The Minnesota Vikings have been active in free agency this year. In fact, they have been more active than expected. Arguably the most surprising move was signing former New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport to a one-year, $13 million prove-it deal on Monday night.
This was a surprise for multiple reasons. One, the Vikings were significantly over the salary cap at that point. As of Thursday morning, after factoring in all the new signings sans Davenport, the Vikings were sitting at $2,514,895 over the salary cap. The thing with the salary cap is that you have to be compliant every time a new league day starts, which is at 3 p.m. central time.
The other was that the Vikings already have two high-priced edge rushers. They had given no indication that they wanted to grant the wishes of a release to Za’Darius Smith, and Danielle Hunter is on an inexpensive contract going into 2023. Minnesota may eventually choose to move on from Smith, which would slide Davenport right into that spot.
While he incredibly talented, Davenport is far different from Smith. How does he play? Let’s take a look at what he brings to the Vikings.
Nimble and smooth mover
The first thing that jumped out at me when I started watching Davenport is his fleet footwork. Every step feels effortless and nimble. The two clips below are incredibly similar in nature. He sees that he is the lone defender unaccounted for on a read play, stays home, and plays it with high intelligence while keeping his feet moving to explode forward when needed.
Davenport does the same thing here on the goal line, where it can be even more difficult to cover ground because there is such a small distance that the back needs to cover to get into the end zone. Davenport uses his great length and explosiveness to get the tackle while being the read defender.
What is the read defender? When a team does a read-option or RPO, there is one defender on the outside who isn’t accounted for by the offensive line. He is the quarterback’s responsibility. Whatever that defender does determines what the quarterback chooses to do. When you are a defender with Davenport’s size and length, you can eat up enough space to erase that play anyway. Having those traits gives you a different margin of error and allows for a bit more aggressiveness.
Ability to play inside
Davenport was drafted to mainly be a defensive end, but that’s not all he can do. With Brian Flores’ 3-4 aggressive style, he will use Davenport in myriad ways. The exciting part of his potential is using him on the inside.
The pass-rush rep below shows how smart he is. Lining up as a 4i (lining up on the inside shoulder of the tackle), Davenport baits the guard into not attacking him by rushing straight forward. He attacks that inside shoulder and knocks Mike McGlinchey off balance. Once he does that, Spencer Burford the guard can’t jump back outside quickly enough, and Davenport nearly gets a sack. This type of thing is what Trey Flowers did so well with the New England Patriots.
This rep is similar, except this time Davenport is lined up as a seven technique (just outside the tackle, not lined up over any part of him). His quickness separates him from other defenders. He takes a first step to the outside and shifts his weight quickly to the inside and beats McGlinchey with a nice rip move. Flores will salivate over Davenport’s versatility.
Multiple pass rush moves
Davenport has a bevy of tools at his disposal and, while he can do a lot of things, one of the reasons he only got a prove-it deal was because of inconsistency.
The club-rip is a move that outside rushers use frequently to bend the edge. Davenport can bend, but it’s not his forte. Here he lines up as a five-technique and, with a rushing linebacker, has the edge on the guard Banks. When he sees that he has the edge, Davenport attacks and uses the club/rip. Essentially, you use your arm as a club to knock the hands off and you rip (uppercut-like motion) to get underneath the arms and use the offensive lineman’s body as leverage to get around quickly.
To pair with the club-rip and his excellent power, there is some nuance to Davenport’s pass-rush plan. He has really good hands and displays that here. Before McGlinchey could get his hands on Davenport, he knocks the hands down and has the speed to soften the edge and take the corner.
Davenport has a lot of good on his film, but it’s not all great. There is a lot of inconsistency in his game. One of the reasons why is he needs to deveop a counterattack in his pass-rush plan. One of the elements that makes him special is how he utilizes speed to power. When the offensive lineman re-anchors, Davenport doesn’t have a plan. He isn’t trying to rip, spin, or something else. Developing this facet will be key to truly unlocking his potential.
How will Brian Flores use Davenport?
This is an interesting one. Flores has historically liked using a bigger, hybrid-type defensive end that can do a lot of things. It was Trey flowers in New England and Emmanuel Ogbah in Miami. Both of them saw a lot of success under Flores by working more inside and being a hybrid-style player. There is a major discrepancy on how Davenport should be used. Should he play as an inside power guy or as a speed rusher on the outside? Why pigeonhole him? I expect Flores to line him up everywhere and use him differently.
While you can use him like Flowers and Ogbah, you need to take advantage of his Jadeveon Clowney-level athleticism. Needless to say, Flores is going to have a blast utilizing Davenport this season and potentially beyond.