Jordan Davis Changes the Math for the Eagles Defense

Production, measurables, and analytics are just a few of the many ways to evaluate an NFL prospect. When it comes to evaluating new Eagles’ defensive tackle Jordan Davis, whichever measuring stick you prefer drastically impacts what you think of him.

For those who prefer to lean on measurables, Davis might be your perfect prospect:

However, if you prefer statistics and college production, Davis likely isn’t your cup of tea. Some will point to his 7 sacks in 4 years at Georgia and claim he’ll never become an elite defender in a pass-happy NFL. Funny enough, when asked about the statistics he uses to measure his own performance, Davis gave an interesting answer:

“I actually look at the linebacker stats, because I know that if the linebackers get a lot of tackles that means I’m doing my job right. I always say, two on me, somebody’s free. Usually when the linebackers make a tackle for loss, it usually goes with something on the D-line.”

In his final season at Georgia, the 6'7 340 lb Davis anchored one of the greatest defenses in college football history. Even without an impressive stat sheet boosting his resume, Davis’ efforts along the defensive line earned him the 2021 Chuck Bednarik Award — given annually to college football’s best defender. He’s a talent whose production can’t be quantified using advanced analytics, but more so by the simple math of his own mantra:

Two on me, somebody’s free.”

With analytics continuing to become a larger part of NFL team building, it was intriguing to see the Eagles — one of the more analytically inclined teams in the league — take a swing on a prospect who never impressed on the stat sheet. His impact is hard to quantify, but the Eagles aren’t expecting him to suddenly post impressive numbers once he squares off against stiffer competition. Instead, they’re hoping his off the charts physical profile can do something completely different.

They’re hoping he can change the math entirely.

Over the last decade or so, seemingly all of the NFL’s buzz-worthy schematic innovations have favored the offense. RPOs, read-options, and similar “trendy” play calls were once considered gimmicks, but they’ve stuck around because their effectiveness can no longer be denied.

When executed properly, the act of “reading” a defender can completely remove them from the equation. By accomplishing this with scheme rather than personnel, offenses can gain a legitimate numbers advantage when running these plays.

For the first time in a long time though, the schematic innovation everyone was talking about in 2021 favored the other side of the ball.

Two-high defenses.

While two high-high defenses aren’t a new concept, they’ve become increasingly prevalent over the past few seasons. The age-old rule of defense is to stop the run first, but as offenses have continually increased their affection for the passing game, defenses have followed suit.

Two-high defenses are exactly what they sound like. They put two players (typically safeties) in the deeper portions of the field to help slow down an offense’s downfield passing attack:

The primary alternative to a two-high defense is a single-high defense. In single-high looks, one of those two deep defenders lines up closer to the line of scrimmage or “in the box:”

When a defense places this extra defender deep they’re making a sacrifice. By pulling him “out of the box,” the advantage they get in the deep passing game comes at the expense of stopping the run.

This is where Jordan Davis comes into play.

Because Davis is such a monster in the middle of the field, he erases the typical disadvantages that come with playing an extra defender deep. While playing at Georgia, his other-worldly size and strength led to constant double (and sometimes triple) teams:

His ability to command all this attention allowed the Bulldogs to frequently run two-high defenses without sacrificing their ability to stop the run. With Davis serving as their anchor, the 2021 Georgia defense held their opponents to just 81.7 rush yards per game despite frequently playing with two deep defenders. His dominance at the point of attack neutralized opposing rushing attacks and essentially allowed the rest of the Bulldogs to play 10 vs. 9 football.

Remember the mantra?

While Davis’ combination of size and strength is certainly rare, it’s the pairing of these traits with legitimate speed and quickness that make him truly unique.

Oftentimes offenses scheme their way around a hulking defender right at the heart of a defense by running away from him. These defenders are typically slower and unable to track down plays from behind, but Davis is built different. He ran a 4.78 second 40-yard dash at the combine, and his speed shows up on tape.

Whether he’s hunting a quarterback or chasing down a run from the backside, Davis plays with speed that shouldn’t be possible for a man of his stature:

He’s a one man wrecking crew in the run game, and his presence allowed Kirby Smart to focus his scheme and the rest of his personnel on stopping the pass. If Davis can continue this level of dominance against the run in the NFL, he’ll provide Eagles’ Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon with that same luxury — all without stuffing the stat sheet.

With Davis demanding double teams, the rest of the Eagles’ defensive line should see a major uptick in one-on-one matchups. Pro Bowl Defensive Tackle Javon Hargrave faced more double teams than just about anyone last year, and lining him and Davis alongside one another will create a true pick your poison scenario for opposing offenses.

Philosophically, this is how the Eagles want to win football games. They want to win in the trenches and let the pieces on the back end fall into place behind them.

Outside of Darius Slay, the Eagles lack a true difference maker in their secondary. The hope in Philadelphia is that depth and top level talent along their defensive front can make life easier for their uninspiring group on the back end. Trying to slow down a front line featuring Davis, Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, and Haason Reddick will be a nightmare for opposing offenses, and it’ll open up the entire playbook so Gannon can get creative on the back end.

This is why the Eagles took a swing on Davis and traded up to draft him. They believe his skillset, athleticism, and sheer size can be the skeleton key that unlocks the rest of their defense. He’s a rare player that can serve as the foundation of an entire defense, and simply plugging him in right at the point of attack will allow the rest of the Eagles’ defenders to thrive while playing around him.

Even though he’s a supreme talent, it’s unlikely Davis steps into the NFL and suddenly starts posting impressive statistics — that’s simply not what his game is built around. However, if the Eagles’ defense as a whole takes a step forward this year, the unquantifiable impact of their new defensive tackle will likely be a large reason why.

If you’re hell bent on finding a way to quantify what he brings to the table though, you can always look at the linebacker stats.

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Michael Dolan

Michael Dolan

Football nerd who‘s here to learn and teach the sport by writing, analyzing, and studying the game. @TallGuyDolan on Twitter