As the Indianapolis Colts’ fifth-round pick approached in last week’s NFL draft, general manager Chris Ballard turned to Jim Irsay in the war room and brought the owner up to speed on Florida safety Shawn Davis.
“He’ll knock the absolute dog out of you,” Ballard said.
The comment — captured on this season’s final episode of the team’s always excellent “With the Next Pick” web series — neatly summarizes the Colts’ primary interest in Davis.
Indianapolis sniffed around for a third safety in free agency and has a relatively big group at the position. With young starters Julian Blackmon and Khari Willis in place, newcomers aren’t likely to immediately earn a particularly large role.
But it’s clear the Colts were interested in adding a player who could replicate the style of former safety Clayton Geathers, entering in sub packages and adding a kind of extra linebacker on the field who can also cover tight ends and/or slot receivers.
With 123 tackles and five interceptions over four years with the Gators, Davis fits the profile.
“We like what he’s gonna bring to the table in a big way,” Irsay said. “I think he’s a hard-hitting guy who is really gonna be someone that we don’t — I won’t even mention Bob Sanders’ name ’cause that’s not fair — but, I mean, this guy is a difference maker with the power he packs as a tackler.”
Sanders, of course, was the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2007 and a two-time All-Pro for Indianapolis after being drafted in the second round out of Iowa in 2004. That’s not a bar by which Davis should be measured.
But there’s no doubt his physicality will be welcome on the roster. And it was a theme with this year’s draft class.
The first two picks — defensive linemen Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo — are athletically gifted and explosive athletes who can harass opposing quarterbacks and chase ballcarriers down the line of scrimmage. They’re also physical monsters. Paye is 6-foot-3 and 261 pounds, and Odeyingbo checks in at 6-5 and 285.
The goal is to leave an imprint on opponents and develop a reputation for violence throughout the league.
“Look, to play defense, you have to hit,” Ballard said. “It’s a physical freaking game, and we think we added three more players that kind of fit how our other guys play on defense.”
Davis has versatility at both strong and free safety, and he spent a lot of time at Florida playing in two-high safety sets. He also played on the four core special teams units for the Gators, giving him the kind of utility necessary for all non-starters.
There should be good competition on the roster behind Blackmon and Willis.
George Odum returns after being named All-Pro as a special teamer in 2020, and Rolan Milligan is back after opting out of the 2020 season. The Colts also signed Sean Davis, a second-round pick in 2016 who made 42 starts over five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So nothing will be handed to the rookie.
Shawn Davis believes his college experience makes him a perfect fit for Indianapolis’ defense, and that includes the physical aspect.
“At the position that I played, you have to be very physical because you’re the last line of defense,” he said. “If you’re not physical, then it’s all touchdowns coming from the back end on your part.”