In late September, I visited Kalamazoo to meet the big man on campus at Western Michigan: Corey Davis. At the time, WMU was the trendiest team in college football—the Broncos had just knocked off two Big Ten opponents—and Davis was catching everything, including the NFL’s attention. As I wrote in September, “had Davis declared for the NFL in 2015, one scout says he could have gone late first round. The only other MAC receiver ever taken in Round 1? Marshall’s Randy Moss, in 1998.”
He has the size (6′ 3″) and physicality to be a possession receiver, as well as the long, powerful strides that evoked Dez Bryant’s run-after-catch ability. He tied for the lead among all Division-I players with 19 touchdown catches and finished his career with an FBS record 5,285 receiving yards. The undefeated Broncos earned a Cotton Bowl berth (they lost to Wisconsin, though Davis, naturally, hauled in a TD in that game).
Throughout the draft process we have discussed three receivers poised to come off the board in the first round: Davis, Washington’s John Ross and Clemson’s Mike Williams. But quietly, Davis has become one of the most frustrating prospects in the 2017 class. It’s not that he has done anything to alter his stock since Western Michigan’s season ended on Jan. 1—it’s that he hasn’t done anything at all.
A few days after the season, Davis had surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his ankle. He declined his Senior Bowl invite. He attended the combine, but did not participate in any drills. Western Michigan’s pro day was March 15, and Davis sat out again. He has not been timed in the 40-yard dash and there’s a legitimate chance he won’t before the draft on April 27. Last week, Davis returned to Indianapolis for his medical re-check. Throughout the process, his camp has reiterated that it was only a minor surgery and that he should be good to go by mini-camps; results from Indianapolis last week should verify that.
“Corey Davis is a litmus test for the trust the tape crowd,” says one NFL personnel man. “You look at his tape and I think everyone agrees he’s a first-round grade but you’ll see how important the 40 time is for some. I think it varies from team to team.”
Particularly relevant: There was much ado about Williams’ time. He opted to only run at Clemson’s pro day, and it was a highly anticipated affair. (His hand-timed 4.49 was deemed good enough by evaluators.) Ross’s record-breaking 4.22 may have kept him in the first-round conversation.
Davis, like Williams, isn’t known for his speed, but a scout told me that a 4.50 or better from Davis would cement his status in the Top 15. As for trusting the tape: although Davis’s smooth route-running makes him look pro ready, there are some concerns about the level of competition he played against in the MAC. Although, when I visited him in September, Davis was quick to point out he has tape against top corners. “I’ve gone against Darqueze Dennard, Eli Apple…” he rattled off. (And he had 52 catches for 701 yards and 5 TDs in nine career games against Big Ten opponents.)
So could Davis drop because he hasn’t participated in a few drills? Different teams value different things. For example, last year, the Saints didn’t feel comfortable drafting Vonn Bell because they were missing times on some shuttle drills. Sean Payton personally asked Bell, and the safety filmed himself doing the drills and texted the videos to Payton. New Orleans traded up to draft Bell at No. 61.
Davis’s case is slightly different, and the 40 is generally the most important test, especially for skill positions. Says another NFL evaluator: “I still think Corey Davis is a first-round pick. But I’d be a lot more sure about it there weren’t holes to fill in.”