Sophomore Surge: Should Khalil Davis' Pass Rush Role Expand?

Khalil Davis was effective in his minimal playing time for the Buccaneers as a rookie. Should Davis' role expand during his second season in Tampa Bay?
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Khalil Davis logged just 37 defensive snaps during the regular season of his rookie campaign with the Buccaneers, and another 20 across the first two games of the postseason. 

Despite taking the field on just four percent of the team's regular-season defensive snaps, Tampa Bay's sixth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft was productive as a pass rusher during his first pro season, even if his stats don't show up on the box score. 

Davis compiled five quarterback pressures on 46 pass-rushing reps last year, equal to creating pressure on 10.8 percent of his opportunities to get after the passer. 

Sure, Davis' sample size is extremely limited, but that pass-rushing efficiency ranks ahead of Ndamukong Suh (8.8 percent), Rakeem Nunez-Roches (3.5 percent) and Steve McLendon (3.4 percent). Each of those players took the field for at least 200 pass-rushing snaps across all 20 games, Suh leading the way with 703 pass-rushing snaps as a starter on Tampa Bay's defensive line.

With Suh, Vita Vea, and William Gholston leading the charge on the defensive line, Tampa Bay looks to put together one of if not the league's best run defense for a third consecutive year, along with a threatening pass rush to pair with edge defenders Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaquil Barrett, and rookie Joe Tryon

It's yet to be determined what Davis has to offer as a run defender, he only had 10 chances to prove himself in that department on the field as a rookie. Davis' stout frame of 6-foot-1, 308 pounds limits his ceiling as a run defender, though, as odds are he won't have to power to consistently take on down-blocking interior linemen at his size.

However, we've seen Davis flash his potential as a pass rusher one year into his NFL career. It adds up with Davis' college résumé as the former Cornhusker compiled 13 sacks over his final three seasons at Nebraska, including eight sacks and 32 pressures as a senior.

As Suh (34), McLendon (35), and Gholston (who turns 30 in July) aren't getting any younger, Tampa Bay will need younger defensive linemen to step up in larger roles as rotational depth pieces and potential future starters. Those three, along with Nunez-Roches, only have one season remaining on their current contracts, and general manager Jason Licht has indicated that the future of the defensive line will eventually need to be addressed with the infusion of young talent.

For now, though, Davis is one of Tampa Bay's depth options, and his second season in the Bucs' defensive system could prove to be a pivotal one. The Bucs could benefit from rotating Davis into the game more often on passing downs, where Davis can work as a pass rusher where he has shown promise. 

An expanded role for Davis would allow the aging veterans a breather, which should serve the team well as the starting defensive linemen should be energized approaching and throughout the postseason with a slightly cut snap count.

Should Davis prove himself in that role, perhaps expanding upon his responsibilities as the season goes on, he could put himself into a position for a much larger gig in 2022 as Tampa Bay's defensive line is reshuffled.

As a sixth-round pick on a loaded roster aiming for a second consecutive Super Bowl title, the odds for Davis to breakthrough in an instrumental way in Tampa Bay this season aren't high. However, the Buccaneers are high on his talent, and there's a path to playing time and eventual success for Davis in a red and pewter uniform.