Cowboys 2013 Draft Targets: Arkansas RB Knile Davis

Mike Zarrilli

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, its important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, in the final installment of the draft targets series, we'll look at Razorback running back Knile Davis

Arkansas running back Knile Davis burst into in the national spotlight after a ridiculous (nay, historic) performance at the Combine in February. Weighing in at At 227 pounds, he tallied 31 reps on the bench press, 33.5-inch vertical and 10’8’’ broad jumps, and registered a shocking 4.37 40-yard dash. In short, his tests showed a degree of explosiveness that scouts hadn't seen from him since his sophomore campaign.

That season (2010), Davis started slowly and then, due in large part to an injury to Razorback runner Dennis Johnson, exploded. He wound up leading the SEC in rushing with 1,322 yards (at a nice 6.5 clip) and 13 scores, including an impressive 152-yard performance in the Razorbacks' upset of LSU (video of this performance is available here). For this, he received first-team All-SEC honors. In 2011, however, he fell to earth with an resounding splat, losing the entire season to a broken ankle suffered in a preseason scrimmage. In 2012, still hampered by the gimpy ankle, he totaled a mere 377 rushing yards (at a diminished 3.4 YPC rate) and a paltry two scores.

When at his best, Davis is a bruising back with an intriguing combination of power and rare open field burst. He doesn;t have terrific wiggle, but he can excel in a cone-cut zone blocking system. Scouts have compared a healthy Davis (i.e., the 2010 version) to former Razorback Darren McFadden, a top-five selection in 2008. Take a look at what they're talking about; here he is toting the rock against SEC rivals South Carolina and Auburn, as well as versus Ohio State in the 2011 Sugar Bowl. Sadly, his 2012 film doesn't showcase him at his best. Take a look at him last season against Texas A&M and you'll see that he lacks the burst and suddenness of his former self.

The question is: what version of Davis will teams get? The 2010 game breaker? Or the 2012 player with the broken game?

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Let's have our panel of scouting types weigh in on this weighty question, shall we? Take it away gentlemen!

ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 17th-rated RB; not in top 150

Competitiveness: Shows toughness and competitiveness as a blocker. Generally hits the hole hard and runs hard but he does not churn out as many yards after contact as he should. Ball security is becoming an alarming issue. Holds an extremely high 3.40% career fumble rate. Issue reached a head this year as he laid the ball on the carpet eight times in just 123 touches in 2012 (6.40%).

Vision/ Patience: Adequate-to-good natural run instincts. Will occasionally run up heels of offensive linemen. Seems to be more patient when working behind a FB. Natural when it comes to reading his lead blocker and making the proper cut off the iso-block. Shows good vision as an open-field runner, as well.

Agility/ Acceleration: Explosiveness and speed was the strength of his game prior to 2011 ankle injury. Has clearly taken a few steps back in this area in 2012 and appears hesitant fully trusting the ankle at his point. Still, shows signs of lateral quickness particularly with jump cut. As well as flashes the ability to string together multiple cuts. However, lacks the acceleration/explosion out of cuts prior to the ankle injury.

Power/ Balance: Attacks line of scrimmage on inside runs. Flashes good initial power and will bounce off some attempted arm tackles. But little bit of a narrow-based runner. Does not show great balance and not a natural at planting his foot in the ground and accelerating off the cut. Doesn't always run with great pad level. Must learn to run behind his pads and do a better job of churning out yards after initial contact.

Passing Game: Still developing route running skills but flashes soft hands and has been mostly reliable as a pass catcher on tape. Can be more aggressive at times but has developed into a solid pass blocker. Shows good initial pop at the point of attack and has enough size to anchor versus the blitz.

Intangibles: Two-time team captain in 2011 and 2012. Strong work ethic. No off field issues to our knowledge. Passionate about game and willing to pay price. Worked overnight shifts at Whataburger in high school.

Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 12th-rated RB; 150th overall

Positives: Has a chiseled physique and looks the part. Physical specimen - lit up the Combine with sub-4.4 40 times and posted an RB-best 31 bench press reps. Based on 2010, can run through arm tackles and pull away from the pack with a unique size-speed combination.

