Every year in the NFL Draft, college football players invariably are compared to older or past players who currently are or were at one time playing in the NFL; as a way to accurately gauge or assess their capabilities.
In the case of last Thursday's trade-up by the New Orleans Saints to select University of Texas-San Antonio defensive end / EDGE pass rusher Marcus Davenport, those comparisons — if they're indeed accurate — mean that the Saints have made a very sound investment for the future of the franchise's defensive Front 7.
Davenport has drawn comparisons mostly to two recent / current NFL players: former Dallas Cowboys defensive end / pass rusher Demarcus Ware, and current Houston Texans All-Pro defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
If in fact either of those two observations are "on point", Saints fans should have a reason to be absolutely ecstatic about the move instead of listening to the voices of critics from the outside looking in; who are openly panning the pick because of how much it cost New Orleans to go and get him.
Some of those same critics believe that the Saints gave up waaaaaaaaay too much to get Davenport; and it's actually a bit hard to argue against them; considering that the Saints gave up their top pick in next year's 2019 NFL Draft as well as their 5th Round pick (#147 overall) in this Draft to move up 13 spots from #27 to #14 and swap picks with the Green Bay Packers, to select Davenport.
That might actually a fair observation, considering that it will hurt the Saints in next year's 2019 NFL Draft without having a pick until next year's 2nd Round.
However, there also others who have vocally criticized the pick believe that the 6-foot-7, 264 pound Davenport is a "project" player and is far from a finished product, and think that he has the potential risk to become an eventual "bust" at the NFL level.
But — are those concerns valid, when taking into consideration that others see him as an athletic "freak of nature" with the potential to become a DOMINANT player in the professional ranks?
Unfortunately, until we actually see him play in the games this Fall, it's hard to accurately gauge just where he is with regard to being "ready" for competition of this caliber.
Nevertheless, there are some individuals in the media who are actually very qualified to make such determinations, and one person who may have a better perspective than most because he actually PLAYED the position himself, is former retired NFL defensive end and now SB Nation analyst Stephen White.
White played defensive end for 7 seasons in the NFL, for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1996-2001) and the New York Jets (2002).
And it goes without saying: he knows a thing or two about what makes a great or not-so-great defensive lineman, both as a pass-rusher and a run-stopper.
And Davenport, he says, can do both.
In his brilliantly written analysis and film breakdown on what Davenport's potential impact with the Saints will be going forward (click HERE to read), White says that New Orleans is getting a player that he believes has just as much if not more potential than the 2018 Draft Class's #1 defensive end /EDGE pass rusher hybrid prospect, North Carolina State DE Bradley Chubb — who was taken with the 5th overall selection in Round 1 (and just 9 spots ahead of Davenport) by the Denver Broncos.
If the Saints got a 1st Round pick who's as good as Chubb, or possibly better??? WATCH OUT.
Here's a few more of White's thoughts about some of the things that Davenport's pick by the Saints was criticized for, from some critics within the National Media that cover the League and the Draft every year, in particular:
ON THE IDEA THAT DAVENPORT'S TOO "RAW":
"Jadeveon Clowney didn’t even have a single decent pass rush move that he could win with consistently when he came out of college. That simply is not the case with Davenport. Davenport had one of the best long-arm moves I’ve ever seen from a college prospect since I started doing these breakdowns.
"And y’all know I’m a sucker for long-arm moves."
"No, Marcus Davenport isn’t as raw as Jadeveon Clowney was coming out of college. His technique may not be at Aaron Donald’s level as a prospect, but Davenport knows how to use his hands and he has pretty good footwork as well."
ON THE IDEA THAT HAVING PLAYED AT A "SMALL SCHOOL" MEANS THAT DAVENPORT'S NOT READY FOR THE NFL LEVEL:
"You can argue about whether Davenport played against top competition at UTSA, but there is no denying his technique against the run and pass was consistently pretty damn good no matter who he was playing against."
"Although I didn’t use the Senior Bowl as an official part of this breakdown, I did happen to catch it when it came on live, and I’ve seen highlight clips on TV and Twitter since then. All I’ll say is Davenport did the offensive tackles in that game just as dirty as he did the offensive tackles for North Texas.
"No, I’m not worried about his level of competition. Ballers ball, period."
ON THE VIEW BY SOME CRITICS THAT DAVENPORT MIGHT BE A GREAT PASS RUSHER, BUT HE CAN'T STOP THE RUN:
"One other criticism I had about Davenport’s play was at times he got too heavy on blocks when playing the run. That means he was trying so hard to restrict the inside running lane he didn’t maintain outside leverage. That allowed the runner to bounce outside and break containment."
"On other occasions Davenport lost containment to quarterbacks on passing plays as well. I am sure you have heard the term “setting the edge” when listening to a broadcast. As an edge rusher, one of your main jobs on most plays is doing just that and trying to keep everything inside of you when a play comes your way.
"So allowing a running back or quarterback to bounce outside is usually a really bad thing for an edge defender, Davenport had it happen a few times, (but) it's also something he can improve on after he gets to the NFL. Davenport is certainly strong enough and athletic enough to be great at setting the edge, so I don’t see that being an issue".
ON HOW DAVENPORT SHOULD BE UTILIZED BY AN NFL DEFENSIVE COACHING STAFF:
"He could certainly play as a outside rush linebacker in a base 3-4 defense where he doesn’t have to do spend a whole lot of time covering man-to-man down the field. He didn’t play with his hand in the dirt much in the games I watched, but I certainly think he would fit as a defensive end in a base 4-3 defense as well."
"If you combine his size and athleticism with the fact that Davenport’s frame suggests he could easily bulk up some more after he gets to the league, now you’re looking at a guy who might be able to play inside and outside, especially on passing plays."
"Scheme and position versatility are always a good thing when we are talking about draft stock. Davenport has the potential to line up all over the place and thrive."
Again, you can click that Link up above and read the rest of White's vividly-detailed analysis and film breakdown on what Davenport can bring to the Saints, from this point going forward.
But here's the one biggest criticism of the Saints' pick that White didn't touch on, which is the idea that by trading away their 2019 #1 pick for a "project" in Davenport, it means that the Saints "have done very little to improve the team" that has a diminishing Super Bowl 'window' with 39-and-soon-to-be 40 year old Drew Brees.
— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) April 28, 2018
As you can tell from that Tweet right above, there are some who will not be convinced otherwise that the Saints placed too high of a value on Davenport's potential, over actual capability.
But there's absolutely no way you can read Stephen White's analysis of Davenport and not come away with the idea that Davenport WILL BE AN ABSOLUTE BEAST at the next level, simply because he has that much natural talent; and possesses a rare combination of speed and size that in due time as he continues to grow and get better with experience, could make him damn near unstoppable.
The only thing that will stop him (besides a career-threatening injury, God forbid) will be himself — and given his strong character and background, that doesn't figure to be an issue either.
And having Davenport now to put on the opposite edge of All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan, should be a headache for opposing offenses to worry about at least for the next several seasons.
You can argue that the Saints overpaid for Davenport with regard to the fact that he's UNPROVEN at this point, which is fair because ALL NFL ROOKIES have to show that they can handle this type of competition at the highest level.
But the arguments by some critics that this kid will be a "bust", are pretty weak.
Elite defensive ends cost either very high draft picks or LOTS of money. If you find one you love, I'd MUCH rather hit on one in the draft than HOPE one becomes available in free agency. Trust your assessment and get the guy you believe in.
— Zach Strief (@ZachStrief) April 29, 2018
And if the comparisons to Ware, Clowney, and Chubb are all accurate?