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Skeptics overlooking Marcus Davenport are in for a big surprise this season

When the Minnesota Vikings signed former New Orleans Saints edge rusher Marcus Davenport to a contract worth up to $13 million, many immediately thought the front office made a mistake. Why offer so much money to a player who only tallied half a sack last season?

In a data-driven world, the numbers just didn’t add up for some. Even though this is general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s first time on the job, he wasn’t born yesterday. He understands that measuring a pass-rusher’s impact isn’t done just by glancing at their sack total.

There are many other ways a player whose primary goal is to disrupt the quarterback can make their presence felt. One obvious way is by creating pressure. Even though Davenport’s effort didn’t lead to big sack numbers, you can’t ignore his ability to wreak havoc.

Creating pressure can lead to much more than just a sack. They can lead to QBs throwing the ball away or making other errant throws that lead to interceptions. Isn’t that better than a sack?

While a loss of six yards or so via sack is helpful, football is all about winning your individual battles, and Davenport has shown he can do this on a consistent basis.

In fact, there’s a helpful stat called ‘Win percentage’ that measures how often a rusher beats his opponent when locked into a one-on-one matchup. Davenport excelled in this department last season, posting a win rate of 17.6%. This ranked ninth among NFL edge defenders who played 175 or more snaps in 2022, per Pro Football Focus. Here’s another example of Davenport mauling his opponent.

OK, the 26-year-old has a high win rate, but what happens next? So far, Davenport has turned these ‘wins’ into a pressure rate that has ranked in the top 20 every year since he was drafted 14th overall. That places the new Vikings pass-rusher in elite company.

Aside from Davenport, Myles Garrett is the only other player to have a pressure rate north of 13% in each of the past five seasons. Stringing together years of strong performances has led to Davenport posting a career pressure rate of 15.1%. This is the fourth-best mark since he arrived in the NFL in 2018.

Here’s another Davenport highlight to keep you salivating. Keep your eye on the left guard (No. 64).

Davenport has multiple examples where he overpowers his opponent. This is a 6-foot-6, 265-pound athletic freak with 4.58 speed. That’s roughly the same quickness as ‘Create-A-Player’ Danielle Hunter, who clocked a 4.57 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Yet, as we’ve seen, the UTSA product isn’t just some Combine wizard who performs well in drills. Davenport’s closing speed translates to the field.

It’s not just Davenport’s athleticism that catches blockers off-guard. His 33 ⅝” long arms routinely give linemen trouble because not only does he have length, he also has the strength to pack an extremely effective bull rush.

Aside from compiling nine sacks in 2021, Davenport’s raw numbers aren’t impressive. That’s easy for anyone to see. But saying the 26-year-old isn’t a good pass rusher just isn’t true.

He wins with speed, runs through opponents, and has a motor that seemingly never stops. Davenport hasn’t always gotten the chances you’d expect from a former top pick. He’s never played more than 64% of his team’s defensive snaps. However, he’s also had to share a depth chart with an All-Pro in Cameron Jordan, plus Pro Bowl edge rusher Trey Hendrickson to name a few.

Despite experiencing various injuries preventing him from playing more than 14 regular season games in one year, you can’t question Davenport’s dedication. The film shows that, and the stories back it up.

Football enthusiasts probably know the tale of Hall of Fame 49ers safety Ronnie Lott amputating part of his finger so he could quickly return to the field. Well, Davenport has a similar experience. He actually had part of his left pinky cut off so he could be back in time for the start of the 2022 season. That’s a whole new level of commitment to the game.

Another major weakness in Minnesota since 2019 has been an inability to stop the run, which in some cases, has been due to failing to set the edge. Davenport has often displayed a high football IQ that, when paired with his athletic abilities, makes him an interesting case study.

One other unique aspect, and maybe you’ve already noticed from the clips above, is that Davenport can be effective from multiple stances. As the Vikings move forward with season two in their 3-4 defensive scheme, keeping opponents on their toes with Davenport’s pre-snap alignment will be fun. It doesn’t seem to matter whether he has his hands in the dirt or opts to stand up and rush. Davenport has shown he can make an impact no matter what.

Perhaps the next question is, how much of a difference can Davenport make? We know what Hunter is capable of, and if some advanced stats show Davenport can be just as effective as his new pass-rush partner, what’s the ceiling for this Vikings sack tandem?

The truth about Marcus Davenport and his Pro Bowl potential

If Davenport can stay on the field for more than 14 games, there’s a strong chance he can have a Pro Bowl season. Davenport has only been a full-time player once in his five NFL seasons, with a career-high 13 starts in his second year as a pro.

In that time, Davenport’s career-high in snaps has topped out at 532 for a single year. Hunter has had just two seasons with 600 or fewer snaps, for comparison’s sake. Now at the age of 26, entering his sixth NFL season, Davenport has all the tools to turn in a career year.

You’ve seen the clips showing what he’s capable of. The tape doesn’t lie. The numbers show he has no trouble causing plenty of pressure, so what does Davenport need to do to earn a Pro Bowl nod?

First, he needs to turn those pressures into sacks, finishing with a slightly better season than when he had nine sacks in just 11 games in 2021. Hunter made his third Pro Bowl appearance last season after recording 10.5 sacks and a forced fumble to go with 65 tackles. These numbers aren’t out of reach for Davenport either, but targeting 12 sacks is probably a safer milestone if the Pro Bowl is on tap.

Davenport’s pass-rush win rate has never been lower than 13%, placing him in a pressure-heavy environment coordinated by Brian Flores with blitzers flying in from every angle should only help the former Saint’s numbers improve. If Davenport’s sack numbers increase to double digits, he’ll automatically receive several Pro Bowl votes.

But if he can take things one step further, maintaining consistency as a run-stopper while generating pressure in passing situations, we could even be looking at a future All-Pro. Already ranking 16th in run defense among edge defenders since becoming a first-round pick, there’s reason to believe he can help the Vikings in both facets of the game.

That is a very impressive motor for a player of Davenport’s size. Watch how 92 stays locked in the entire time, cutting through traffic in ball pursuit. Defensive linemen are not supposed to have sideline-to-sideline speed or anything close.

Coach Flores will do his job, causing opponents to think twice when faced with so much pre-snap confusion combined with blitzes that never seem to end. Now finally in a position to be a full-time starter, it’s hard to imagine Davenport not having a career year in the North Star State.

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