The Los Angeles Rams continue to weigh their options on defense in the 2020 NFL Draft. They met formally with Appalachian State star linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither at the 2020 NFL Combine. He would be a strong candidate to replace one of the linebacker positions vacated by Cory Littleton or Clay Matthews.
The Rams’ acquisition of Leonard Floyd will most likely fill the hole left by former star EDGE Dante Fowler. Davis-Gaither loaded the stat box in his last two years with the Mountaineers and earned the 2019 Sunbelt Defensive Player of the Year. His talent on special teams in addition to the defense cannot go unnoticed, but is he a solid fit for the Rams? His stats, strengths and weaknesses below will give a clearer picture.
College Stats and Honors:
2019: 101 tackles (49 solo and 14.5 for a loss), five sacks, one interception and eight passes defended
Career: 201 tackles (94 solo and 24 for a loss), 6.5 sacks, one interception and 15 passes defended
Honors: 2019 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, 2019 First-Team All-Sun Belt, 2018 Second-Team All-Sun Belt, 2019 Fourth-Team All-America
Davis-Gaither has quickness and agility that is uncommon among most linebackers. He can maneuver himself to get past blockers by lowering his shoulder and tackling low, often making tackles for a loss. He’s exceptional at wrapping up ball carriers. His effort to stretch out his body mid-tackle while also on the ground is amazing. This toughness makes him successful and helps him follow through on plays. Davis-Gaither also shoots the gaps, stop runs and block passes. He plays the EDGE well, getting to the quarterback quickly while evading offensive tackles. His quick arm movements and speed are key to getting around blockers on the outside or inside.
Although undersized for most NFL linebackers, Davis-Gaither provides a skillset now sought by the league. He is a true hybrid linebacker/safety. In the slot, he can break off to cover receivers and tight ends and redirect the offensive play. His football IQ is high, and he is keen on watching the quarterback’s every move, deciding quickly if he needs to drop back or rush. He has an incredible nose for the football.
At 6’1,” 224 pounds, Davis-Gaither is undersized for an NFL linebacker. This is his biggest problem. He may not be able to take down NFL-sized ball carriers the way he did in college. He will need to bulk up since he has the frame of a safety. Davis-Gaither also had surgery in March on his right foot to repair a stress fracture. This may be a concern, although he should be healed up by training camp.
He can get stopped at the line of scrimmage. He also cannot square up against blockers as well as he can get around them. To be fair, he is often double-teamed inside and sometimes still finds a way to get to the ball carrier. Davis-Gaither does not have a lot of stats from the NFL Combine. It was cut short due to COVID-19 concerns. While the Combine doesn’t tell everything about a player, it gives a better idea of how a team values the player.
Expected Draft Round:
Davis-Gaither will most likely fit in a 4-3 defensive scheme at weakside linebacker. This will give him the opportunity to drop into coverage or utilize his quickness across the field. That said, the Rams would still benefit in taking him and fitting him into their style of a quick, multi-tasking defense. They like agile linebackers that provide a similar skill set to his. While the Rams will continue to run a 3-4 defense, it’s unclear if newly appointed defensive coordinator Brandon Staley will have a similar approach as Wade Phillips did.
Davis-Gaither may go in the second or third round of the NFL Draft. His size will be his biggest hindrance, but his special teams playing ability will up his value. In the modern NFL, players like this are in demand. Davis-Gaither’s advantage is that he can play at multiple linebacker positions and on special teams.