Devante Downs originally entered the NFL as a seventh-round draft pick (No. 225th overall) by the Minnesota Vikings in 2018. Seeing just 124 snaps as a rookie, the 6'2", 252-pound Downs recorded three tackles in 11 games played, making most of his contribution on special teams.
The following season, the Vikings waived Downs as part of the final training camp moves to get down to 53. Downs was signed to the Vikings practice squad the next day and then elevated to the active roster two weeks later, on September 14. He was waived on September 24.
The Giants signed Downs to the practice squad on October 1, 2019, and then promoted him to the 53-man roster on October 22, 2019. Downs appeared in seven games for the Giants, mostly on special teams, and showed some intrigue as a run stopper on defense in limited snaps.
Downs opened the 2020 season as the starting inside linebacker next to newcomer Blake Martinez. Downs made eight starts and finished the season with 27 tackles (21 solos), one quarterback hit, one pass defensed, and one fumble recovery.
In the second half of the season, his defensive snaps began to shrink in favor of rookie Tae Crowder and David Mayo. However, Downs still was a heavy contributor on special teams, where his 254 special teams snaps were the third-most on the team behind safety Nate Ebner (328) and linebacker Cam Brown (314).
What He Brings
Downs brings a very physical, downhill style of play to a defense that is at its best against the run.
Downs, who brings a heavy fill to the table in two seasons, has appeared in 110 run defense snaps and has logged 23 total tackles, 12 stops for zero or negative yardage, and has only missed four tackles (all of those in 2020).
That downhill style is a big reason why he has a high value on special teams and why he's been among the top performers for the Giants in that area.
That said, Downs is a two-down linebacker who is a liability in coverage, and that's probably a big reason why his defensive snaps decreased last year in favor of the more athletic and more instinctive Tae Crowder, who took over the majority of the snaps at that second linebacker spot.
Downs lacks footspeed--his running style can probably best be described as a plodding style--and he's yet to show much instinct in coverage in activating where to go to get himself into position to make a play.
Last season in 108 coverage snaps, he finished with a 108 NFL rating, allowing 18 of 23 targets to be complete for 151 yards (86 YAC) and one touchdown.
Downs very rarely got himself into a position to make a play on the ball and was frequently targeted by opposing quarterbacks when he was on the field. However, to his credit, Downs is a solid wrap-up tackler who very rarely whiffed on a chance to stop a receiver for an abundance of yards after the catch.
Downs was due to be a restricted free agent this off-season, but the Giants decided not to tender him a right of first refusal offer, which would have been worth $2.133 million.
Instead, the Giants signed Downs to a more cap-friendly, one-year deal worth $1.02 million that will yield a $945,000 savings and only $75,000 in dead money against this if he doesn't make the roster year's cap.
Downs has value to offer a football team as a run defender and on special teams.
While not necessarily starting material, he potentially is a good fit for the heavier defensive packages that teams usually run against run-heavy offenses because Downs is a sure tackler who takes disciplined angles to the ball and who limits yards gained after contact.
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