Every Monday and Thursday, Plainsman sports staffers Zach Tantillo and Nathan King will analyze an Auburn football player who has a chance to make a sizable impact on the team next season.
Today’s Fortune Teller focuses on Javaris Davis, the presumed leader of Auburn's young but capable defensive backs room.
Auburn’s secondary will begin the 2018 season without arguably its top three pieces from the 2017 SEC Western Division championship season.
Safeties Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts, and All-American cornerback Carlton Davis are now big-leaguers, playing in Minnesota, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, respectively, opening the door for a new defensive backs room leader.
Enter Javaris Davis, a junior corner who has been in the starting mix for the Tigers for the past two seasons. The former four-star prospect from Jacksonville, Florida, will be heavily leaned on, along with fellow junior Jamel Dean, by coach Greg Brown, whose unit is chock-full of first-years, position transplants and youngsters.
Javaris Davis has been called Auburn’s best cover corner with the departure of Carlton Davis, and that proved to be factual in early May when Gus Malzahn said the 2016 SEC All-Freshman defender will be the Tigers’ starter at the “nickel” position going forward. At nickel, Davis can match up with the SEC’s speedy slot receivers while still utilizing his proven cover skills and team-leading two 2017 interceptions on the outside.
"Obviously, losing Carlton is very big,” Davis said. “He's a great player. But we also know that other people have to step up, and that's all we're trying to do — get some younger guys to step up and contribute fast. I'm just trying to be that leader that everybody wants me to be.
“That's what I've been working on and preaching to the young guys. They're going to have to play, so I'm just trying to get them prepared for this upcoming season."
Matthews and Roberts were branded for their hard hitting close to the line of scrimmage, and Carlton Davis was revered by SEC receivers for “bullying” play in coverage. But with Javaris Davis and Dean’s Pro Football Focus ratings of 84.6 and 87.2, respectively, the two highest marks on the 2017 defense, Brown and first-year assistant Marcus Woodson will continue to demand greatness from their secondary.
Javaris Davis did a great job of limiting his receivers after the catch pic.twitter.com/C4i5VrdRQd— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 27, 2018
“I’ll tell you what, they showed that they’re experienced,” Woodson told Rivals.com. “They’ve got a really good understanding of what we’re looking for from a scheme standpoint and also from a technique standpoint. Those guys were consistent from day one to the end of the spring as far as coming out with the right work ethic to set the tone for the younger guys to be able to know what it’s like to be a pro.”
Davis and Dean, along with the rest of Auburn’s young defensive backs, went to work immediately in the spring, taking advantage of a first-team offense ravaged with injuries. Kevin Steele’s defense dominated the semester, highlighted by five interceptions in the opening scrimmage.
At A-Day, starting quarterback Malik Willis threw for just 45 yards on 8-of-20 passing, the Blue offense was held to -5 yards in the opening half and Davis nearly took a Joey Gatewood pass the other way for a pick-six in the first quarter.
“It’s nothing against the offense,” Davis said. “It’s just that (Steele) is always preaching, we have to focus on us, do our job, and don’t worry about the opponent that we’re facing. So we just give great effort and everybody plays as one.”
Davis will have his hands full from the first game, but the immense depth surrounding him should lead to a successful season as the Tigers' go-to lock-down man on quick receivers. Dean can rough up the conference's big and physical threats, but Davis will be tasked with slot options downfield.
Davis has corralled four interceptions in his two years as a Tiger with a pair of touchdowns to show for it. And with another year of experience gone by, he will be Auburn's biggest threat to take one to the house every time he gets his hands on the pigskin.
Catch up on previous installments of the Fortune Teller series: