NFL Network’s Charles Davis Talks The Draft With Ramblin’ Fan


Although the NFL draft may be months away yet, it’s never too early to start talking about it. This week I got the opportunity to sit down with one of the best draft analysts out there, NFL Network’s Charles Davis. Before I get into it, I’d like to give a big thank you to Mr. Davis for taking the time, it was awesome to talk college football and the draft with someone who I’ve watched analyze it for years.

Blaine Grisak: It’s obvious you know for teams to hit on their picks in the early stages of the draft, but how important do you think it is for teams to hit on players when we get to the later stages of day two and day 3 to find those diamonds in the rough?

Charles Davis: “I wouldn’t say that it’s more important, but in order to build a team, you need to be able to hit all the way through the draft. In the first round is where everyone’s focus will be obviously. You know, that’s where all the red carpet is, that’s the one that is flown to the city, meets with the owner, poses for pictures, that’s where the media attention goes, and that should be the best player that you get in the draft because thats the one that you valued the most and taken the highest. But the best teams that we know do an excellent job of finding those people you’re talking about.Finding those later round guys that contribute to the team and play really well, and some undrafted free agents along the way.

You know this year we spent a lot of time, I forgot what number anniversary date it is, but the Herschel Walker trade from Dallas to Minnesota. That Minnesota thought would get them into the Super Bowl, and Dallas used all those picks with a brand new team, and Jimmy Johnson, and Jerry Jones, and all that, and those draft picks became the backbone of Super Bowl winning teams later.

That’s really what you’re looking for. Who are those teams that got their kid in the first round, but all the way through where you find guys like a Marques Colston with the New Orleans Saints who was a seventh round pick. You know, the Super Bowl MVP last year, Malcolm Smith, was an undrafted free agent. It’s those sort of things that you’re looking for and that’s how you build those teams. So, I wouldn’t say that it’s more important, but it’s as equally important.”

BG: I think this is something that’s always baffling especially from a fans perspective, is how a team can miss on a player in the first round that has been hyped up and done well in  pro days and at the combine, and then another team can hit on a player from the same position later on in the draft. An example that I use, and there are a lot, is last year’s draft you had Cleveland take Justin Gilbert with the 8th overall pick who at one point this season was seeing less time than undrafted rookie K’Waun Williams. And then you have St. Louis take a guy like E.J. Gaines in the 6th round and has been one of the better rookie defensive backs this season.

Why is it that this happens year in and year out? Is this more of a scouting error, looking too much into physical attributes? Is it more just bad luck of a player not producing at the next level and one player playing with a chip on his shoulder? What is your take on this?

CD: “You know, you probably have elements of everything that you talked about. As we talk about every year, scouting is a science. Truthfully, I’m not sure how much of its science, how much of its art, how much of its good fortune. You know, there’s so many different things that go into it, but the different examples that you’ve cited are the questions that all the team’s are asking themselves. Did we miss on this guy? Is he playing in the same type of system that we evaluated him in college that made him a great player?

Sometimes you evaluate a guy as a press corner and then he comes in and you play a lot of zone, and that’s not to his strength, then he doesn’t play the same way. Did he come to camp in shape? Is he a guy that learns as he goes along? Does he process? Does he process as well as you thought he did when you evaluated him, because it turned out that, let’s say he’s a defensive back, that he can’t let mistakes go, which means what? That leads to more mistakes down the road.

Let’s say you evaluated him as a 250-lb outside, inside linebacker, as it turns out he comes to camp at 275, and now he can’t move. Now you gotta work with him though that. We can go on all day into the different reasons, and the different examples. That’s why you never know. Plus, sometimes you get that guy that doesn’t work out for them in Cleveland, but somehow works for them in St. Louis three years down the road.

You know, why was E.J. Gaines not evaluated higher?  I remember doing a full evaluation on him last year, talking with people close to him at Missouri and, you know, where he got drafted was about where he had been rated. You go across the consensus of the board, but he’s played above that rating. Maybe there was something that went off, like you said, ‘hey, hold on a second, I’m better than that.’ All of a sudden it’s clicked for him. He’s gotten better, and he’s got that chip on his shoulder and off he goes.

So, there are so many different reasons. They’re hard to pin point at times. For as many guys as we say ‘can’t miss’, there are plenty of other guys that come in that we never gave a chance and they hit even bigger, and you get fortunate with that.

Look, the New England Patriots will forever be known as the team that drafted Tom Brady, and it looks like they knew something that the rest of the league didn’t know. I will always take the stance that the New England Patriots are one of the most fortunate teams out there, because they took a flyer on it in the sixth round. If they really knew what they knew about Tom Brady, he wouldn’t be sitting around in the sixth round.”

BG: In a win now, what have you done for me lately league that is today’s NFL, college athletes are expected to be able to come in right away and produce. Does this make it tougher for today’s rookies…especially with a  lot of college systems being a simple one read spread system. Back in the day I know some rookies wouldn’t see significant playing time and wouldn’t start until year two or sometimes year three.

CD: “Ya, it’s tough with the evaluation, but you know what’s helping these rookie nowadays? It’s that the college game and the NFL game in terms of style and scheme, are the most closely aligned as they’ve ever been. In the good old days, when you came out of college and went to the NFL, it was an entirely different way of doing things, entirely different system. The NFL schemes never dipped down into college and pulled things from there to use in the pro game. In fact, you know, as some of the old coaches would say, ‘we’re not doing that college stuff ok? This is the NFL, this is how we do things.’

