Coming into the season, the University of Central Florida had not lost a regular-season game since 2016. So far, they’ve lost two this season alone, both to non-ranked opponents. While the team’s season isn’t going how the Knights had hoped, the individual season of junior receiver Gabriel Davis has provided some hope for excitement. Davis is enjoying the most productive season of his collegiate career, and people are taking notice.
He’s added his name to the competition for the AAC’s best receiver title. He does have some tough competition at SMU, though. If Davis continues his dominant season, he should hear his name called in next year’s NFL Draft; likely early. So, what has led to Davis’ strong season, and what are his pros and cons as a draft prospect?
Davis possesses the tools of a textbook X-receiver. He stands at 6’3” with very long arms, and it’s easy to see the appeal when he reaches up for a ball. While his height is a positive, I do have some concerns about his frame. He’s listed at 212 pounds but looks closer to 190. He’ll need to work on filling out his frame if he wants to be successful at the next level. Adding on 10 or so pounds of muscle will help him; not only in contested catch situations and blocking, but doing so will help his body deal with the physical tolls of the NFL.
For someone who’s 6’3”, Davis can absolutely move. His deep speed has been his best weapon this year, and it’s a trait that translates directly to the NFL. If you can provide separation vertically, NFL teams will always have a place for you. Davis moves well in and out of route breaks, but I don’t believe he possesses the natural ability to stop on a dime. However, a majority of players 6’3 and taller can barely stop on a quarter. The lack of natural agility likely pushes Davis out of a top-50 selection, but players with his physical gifts and college production don’t tend to last very long on the NFL Draft board.
Davis has shown an understanding of advanced route running techniques. He has an excellent set of releases, and while he can’t burst through route breaks easily, he takes other steps to provide separation. He combines stutter-step releases with hand fighting and his natural deep speed to get open down the field. On intermediate and short routes, he does a good job getting onto the cornerback’s toes and breaking from there. Davis reminds me a little of Keenan Allen on these plays. People seem to forget, Allen was a third-round pick. My grade for Davis in the coming NFL Draft is right around there as well.
To pair with his intelligent route running, Davis shows a strong ability to adjust to the ball. He has sure hands and above-average body control. When the ball is in the air, he does a good job of high-pointing it. He does this on all throws, regardless of whether or not they’re contested, which is a major positive. His body control is commonly on display on the curl and comeback routes UCF likes to run. His tape is littered with snaps of him coming back to the ball and having to adjust his body and arms to bring in the ball safely.
Here is my favorite Davis route to date. He initially threatens vertically, and then stutter steps as if he’s running a curl route or inside break. He does a great job selling the break, the corner bites, and it’s an easy score, thanks to Davis’ speed.
Dear lord. pic.twitter.com/7ITtShLRdw
— Cam Mellor (@PFF_Cam) September 14, 2019
Areas for improvement
Like all prospects, Davis is by no means perfect. My largest concern is his ability to produce yards after the catch, or rather, his lack thereof. Davis has the natural speed to take a slant or busted coverage to the house, but it’s not often you find him breaking tackles or making defenders miss. Adding muscle can help this a bit, but I’d like to see more from Davis for the rest of the season.
Like most college receivers, Davis is a lackluster blocker. He’s typically willing to get in front of his man, but you’ll rarely see him make the extra block or give full effort. This isn’t detrimental to his draft stock, but it can be a look into what kind of leader or teammate a player is. It’s uncommon for blocking to negatively impact a receiver’s NFL Draft stock, but it remains important nonetheless.
Davis is still a true junior, so he could very well return to school for his senior season. However, if he continues the trajectory of his season, it’s hard to imagine he’ll pass up the opportunity. He possesses the physical tools to be an NFL receiver. He features a translatable skillset and already understands the nuances of the position. Davis is an exciting prospect who currently earns a mid-Day 2 grade from me. I expect him to be a top-100 selection in the 2020 NFL Draft.