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 Deshaun Davis, Auburn’s 2017 leading tackler and unquestioned "quarterback" of Kevin Steele's vaunted defense.
Since uprooting from his one-year stint in Baton Rouge and arriving on The Plains two seasons ago, Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has been heralded as not only a defensive wizard for the orange and blue, but also one of the top defensive minds in the Southeastern Conference.
Auburn has ranked in the top four in SEC total defense through Steele’s first two years and the Tigers’ “Steele curtain” claimed the No. 8 and No. 12 scoring defense in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Although the initial prospects were courted from their high school days by previous coordinators Will Muschamp and Ellis Johnson, Steele is accredited with unhinging the potential of a kinetic defense now approaching the ranks of elite.
However, according to senior linebacker Deshaun Davis, the credit is all his own.
“I’m actually the defensive coordinator,” Davis said at the Peach Bowl in December. “He just gets paid.”
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
"If you ask him right now, he'd tell you that you aren't talking to the defensive coordinator, he's the defensive coordinator,” Steele said on WNSP-FM 105.5 in May. “That's just his personality."
While Davis’ comments were made out to be humorous, there is some merit to his claims. Davis is undoubtedly the stereotypical “quarterback” of Auburn’s defense, recording a team-leading 85 tackles last season.
Davis edged his way into a starting role in 2016, and the Prichard, Alabama defender burst onto the scene in the opening game of that season against Clemson, recording a tackle for loss, a critical fourth-down pass deflection, two quarterback hurries and five tackles, including a bell-ringer on eventual national champion quarterback Deshaun Watson.
"He really is (the leader)," Steele said. "Deshaun in a unique individual. He has his degree already. He's working on his Masters. He's a very, very smart guy, but not just intelligent off the field. He's very intelligent on the field as well. He's a very strong leader. He has a high motor. He sets the tempo. His personality does. He has an infectious personality. He's very, very competitive."
Davis is the unquestioned leader in the middle of Steele’s run-stuffing group, with he has plenty of help. Redshirt junior Richard McBryde and sophomore K.J. Britt will aid Davis in the field-patrolling role, but in their own unique ways.
Davis is a sure tackler in space, displaying over the past two seasons that he can wrap up the nimblest and most athletic of the SEC and beyond. McBryde will look to inherit the playing time left by Tre’ Williams’ graduation, while position coach Travis Williams wants Britt to climb the depth chart without curving his “downhill Britt” label, affectionately given due to Britt’s full-steam-into-the-backfield mindset.
Freshman who could see action in the middle linebacker slot are four-stars Zakoby McClain, Michael Harris and Kayode Oladele. The latter resembles more of a buck or defensive end-type contributor compared to McClain and Harris’ strong-side tendencies. Auburn’s commitment from No. 1 2019 linebacker Owen Pappoe in May could spell immense success for the position after Davis departs this season, assuming Pappoe doesn’t flip to Georgia.
Pappoe won’t get a chance to be molded by Davis, but Auburn’s other young tackling machines will. Davis’ undersized stature of 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds hasn’t been a negative factor yet, so don’t look for it to hinder his 2018 goals of leading his defense in tackles, and to another SEC title-contending campaign.
Catch up on previous installments of the Fortune Teller series:
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman