After the New Orleans Saints traded multiple picks to select edge defender Marcus Davenport 14th overall in the 2018 draft, there were immediate questions over how quickly he could contribute. As Davenport missed time due to injury in both OTAs and training camp, these questions became even more pressing. Fortunately, Davenport had a strong debut in the Saints third preseason game and has visibly progressed in each game since then.
In the Saints 43-19 win over the Washington Redskins, Davenport put forth his best NFL performance yet. Davenport recorded three tackles, including a tackle for a loss, a sack-fumble, and a quarterback hit that nearly forced another fumble. It wasn’t exactly a breakout performance, but it was the clearest manifestation of his enormous potential so far.
Here’s a breakdown of Davenport’s best moments against Washington.
Marcus Davenport Displayed Scary Potential Against Washington Redskins
Big Presence on Second Redskins Possession
On Davenport’s second play of the game, he held Redskins running back Adrian Peterson to a two-yard gain by surviving a well-executed cut block. Davenport had a free release as the offensive line slid right, but tight end Jeremy Sprinkle swung from the right side to cut off Davenport’s pursuit.
Sprinkle hit Davenport right above the knees, immediately knocking him forward. The block initially gave Peterson a massive cutback lane, but Davenport somehow kept his right foot underneath him and recovered his balance as he stepped over Sprinkles. This was enough to force Peterson back inside, and Davenport assisted on the tackle.
A few plays later, Davenport put a nice pressure on Redskins quarterback Alex Smith that forced him to check down on third and 15. Davenport hit the B gap, and was doubled by the left guard and tackle. Davenport kept his shoulders down though and showed his strength as he pushed both linemen deep into the backfield and got a hand on Smith.
The quarterback escaped and picked up a first down with the check down pass, but it was a great effort by Davenport to create pressure despite the double-team.
On the next play, Davenport disrupted an outside run with explosive initial contact on his blocker. Tight end Vernon Davis had good pad level, but Davenport got his right forearm on the neck of Davis, forcing the tight end backwards. Davenport extended his arm and kept his body in the gap, which made Peterson take a wider path outside to avoid his tight end.
Safety Vonn Bell made the tackle after a two-yard gain and Washington settled for a field goal a few plays later.
Big Hit on Smith
After some good rushes throughout the first half, Davenport finally reached Smith with a jarring hit late in the second quarter. Davenport started on an outside rush but noticed running back Chris Thompson coming out of the backfield with the intention of chipping him on the way. Davenport disengaged from his blocker, cut inside to avoid the running back and darted through a massive gap opened up by Alex Okafor‘s rush.
Just as Smith’s arm went back, Davenport speared the quarterback from behind. Somehow Smith held onto the ball, and managed to throw out of bounds. The hit would’ve likely caused a fumble if Davenport had arrived a split-second earlier, but since it was third down, his effort ended the drive anyway. This set up the Drew Brees record-breaking touchdown pass, which occurred two plays later.
Late in the third quarter, Davenport successfully caused a strip-sack on a fourth and 10 play. There wasn’t anything flashy about his rush, as he took a step inside before bull rushing the left tackle head-on. It was simply a great display of determination and strength.
Davenport stayed low and steadily drove his blocker into the backfield. Once Smith stepped up in the pocket, Davenport angled inside, reached, and got his hand on the ball as Smith moved his arm back. Linebacker A.J. Klein recovered the fumbled and returned it for 17 yards.
Tackle for Loss
For whatever reason, Washington was still trying run plays down 43-13 early in the fourth quarter. Davenport showed great reaction on an unexpected handoff on second and 12, which sent Thompson towards the B gap on his side. The linebackers had dropped into coverage, so it was critical for Davenport to hold his edge.
Davenport had taken off on an outside rush, but reversed course after seeing the handoff. Thompson quickly bounced outside, but Davenport was ready. He kept his shoulders parallel to Thompson, disengaged from the left tackle and dropped Thompson for a two-yard loss.
Davenport is quickly proving to be an asset in run defense even though most of his snaps come on passing downs.
Davenport hasn’t exactly taken the NFL by storm, but he’s meeting expectations and showing great effort. So far Davenport is on pace with fellow rookie edge defenders Harold Landry and Bradley Chubb, who were early round picks as well.
Through five weeks, Landry has notched seven tackles (one for loss), one strip-sack and three quarterback hits. Chubb has 12 tackles (one for loss), 1.5 sacks, four total quarterback hits, and a pass breakup. Meanwhile, Davenport has made nine tackles (two for losses), two sacks, two quarterback hits, and two pass breakups.
Although he’s off to a solid start and on pace with his peers, it’s likely that New Orleans would still like to see more from him. At times, his presence disappears from the pass rush and other times he’ll apply consistent pressure throughout a single drive.
With that said, Davenport is getting more playing time each week, a clear sign that coaches like what they see so far and don’t feel the need to limit his exposure. Davenport played a season-high 57.4 percent of defensive snaps against Washington after playing 34.8 percent of snaps in the season-opener.
A great asset for Davenport is All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan, who is consistently disruptive from the left end spot. Many of Davenport’s good rushes this season have been possible because Jordan rarely gives quarterbacks a chance to roll right. If Davenport can be a bit more disruptive, the Saints should be able to get consistent pressure with four-man rushes, which will take pressure off their struggling, banged up secondary.
With Davenport already making huge strides this season, a true breakout performance may be just a few weeks away.