EDITOR’S NOTE: Rick Gosselin spent 20 years as the NFL columnist for the Dallas Morning News, including 20 offseasons studying and researching prospects for the NFL draft. He didn’t watch any tape – he was a writer, not a scout – but he talked to the men who did watch tape. He built a network of NFL general managers, head coaches, personnel directors, scouts and assistant coaches from all 32 teams who would share with him their analyses of players. Gosselin used their insights to build his own draft board, Top 100 board and mock drafts. For 10 consecutive years he had the best Top 100 board in the country (2001-10), according to the Huddle Report, and three times he produced the best mock draft. Gosselin will resurrect the college scouting reports for a look back at how NFL talent evaluators viewed draft prospects. Next up is former Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis, who retired this offseason after a 15-year career.
GOSSELIN DRAFT ANALYSIS: Davis started for two seasons at Georgia, leading the Bulldogs in tackles each year, but opted to apply for the NFL draft after his junior season. He redshirted as a freshman in 2001, played strongside linebacker in 2002 and then moved to safety in 2003 where he earned All-SEC honors. He posted a career-best 138 tackles as a sophomore at linebacker with nine double-figure tackle games, including 11 against LSU in the SEC championship. Davis measured 6-1, 230 pounds at the NFL combine, clocking a 4.59 40, then bench pressing 225 pounds only a dozen times at his campus workout. Gosselin rated him as the top safety in the 2005 draft and slotted him at No. 14 on his Top 100 board. The Carolina Panthers selected Davis with the 14th overall choice of the first round.
Here are comments on Davis from 14 talent evaluators leading up to his 2001 NFL draft:
Scout: Good range for a box safety.
Scout II: Box safeties are going to die.
Scout III: A 4.57 guy. Historically, some concerns.
Personnel director: If Cato June can play weakside linebacker, so can Davis. (Cato was a safety at Michigan whom the Colts drafted in the sixth round in 2003 and converted to weakside linebacker. He started there in Indy’s Super Bowl victory over Chicago.)
Defensive backs coach: Difference-maker. I like everything about him. His hitting ability is tops – separates you from the ball all the time. He’s what you train them to be. Unbelievable playmaker. I don’t care what game you pull out – you’ll see him causing a turnover. Head-to-head as a prospect with (former Oklahoma safety) Roy Williams. Roy was faster but Thomas better in coverage. (Williams was the eighth overall pick of the 2002 draft by the Cowboys who went to five Pro Bowls as a safety)
Defensive backs coach II: He’s got the hype. Can really blow you up in the running game. No upper body strength. But from his knees to his hips, he has great explosion. That’s where the hits come from. And he’s fearless. But he’ll struggle at the back end (as a safety).
Defensive coordinator: Looks like Derrick Thomas at a different position.
Defensive coordinator II: Stinks as a safety. A weakside linebacker. The era of the box safety is over.
Defensive coordinator III: I’ve got a cure for all those wide receivers crossing the middle – this kid from Georgia. I love him. He can do the damage I want in our division.
General manager: May be the best linebacker in this draft.
General manager II: Top 15. One of the best football players on this board. Either a box safety or a weakside linebacker. Football smart and he’s a bullet when he starts moving. Similar to Roy Williams – just find a place for him and let him go.
Head coach: A “wow” player. Lights people up. An impact guy. Special. The best run-and-hit guy in this draft.
Head coach II: He’s a safety. I don’t understand (the linebacker talk). He plays safety and plays it well. Leave him there.
Head coach III: A weakside linebacker for us. One of the safest picks on the board.
NFL CAREER: Davis spent his rookie season in 2005 as a backup safety, although the Panthers used him as a linebacker in December to spy Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick in a game with the Falcons. Carolina moved him into the starting lineup at strongside linebacker in 2006 and he spent two seasons there before moving to the weakside in 2008. There Davis posted the first of his seven career 100-tackle seasons that year. But he tore knee ligaments each of his next three seasons – after seven games in 2009, in training camp of 2010 and two games into the 2011 season. He returned in 2012 and started at outside linebacker for the Panthers for the next seven years. He collected 100 tackles in five of them and went to three consecutive Pro Bowls from 2015-17. But he became a salary-cap casualty after the 2018 season and spent a year with both the Los Angeles Chargers (2019) and Washington (2020) before announcing his retirement. He collected is final 100-tackle season as a 36-year-old with the Chargers. Davis left the NFL with 1,216 career tackles, 29 sacks, 18 forced fumbles, 13 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.