Davis goes from unwanted in NFL to unquestionable success story
A little more than three years ago, Todd Davis was another face in the pool of NFL unwanteds, praying, hoping his dream of making it big was still alive. No one drafted him out of Sacramento State. No team called immediately after. No offer was made until June 23, 2014, when the New Orleans Saints signed him to their practice squad — only to waive him four times before he headed to Denver.
Since that fateful move in November 2014, Davis has defied the NFL odds, making the unlikely leap from castoff to injury fill-in to starter, becoming a major player on a Broncos defense cluttered with major players.
“He’s unbelievable,” defensive coordinator Joe Woods said Sunday after the Broncos’ first practice in full pads at training camp. “He’s the type of guy you want to coach on defense. He’s playing 100 miles an hour on every snap, even in walkthroughs. You have to tell him, ‘Hey, slow down, it’s a walkthrough.’ But that’s his
mind-set. He’s hungry. He’s out there to prove a point, that he can play at a high level in this league, and he’s doing a great job so far in this camp.”
Ask his coaches, ask his teammates, and Davis made another leap in 2017 but has failed to let go of the past. It rests firmly on his shoulders and was his fuel during the offseason and his motivation so far in camp as he and Brandon Marshall prepare for another year together at inside linebacker.
Davis remembers that feeling on the couch. And he remembers the critics last year, despite leading the Broncos with 97 tackles and leading all linebackers in defensive stop-to-missed tackle ratio (20½-to-1), according to Pro Football Focus. Denver’s run defense tanked from No. 3 in the 32-team NFL (an average of 83.6 yards rushing allowed per game) in 2015 to 28th (130.3) last year, and many fingers — fairly or not — were pointed at the team’s inside linebackers.
“We got scrutinized quite a bit last year and I think we just want to put all that to rest,” Davis said. “We got a lot of chips on our shoulders right that we have to go out there and get rid of.”
The Davis-Marshall tandem doesn’t have the branding of the Broncos’ self-titled No-Fly Zone secondary. It doesn’t have the records and marketability of the pass-rushing corps led by allpro Von Miller. And it certainly doesn’t have the size of the big men up front, anchored by Derek Wolfe and new nose tackle Domata Peko.
But the paths and rise of both inside linebackers (Marshall was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars but waived three times before the Broncos signed him in 2013) are unique. Their pasts continue to drive them — and Denver’s defense.
“It’s not an exact science. We all make mistakes in the draft process when we’re evaluating players,” Woods said. “Sometimes you hit on a guy, sometimes you miss on guys, then you sign a guy that’s a free agent or late-round draft pick and all of a sudden he turns out to be a stud for you. Todd Davis has proven that. I’m really pleased with where he’s at. He’s really become the leader of this defense.”
Two months after Davis capped his first full season as a starter, the Broncos placed a second-round restricted free-agent tender on him to keep him for at least one more year. The bump in pay was more reflective of his value and contribution to the team, but next summer will be a better gauge, when he’s an unrestricted free agent and likely facing a big payday.
To prepare, Davis spent much of his time during the offseason honing his speed and explosiveness at Landow Performance, less than 2 miles from Broncos headquarters.
The training, along with Woods’ enhanced defense and a stronger rapport with Marshall, has Davis eyeing bigger prizes.
The chemistry of Davis and Marshall inside has allowed both to think less and play faster. Each knows what the other is thinking. Each knows what the other is trying to do.
And each has a few chips. “Todd is a hard worker, man. He’s a great player,” Marshall said. “I think a lot of people slept on him last year and the year before that. Todd has been ready for two years now, since the Super Bowl run. Now he’s in there and getting his second year as a full-time starter. He’s getting comfortable. He knows the defense and he’s going to make even more plays than he did last year.”
Inside linebacker Todd Davis is a happy camper this summer at Broncos headquarters. “He’s the type of guy you want to coach on defense,” says coordinator Joe Woods.