Marlon Davidson was my favorite draft pick of the 2020 class. I thought A.J. Terrell had considerable promise and Matt Hennessy was an intriguing potential heir to Alex Mack, but his “bear claws instead of human hands” gave me hope that he would hit the ground running as a hyper-strong complement to Grady Jarrett.
That didn’t happen in 2020. Davidson was limited throughout training camp with knee issues, and he was an inactive the first two weeks of the season as he worked his way back. He managed to get in three games before he wound up on the reserve/COVID-19 list, got into four games after missing four games, and then faced further knee issues that kept him out of two of the last three games of the season. It would be fair to argue he was never fully healthy in his first season, and he played just 12% of the defensive snaps as a result.
Given his talent, this team’s need for impact defenders, and the fact that injury and COVID so clearly limited him last year, Davidson is one of the most obvious candidates to bounce back in 2021, even if he never initially bounced in year one. It’s clear the Falcons will be counting on him.
Why the Falcons need Davidson
This was super easy for Dante Fowler, who is the most talented edge rusher on the roster and needs to bounce back to help this pass rush. With Davidson, it’s a bit complicated by the team’s picture along their defensive line.
The team has Jarrett, Tyeler Davison, John Cominsky, Ta’Quon Graham, Jon Bullard, Deadrin Senat, and other competitors for defensive tackle and 3-4 end jobs. Davison is a sturdy, useful player, Bullard was signed by the new regime and Graham was drafted by them, and Cominsky is still a player with untapped upside. It would help this team a great deal if Davidson was a great player, of course, but they do have some options here.
But the reason they need Davidson is the reason I just said, essentially: Atlanta badly needs more great players along their defensive front, and Davidson has the most raw talent out of anyone there. If he becomes the caliber of player I think he can be, which is basically a 6-8 sack getting, highly disruptive pass rusher who is also useful against the run, it goes a very long way toward making this defense tougher.
How likely is Davidson to bounce back?
If he’s healthy, I’d put it damn near 100%. Davidson’s talent is absolutely that evident. The question is just how good he can and will be.
The injury question is, of course, something we can’t answer. Davidson only missed two games in college, so it’s not like there’s some long and concerning health history that would make us believe he’ll be cursed going forward. I just don’t like playing with fire on that front, so we’ll leave the if hanging there.
But yes, if healthy, Davidson will be at worst a valuable piece of the puzzle. He played defensive end at Auburn and would be an interesting fit as a 3-4 end for Pees and company, and regardless of the configuration I’m still in love with the idea of Davidson and Jarrett wreaking havoc in tandem. If he’s able to show those violent hands in the same way he did in college against NFL blockers on a consistent basis, he’ll be a starter for this team and potentially a damn good one. I like his chances of getting there this year, honestly.
I’m not exactly optimistic about this defense being anywhere close to great, but I do expect both Fowler and Davidson to be impactful in ways they simply weren’t a year ago. That figures to be very significant for Dean Pees and company as they try to take stock of just how much talent they have on hand, and whether that talent in turn translates into the kind of defense that can keep Atlanta in games consistently even when the offense inevitably falters at times.