Negatives: Has very small hands and fumbling has been an issue throughout his career. Not a creative runner. Tight-hipped and straight-linish, as verified by 20-yard shuttle times (4.40 seconds) less than 40 time. Long-term durability is a concern given college injury history (never survived a full season) and stiff, upright running style.

Summary: A one-cut, north-south slasher capable of sticking his foot in the ground and going the distance, Davis would fit best in a stretch-zone ground game for an offense such as the Redskins, Texans or Packers. Could be overdrafted based on sheer measurable and provide a spark but is destined to live on the injured-reserve list.

National Football Post (Russ Lande): 15th-rated RB; 160th overall

Strengths: A dynamic, big play back when healthy, Davis has the physical tools to change games. Instinctive and blessed with great vision, he consistently finds/sees hole/crease and has the cutting ability and burst to get to and through it. Able to change directions in a flash, Davis has consistently shown the ability make sharp cuts to make tacklers miss. Once he gets through the LOS he has the speed to out-run angles and take plays the distance. Well built with good playing strength and balance, he makes it looks easy running through tackle attempts to gain yards after contact. Possessing good hands catching the ball, Davis has the talent to contribute catching passes from a variety of alignments. .

Weaknesses: A much better athlete than football player, Davis has struggled to stay healthy and on the field, which has limited his overall production. His struggles staying healthy at Arkansas make him a real durability question mark for the NFL. Too often Davis does not run with good pad level, which lessens how quickly he can change directions and exposes him to many hard hits. While he has the size, strength and balance to gain yards after contact, he is not consistent enough doing so when he doesn't run with good body lean. In the games evaluated, Davis put the ball on the ground way too often - Carries it loosely and does not wrap it up when in traffic.

Summary: After a breakout 2010 season when he ran for over 1,300 yards, Davis was expected to be a dominant back the next two seasons and challenge to be the #1 Overall Pick when he came out for the Draft. However, things have not gone nearly as planned as he has struggled staying healthy over the next two seasons, which caused him to rush for less yards in 2011 and 2012 combined than he did in 2010. As he showed at the Combine he seems to be completely healthy and has maintained his elite/rare athleticism. However, the real test will come when he gets to the NFL and has to prove he can be a durable back. In addition to injury concerns, Davis has struggled to hold onto the ball, which is usually enough to keep a back on the bench. Overall, Davis' physical talent warrants a high selection, but when you consider he is below the line for overall production, durability and ball security he really should not be selected until the third day of the Draft because the odds are against him becoming the consistently productive back in the NFL that he has the talent to be, but struggled to be at Arkansas.

Ourlads (Dan Shonka): 15th-rated RB; not in top 150

Junior entry. Started 15 games in career. In short - big, fast, and athletic. Best year was his sophomore season in 2010. He is one guy who could have used another year to stabilize his career and to prove that he could avoid injury. When he did play in 2012 it was obvious he lost his third gear burst still recovering from injury. A bender/ weaver type runner in space. Runs tall opening up his chest to tackler. Bottom line - a thick, athletic, speedy, straight line running back with serious durability and ball security issues. Had 13 fumbles in his career. The fumbles are a combination of carelessness, technique, short forearms, and small hands. A size/ speed prospect with inconsistent skills and production.

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I believe Davis is the lowest-rated player in our "draft target" series; the best grade he receives from our panel is 150th, which would place him at the tail end of round five, and its hard to tell exactly where they rest of them rate him. The fact that he received an invitation to Valley Ranch speaks to his potential, which has to intrigue teams. Still, with an injury history that extends all the way back to high school, and a running style that doesn't do much to avoid contact, front offices will surely be wary about taking before the third day. As a result, I'll slot him on the 2013 "little board," but not before the sixth round.

As with the other backs at whom the Cowboy have taken a longer look, Davis would be excellent in a zone blocking scheme where he's asked to make one cut and go. in such a system, his ceiling is as high as any back in this draft (as Jonathan Bales points out in his profile of Davis, the former Hog "recorded the highest YPC of any FBS running back with at least 200 carries in 2010 while playing in the SEC." That's enough for me to be very interested...but not before round five, as the Cowboys have too many pressing needs to be spending any earlier a pick on a player who carries that much risk.

That's the final profile on our series, folks. I hope you've enjoyed it. Have a Merry NFL Christmas; may all our stocking be filled with goodies and not coal!

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