Life hasn't really been fair for Knile Davis this season.
Any time he comes off the bench and takes his spot on the field as a running back, he's got two things going against him. First, he's replacing All-Universe running back Jamaal Charles, next to whom anyone is going to look subpar. Second, he's getting snaps over a fan favorite (Cyrus Gray) whose presence some (like me) felt made picking a running back in the third round a waste.
I take partial responsibility for the Gray problem (because I'm super important and stuff, right? Guys?), after my "MOAR Cyrus Gray" campaign got a lot more play than I ever expected. And the Jamaal problem, well ... that's not going to change. Jamaal Charles is one of the best three running backs on the planet. The man glides while others run. It's not even fair.
All that said ... Davis has made some attention-grabbing plays as of late (and by that, I mean mostly Sunday against the Redskins and the kick return against the Broncos). It's time to at least take a look at the Chiefs 2013 third round pick and see what we've got.
Knile Davis can BURN.
That has never been called into question. He might be the fastest slow-looking runner I've ever seen. The man looks like he's lumbering out there. Every time I see him take off I think, "There's no way he's THAT fast. Look at him!" Of course, that's clearly not the case. And nowhere has that speed been more evident than his kick return TD against the Broncos.
Take a look at this. Davis has gotten some daylight in front of him and is taking off for the promised land. However...
A Bronco is zeroing in. It happens to be Tony Carter. You may not be familiar with Tony Carter, so allow me to introduce him to you. He's a 27-year-old cornerback who is listed at 175 pounds. He also ran a 4.4 40 yard dash (and was timed as low as 4.34).
He is listed as 52 pounds lighter than Knile Davis. 52 pounds!
Tony Carter thinks he's about to save the Broncos from a momentum-shifting touchdown. And really, he SHOULD think that. Look at that angle.
Then Knile just...
Said "nope." And that....
Was that. I'd like to take this opportunity to again point out that Tony Carter is 50 pounds lighter than Knile Davis, and has been clocked at a sub 4.40 40.
For fear of upsetting everyone who got mad at Gus Johnson a few years ago, Knile Davis has running from the cops speed.
Of course, there's more to being in the NFL than speed. Otherwise Usain Bolt would have been making $20 million a year as a receiver. And Knile showed some issues early (and still does, to be fair) that caused many haters (like me, for example) to write him off.
First, Davis doesn't look like a natural runner. And no, I'm not just talking about his unorthodox running style. As long as he keeps burning corners I can live with that.
It's more that Davis looks like a sprinter rather than a running back out there. Point him in a direction and he'll get from A to B faster than anyone. But ask him to find the appropriate hole to hit, or when to cut back, and it just doesn't look to be in his nature. Of course, he's got the aforementioned problem of playing for the same team as Jamaal Charles (who looks like the most natural runner on Earth), so I perhaps am judging a little harshly here. But Davis seems to either dance or sprint, with no in between. It's a concern, though, and a big one. His vision and instincts don't seem all there.
A second issue people have expressed with Davis is his tendency to go down upon contact. Again, this isn't all that fair to Davis, as JC has become an exceptional "after contact" running back since throwing on an additional 10-15 pounds (he flattens at least one defender a game. It is exquisite). But all too often, in limited appearance, Davis didn't seem to hit like a 225-plus pound back should. A guy his size and speed should be shaking off tacklers, not dropping on contact.
A third issue, naturally, is the fumbling. This one pretty much explains itself. People worry he'll fumble, because he's known to fumble. I don't, uh, know what else to say about that.
So on Sunday, we got our first real look at Knile Davis, as he touched the ball 12 times on offense. What do we see? Well, I could trust someone else to tell me ... or I could watch and see for myself.
Knile Davis vs. the Redskins
Let's take a look at the snaps Davis touched the ball on Sunday.
Takes a handoff out of the pistol formation, running right. Cuts back ... kinda. By that, I mean he doesn't go all the way outside to the right, but cuts back up the middle of the field. There's a ton of open space if he keeps cutting back and heads left, but instead he covers up (you can tell he's heard about the fumbles) and tries to power forward. The problem is he tries to power forward through Brian Orakpo, who stops him and brings him down.
That's not a terrific start with regards to vision, as he had two better options. The first was to take the hole between G Geoff Schwartz and RT Eric Fisher. There was room to get through (though not a ton), and C Rodney Hudson had done a great job getting on the second level and engaging the LB. He squeezes through that gap and he's got a potential big gain.
The second better option was cutting all the way back and heading left, where there was wide open space to be had if he could outrun Orakpo (I find this likely). Seemed like a conservative move, though I like how he's clearly looking to secure the ball. I have a feeling it was on his mind enough to cause him to play it safe.
Handoff left out of double tight end. Nice cutback right to hit the hole that was there. Fisher allowed his guy to get away from him, so it was a gain of three when Knile got hit by the pursuing defensive lineman. Even though this was a short gain, I really like that Davis makes a fast, decisive cut into the best lane he's got.
This is a run right (with a quick fake by Alex Smith as if it's heading left), but it's doomed before it even starts. Observe Sean McGrath (left) and Eric Fisher (right), who are underlined for your convenience.
I love The Beard, but he's about 1/10th the blocker Anthony Fasano is (get well, Anthony! The offense clearly suffers without you!). And Fisher, who had a solid game, got beat like a drum here as well by a linebacker he should have picked up. Dwayne Bowe makes a solid block, and this could've been a great play with better blocking initially. That's the bad news.
The good news? Davis doesn't dance (an issue many have had, as discussed above). He also doesn't make the mistake a lot of rookie burners make and try to run backward or sideways. He sees the blocking has failed on both sides and goes straight ahead. He's got such a good burst that he actually makes it three yards before getting brought down by multiple defenders. Not bad on a doomed play.
