Gabriel Davis’ breakout performance came at the perfect time.
In the Divisonal Round between the Bills and Chiefs, Kansas City’s defense had its eyes on shutting down the spectacular Stefon Diggs. Their mission was carried out successfully, as Diggs got held to a dreadful three catches for seven yards.
With the heavy attention on Josh Allen’s best weapon, someone needed to step up and shine, and to say Davis did so underscores his impact. We’re talking eight catches for 201 yards and a league record four touchdowns.
The NFL playoffs have been around as early as 1933, and numerous expansions have been added since then. No player caught four touchdowns in a postseason game until Davis that day.
The expectations for the third-year receiver are devastating, and the hope is Davis takes the WR2 spot by opening day to further expand one of the league’s most explosive passing offenses. The question No. 13 has to answer is if he’s the team’s ace in the hole if Diggs were to get shut down again.
The Chiefs Game
Obviously Diggs spent time against the Chiefs’ toughest defensive backs, leaving Davis with the second in commands. As can be expected from many 200-yard performances, much of Davis’ production came from defensive mistakes.
Interestingly, though this goes as a pick play, it’s done inverse. As Davis appears to be setting the pick for the receiver in the flat, it’s actually Davis getting the target. The slot corner follows the flat receiver in motion, and as he meets the outside corner, the corner trips, allowing Davis to break through completely uncovered.
Davis’ 40-yard dash timed out to a 4.54, but he churns enough speed to be a threat down the field. Against Cover 2, Josh Allen gives his receiver an assist by looking off the middle of the field, stalling safety Juan Thornhill long enough for Davis to slip by the zone on the post route.
Allen launches this cannon into his receiver’s grasp, and Davis goes halfway to his four-touchdown conquest.
Davis’ Third Touchdown
Davis’ third touchdown showcased a combination of a great cut inside and awkward coverage. One might say this is the play that ended Mike Hughes’ Kansas City career, as he hit the ground like roadkill on Davis’ break to the post.
Upon further inspection, we can see a nasty head fake as the reason why.
This is one of the nastiest ankle breakers you’ll see from a playoff game. The quick, jerky head fake happens so suddenly that Hughes’ lower body can’t process it in time, sending him to the Kansas City VA Medical Center.
We can credit Davis going up against weaker defenders than Stefon Diggs for his breakout game, but plays like the one aforementioned show that the path to WR2 appears more reality than fantasy. Toward the end of the 2021 regular season Davis stepped up when other Bills receivers could not, foreshadowing what was to come against the Chiefs.
Davis’ Skill Set
Davis started in three of the Bills’ last four games of the regular season. This coincided with the team climbing out of a 7-6 hole into an 11-6 finish. Gabriel Davis has caught exactly 35 passes in each of his first two seasons. However the connection between Allen and Davis has been successful. The pair had a passer rating above 100 in both 2020 and 2021.
Whenever Davis lined up against man coverage he showed flashes of potential. Take this comeback route against off-man for instance: He baits the outside corner into an out route then cuts back inside for the comeback. Much like the sharp post against the Chiefs, this route succeeds because Davis’ quickness createst more than enough space for a safe, open throw.
Going through Davis’ tape, he seems to be most effective running comeback and post routes. Going back to the Chiefs game, he offers another ankle breaker. Stuttering just after the snap to create outside leverage, he cuts back inside the with space created.
What’s unique about Gabriel Davis’ usage in Brian Daboll’s offense is he was frequently used like an in-line tight end. With the presence of Dawson Knox and now O.J. Howard, it remains unknown whether new playcaller Ken Dorsey will keep that role in mind, but in 2021 it was used to great effect.
At 210 lbs, Davis isn’t exactly built like the strongest of tight ends. However that didn’t stop the Bills from frequently lining him up inside to help on brief blocks before baiting defenses and finding an open spot.
My favorite of these plays comes from this bait against the Bucs. Davis postions himself as if to block for the receiving back in the flat off the 2 RB set. Ross Cockrell (No. 43) falls for the trap. This results in a busted coverage that creates another open play for Davis off great execution.
Gabriel Davis became the insurance policy for the all-around threat Stefon Diggs when he couldn’t step up. As the battle for WR2 has not been guaranteed, there are concerns as to how Davis can perform. With a larger sample size and against better defensive backs, we will truly know where he stands.
What can’t be disputed is Davis provides a big play for the Bills game in and game out. With Jamison Crowder in the mix, the battle for WR2 could bring out the best in the third-year receiver.
Buffalo brought in Emmanuel Sanders last offseason to keep the training wheels on Davis. With Sanders’ departure, that leaves a tight contest between Davis and Crowder. However, Davis has proven he’s more than capable of playing with a larger role.
A threat down the field and a solid route runner. Davis should be ready to take the next step to ensure the Bills’ trust in him is worth it. All eyes are on Gabriel Davis, one of Buffalo’s most anticipated players for the 2022 season.
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