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REPRINT: Free agent safety spotlight: Sean Davis, Pittsburgh Steelers

Having missed 15 games in 2019, and with two shoulder surgeries on his resume, Sean Davis enters free agency with a lot to prove

Pittsburgh Steelers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images


Do you remember early in the 2019 season when the Steelers were struggling, Ben Roethlisberger had been lost for the season, and the Pittsburgh front office made a blockbuster trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick, acquiring him from the Dolphins for a first- and fifth-round pick in 2020 and 2021 sixth-round pick?

Well, the primary reason the Steelers went looking for a free safety was that Sean Davis was injured in the opening game of the season, and went on IR, where he stayed all the way to the end of the season... and his contract.

That means that Davis is headed to free agency.

The Steelers, with Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds, aren’t likely to want to pay Davis — a 3-year starter at safety — to back up the two former first-round picks.

Sean Davis will be headed to a new team — one that needs a free safety and is willing to take a chance on the young free agent despite the fact that he lost 15 games to injury in 2019.

He had, after all, been pretty healthy before that — missing just one game in his first three seasons in the NFL, despite a torn labrum that required off-season surgery in 2017.

Davis says he’s confident that he’ll be ready to play in 2020, though he wasn’t 100% at the end of the 2019 season:

“I’ve been watching a lot of football and I feel like a lot of teams need some safeties. I’m [gonna] just be patient, let my agent do most of the work for me, just really worry about getting healthy and see where the chips fall.”

Davis isn’t likely to have a lot of ‘buzz’ around him in the free agent market this year — partly because of the long injury layoff, but also because he has never really putting anything on film that makes you way “Wow!”

With no massive breakout season, Davis is set to hit the free agent market with plenty of three full seasons’ worth of tape as a starter and 190 solo tackles, 5 interceptions, 20 pass breakups and 2.5 sacks to his name.

Davis may feel like he’s already proved himself, but teams are likely to see his value a bit more skeptically. In fact, most players in his position are faced with having to accept a one-year “prove it” deal on terms that favor the team.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Tennessee Titans

Davis isn’t a big fan of that idea, but seems realistic about the fact that he may not have a choice.

[A ‘prove it’ deal] is not really a part of my plan. I know that if I have to I can, just because I know what type of person I am and I’ll be in a different situation — a different environment — so I’d just have to let my play speak for itself because it really wouldn’t be any comfort in a one-year spot.

I would always bet on myself, but like I said, I feel like I’m in a good spot.

Davis is just 26 years old. He has 36 NFL games under his belt, and any team that considers signing him should have the opportunity to get convinced that he’s fully recovered from his opening-game injury and ready to play.

In 2018, when Davis played 15 games, PFF graded him as the 59th best safety overall, with a grade of 69.7. His coverage grade was a bit better, ranking him 46th, with a 71.5 grade.

His earlier grades from PFF were much lower:

  • 45.5/45.1 in 2017
  • 53.4/55.0 in 2016

In 2016, Davis was forced to play primarily as a slot defender and box safety, and in 2017 he began the year lining up at strong safety, but had largely transitioned to free safety by the end of the season — still lining up in the slot with some frequency.

In 2018, he was securely entrenched as the Steelers free safety, partnered with Terrell Edmunds. Davis took nearly 80% of his defensive snaps as the free safety, which probably accounts for his noticeable improvement in grading from PFF.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The former 2nd round pick from the 2016 draft probably has not lived up to expectations overall, but he hasn’t been a bust by any means. He was named the Steelers rookie of the year in 2016, and his 2017 season may have been affected both by position change and off-season surgery to repair a torn labrum.

Once he settled in as the week-to-week starting free safety, he seemed to get more comfortable on the field and his play appeared to improve.

All in all, Davis appears to be another veteran safety who is probably similar to Montae Nicholson and Troy Apke in terms of overall skill at the safety position, though he has a bit stronger draft pedigree. He has shown positional flexibility in his career, but seems best suited as a free safety. I’d be surprised to find any team in the NFL so keenly interested in his services that there is strong competition to sign him, so he would likely be a ‘budget’ signing.

While I saw one article written prior to the start of the 2019 season that compared him to Adrian Amos, who had just signed a 4-year, $36m contract ($9m per year), that was a hometown newspaper, and the article was written before Davis lost a season to injury.

At this point, I would tend to lump Sean Davis together with players like Karl Joseph and Vonn Bell, whose contracts are not likely to be very lucrative.

Whether he wants to or not, my guess is that Sean Davis will be signing a one-year deal at the low end of the market in an effort to prove that he can contribute at a high level and that his play has not been adversely affected by injuries to both shoulders in his short NFL career.


Considering his age, production, positional flexibility,injury history, etc, how would you grade Sean Davis as a free agent prospect for the Redskins?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    4 - top notch
    (12 votes)
  • 22%
    3 - very good
    (141 votes)
  • 65%
    2 - competent
    (417 votes)
  • 10%
    1 - poor
    (64 votes)
  • 0%
    0 - This guy is no NFL football player!
    (3 votes)
637 votes total Vote Now