With the 2020 NFL Draft officially just one week away, we continue with our breakdowns of potential targets for the Green Bay Packers. Today’s player is a linebacker on the smaller side, but one who projects as a three-down player, as his biggest strengths come in pass coverage. Given how much the Packers focus on stopping the passing game on defense, that might be exactly what this team needs, and he could be a great value as a second-round draft pick.
Akeem Davis-Gaither, ILB, Appalachian State
Davis-Gaither has good play diagnostic ability off the snap. You generally don’t see him reading things pre-snap and blowing them up before they get started, but once the ball is snapped he usually makes decisions and attacks quickly. The decision Davis-Gaither makes is usually the correct one and he has excellent acceleration to attack the ball carrier once he’s done so. Davis-Gaither can be a bit overaggressive attacking his gap, but it doesn’t happen often enough to be a huge concern.
Davis-Gaither has a knack for knifing past blockers before they can lay a hand on him and attacking the quarterback. Even when blockers get to him, he is excellent at defeating them, whether he’s meeting them at the point of attack or he’s being attacked at the second level. Davis-Gaither is very good at rolling his hips through contact with blockers, locking his arms out, and shedding. Davis-Gaither is also particularly skilled at using a long arm or forearm shiver to keep blockers at bay without losing momentum while he attacks the ball carrier.
Davis Gaither has relatively good range as well. He has good speed and lateral agility which allows to him pursue sideline to sideline with relative ease. His ability to keep blockers at bay helps him to keep contain and attack the ball carrier once he gets to the sideline. Davis-Gaither also utilizes this sideline to sideline speed in combination with his play diagnostic skills to sniff out and track down screens and wide receiver smoke plays.
Gaither-Davis has pretty good technique as a tackler. He accelerates through contact without being reckless and off balance, rolls his hips into contract and wraps up well. One weak point that Davis-Gaither does have when tackling is an inconsistent aim point. He’ll often either attack way too high, wrapping up around the ball carrier’s shoulders, or way too low, attacking the ball carrier’s ankles.
While Davis-Gaither is an excellent run defender, his true gift is in pass coverage. He is particularly adept at man coverage, with an ability to cover tight ends, running backs, and even to kick out wide and cover receivers. Davis-Gaither has very flexible hips and good short area acceleration, which allowed him to turn and run with pretty much anyone lined up across from him, even receivers. He also had a good understanding of his leverage which combined with his excellent short area agility allowed him to stay in good position off his opponent’s cuts. From time to time Davis-Gaither also demonstrated a good accurate jam to slow his opponent off the line and throw off timing routes.
Davis-Gaither is also solid in zone coverage, though he’s not quite as adept in it as he is in man coverage. Davis-Gaither has a good understanding of route concepts and how they’re attempting to exploit his coverage. Davis-Gaither avoids chasing opponents at the expense of creating a hole in his zone when he doesn’t have support for instance. He has a relatively good feel for who is in his zone while keeping his eyes on the quarterback and he was very good at breaking on throws when he had an opportunity. David-Gaither did occasionally lose track of underneath routes in his zone however, particularly shallow crossing routes. Overall, Davis-Gaither showed a high degree of skill in zone coverage for a linebacker.
Rushing from the outside, Davis-Gaither has good acceleration off the line and active hands, if somewhat inaccurate hands. Davis Gaither also flashes good bend and body angles to avoid punches and flatten his trajectory to the quarterback, but he’s highly inconsistent and had his momentum completely stopped far too often. Davis-Gaither has a good quick step inside after feigning an outside rush that he worked into his pass rush sequence to good effect. Davis-Gaither was also excellent coming inside on stunts. Interestingly, Davis-Gaither usually rushed from the outside and didn’t come on inside rushes often enough to get a good sense of how effective he is at it. I can only infer that he’d be good at it based on his skill in knifing through blockers in run defense.
40-yard dash: Did not participate (stress fracture in foot)
Bench press: 21 reps
Vertical: Did not participate (stress fracture in foot)
Broad jump: Did not participate (stress fracture in foot)
3-cone: Did not participate (stress fracture in foot)
Shuttle: Did not participate (stress fracture in foot)
Davis-Gaither is similar to Kenneth Murray in that he’s good at pretty much everything. Davis-Gaither doesn’t have quite the play diagnostic abilities of Murray and isn’t quite as explosive of an athlete, but he’s not a bad approximation. I’m almost tempted to rate Davis-Gaither as a first round pick, he just doesn’t quite have the big play ability that I’d like to see out of a first round off-ball linebacker. As such, I’d rate Davis-Gaither as a high second round pick in a standard draft class. If he happens to be available in the second round he would be an excellent value and probably an instant upgrade at inside linebacker for the Packers.