Look when we had the lockout year. We didn’t have OTA’s, didn’t have mini-camps. We had these quarterbacks coming in and guess what? They needed to be ready to play. So what did the pros do? They went to their college systems, got them comfortable with stuff that they could utilize early, and Andy Dalton had a big first year, Cam Newton came out of the gate and threw for 400 yards in his first two games. Right on down the line, and you know something, it worked.

The NFL went ‘hmmm’, wow. Maybe we should use some of this stuff.’ I think in that time, we’ve seen a jump in those things where coordinators, teams who are bringing in college coaches, they’re actually being heard about things that they can use. Zone reads, option game, quarterback runs, things that we never did in the NFL before are now in a lot of offenses in the NFL.”

BG: Do you think that’s more of, like you said, coaches being more open to implementing those types of college systems, or do you think its more of college coaches being in the NFL now, like the Chip Kellys or Jim Harbaughs?

CD: “I think it’s much more that people are willing. Jim Harbaugh came in and a lot of what Jim did beforehand, was pro stuff. Jim was a pro style guy, throw it around, do that sort of thing, but he adapted as well when he got Colin Kaepernick and did a little more quarterback run game.

Chip Kelly obviously brought that system from Oregon to Philadelphia and has adapted into the NFL.The bottomline is, if you go trace Chip Kelly’s history, you will see Chip Kelly’s background also, is what ever system you want. Chip’s one of the smarter football guys around, and when he was coaching in New Hampshire, they weren’t running anything like what they were running at Oregon. So, he’s adapted.

I think these pro coaches nowadays are much more willing to listen, much more willing to implement. Think about how Denver went to the playoffs with Tim Tebow as the quarterback. They had to change what they did, and that’s John Fox who’s the head coach there, who’s an old defense, kicking game, field position coach, and they’ve got a quarterback who can’t throw, not very accurately, yet they found a way to adapt, win a division, and win a playoff game. I mean, that’s just something that never would have happened in the past. So, I definitely believe coaching, they’re much more willing to listen and adapt.”

BG: I have to ask you, just because I’m a huge fan of his, but what do you think of Bryce Petty, do you think he has what it takes to succeed at the NFL level?

CD: “I do. I think Bryce has the frame that you’re looking for. He’s a big bodied kid. Tall, thick, much more athletic than one would think when you first take a look at him. I mean, Bryce Petty, when I talked to my friends at Baylor, he’s about a 37-inch vertical jump guy. I mean, he squats big weight, he runs better than what you would think if you ever watch him run some of those zone reads that he runs at Baylor.  I’ve seen him hurdle over guys going into the end zone.

So, he’s much more athletic, mobile guy than maybe he’s getting credit for. Most of the plays he’s made have been from the pocket though. That’s what you want in the NFL. You’re going to win more from the pocket than you are outside of it. and Bryce is definitely good about doing that.

The big question mark for Bryce coming into the league is accuracy. How accurate will he be throwing the football? Because you’ll see in college you’ll see huge, terrific, completion percentages, but you don’t have to be as precise throwing the football. Tim Tebow’s career completion percentage, I bet hovers around 55% if not more. But you don’t have to be as precise. You’ve got excellent receivers and a big time play maker, they can get way better separation in college than you do in the pros.

College guys are like me, there are guys that were playing in college that aren’t going to play in the NFL. The NFL guys, you’re not getting that same separation, you have to be way more precise throwing the football, and that’s what I’m going to look at, and that’s what I’m going to be eager to see with Bryce going forward. In the Baylor system, you don’t have to be quite as accurate, because those receivers he has are just all freaks.”

BG: The first ever college football playoff will be coming up here in a couple of weeks, who are some players other than the obvious Marcus Mariota and James Winston who you would say have the most to prove?

CD: “Taking away Mariota and Winston from the equation, I think a guy like T.J. Yeldon, the running back from Alabama. Most people when we talk about the runners coming out, the top-tier guys, as we start the process, and remember, its a long way between now and draft day, but as we start the process, names that roll off the tongue are Todd Gurley, from Georgia, despite the knee injury, and Melvin Gordon in Wisconsin.

Yeldon is a guy that’s been talked about all along the way, can he put himself up into an upper tier with two big performances if he’s able to get two in the playoff system? Can we see something a little bit different from him?

I’m going to try to pick one from each spot. Let’s go over to Ohio State. How about a receiver like Devin Smith? He plays well throughout his career. You go and study his history, a good majority of his touchdowns have been 40-plus yards. He’s a home run hitting type of receiver, but I don’t know how many people view him that way? Why? You know? So take a good hard look at him, and then let’s go and see.

Let’s go to Oregon. I would say Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, but he’s going to be out, he’s not going to play in this game, because he hurt his knee yesterday. So if he’s out, a guy with something to prove? If they are able to get Hroniss Grasu back, the center, he got hurt at the end of the season. If he’s able to play in these games, coming back healthy. If he’s able to handle a big defensive front that Florida State’s going to present. Can he handle power, because he’s been a very mobile tough guy along the way. He didn’t miss any starts until he got hurt late in the season. Can he come back and handle the big power that we know Florida State’s going to present?

And then with Florida State we want to see Rashad Greene, the wide receiver. I want to continue to see him elevate his game and maybe possibly push himself upward in the draft, because he is the feature guy, and that’s who’s going to take their coverages.”

BG: Well, that’s all I have for you. Once again thank you so much for taking the time, I really appreciate it. It was good talking to you and have a great holiday season!

CD: “Thanks, you too.”