Nice run to the right for six yards. Fisher and Schwartz (along with Hudson holding the back side) open a nice hole, and Davis goes right through it for a very quick gain. Fisher's man makes a dive for Knile's ankles as he goes by, and he goes down. I don't think he even saw it coming, nice play by the defender. Still very encouraging to see Davis hitting the hole with authority (as well as the right side of our line doing work).
Run left, cuts back toward the middle (Schwartz reported eligible on the left, with Jon Asamoah coming in at right guard. Interesting). Gain of about three yards. A "meh" play, but one thing I really liked about this play; Davis gets hit at the line of scrimmage by Ryan Kerrigan, but keeps churning his legs and pushes forward for a couple extra yards. He just MOVES the defender.
That is what a 230 pound running back should do when he's hit. I hadn't seen much of that from Davis, and it was nice to see.
The touchdown. Where do I start? Probably here...
Davis has just taken the handoff. Anthony Sherman has cut down one defender, but Schwartz's man has done a nice job staying on his feet while Schwartz trips over the prone Sherman. The result is basically a line of players in Knile's way as soon as he gets the ball. Loss of three, right?
Pictures cannot possibly do what happens next justice (I really need to learn GIFs). But I'll do my best. It's probably easier to describe it first (and you can watch it here).
Davis cuts left, jumps over The Schwartz, sprints left to avoid the grasp of 92 (who, I'm sure, has a name, but for our purposes is a faceless nobody being victimized by Knile Davis) to his right (Schwartz's guy) and an incoming 50 (again, faceless victim), both of whom end up grabbing air. He then cuts upfield to elude Kerrigan, who had risen to his feet. He shrugs off a really lame attempt at a tackle by a secondary player (lowering his shoulder and powering through), then sprints ahead for the touchdown.
Is it me, or did that just read like a fictional account of a run that could never actually happen? I'll try to capture each step in a series of pictures...
I could watch that play a hundred times. That's a play most running backs cannot make. So much athleticism, speed, and quickness required there. That's the type of play that gets you snaps.
Run right out of single back. Fisher gets beat immediately, and Knile makes a heckuva play shaking 92 in the backfield and avoiding a three yard loss. The safety has time to come up and get in Knile's face, so Knile takes off for the sideline, doing a good job creating distance with a swipe at the safety. In the meantime, however, DeAngelo Hall beats Junior Hemingway and closes in to lay a hit on Davis, who has run out of space.
Screen play left to Davis, who makes a really nice move on a closing 37 (I like this whole, "don't even name the opposing players" method. It's saved me, like, 20 seconds on Google!) to turn a five yard gain into a 17 yard gain. Really nice job in space. Also, is anyone else concerned about what happens if Chase Daniel has to play more than one series in a game that matters?
Davis handoff right, Orakpo gets by Donald Stephenson and does a great job with backside pursuit, bringing Davis down after a gain of two. Nothing of note.
Another run right, and again, there's nowhere to go. Gain of one that was doomed about a second after the snap.
Run left out of I-formation. 92 beats Fisher and lays a hit on Knile, who makes a nice spin move out of the contact to gain a couple yards but is hit almost immediately.
Knile's last carry is a loss of two. However, this was due to a blown assignment by the offensive line. Washington's nose tackle goes COMPLETELY unblocked and hits Davis basically the second he has the ball. Even JC couldn't have made that play work.
So is it time for MOAR Knile Davis?
Davis is clearly a guy who can make plays when the ball is in his hands. He's got blazing speed, can make excellent cuts, and has the size to really hurt defenders at the second level.
The problem for Davis is that giving him the ball in any situation takes the ball away from a good player. Quintin Demps has frustrated the daylights out of me in coverage, but he's been exceptional on kick returns. Jamaal Charles is too good to take off the field for longer than a play or two at a time. Even using Knile in place of Sherman in two-back sets takes a very reliable blocker and receiver off the field.
But he DOES need to see the field more. The two biggest problems I had with Davis were the fumbling and (most importantly) his tendency to dance instead of cut. The second issue seems to have been addressed, at least if we're basing our opinion off his most recent work. Davis did very little dancing out there and was much more decisive than at any point in the preseason. He also is obviously concerned with ball security (almost to a fault at times, really).
So now we've got a freak athlete who is capable of going the distance every time he touches the ball ... but we don't have much of a place for him. That said, it needs to happen. MOAR Knile Davis is officially my new battle cry. He's so, so explosive, and the Chiefs offense needs all the explosiveness it can get. Two ways I'd love to see MOAR Knile Davis are...
1) 2-RB sets
I know this means less time for Anthony Sherman on the field, and that's a bummer. Sherman has played well and is very dependable. But he's not even half the playmaker Davis is. What scares opposing defenses more: the threat of Sherman catching a screen and getting 10 yards, or the threat of Davis catching a screen and going 90?
Again, the offense has lacked explosion at times this year (you know, pretty much every game before the last few weeks). The Chiefs need every playmaker we have on the field. If that means we expand how often the Chiefs run with two backs (to increase volume of snaps so Sherman AND Davis can see the field) at the expense of the wideouts or a tight end, so be it.
2) Splitting a back out wide
Jamaal Charles has proven he can be split wide and beat coverage. Splitting him out wide and bringing Davis into the backfield gets both our home run hitters on the field at once. If Davis shows the ability to be split wide, all the better. I'd love to see some formations with those two all over the field.
However Reid does it, though, it's time. Time for MOAR KNILE DAVIS!!!
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