego. Unless he demonstrates an ability to immediately contribute on special teams, his skills at cornerback won't be enough to crack the depth chart of a suddenly-deep Chargers secondary.