Western Michigan blew up the MAC this year at 13-1 with an average scoring margin of +22 points. Leading the charge was star receiver Corey Davis, who caught a nation-leading 19 touchdowns. Here’s a dive into this pass-catcher’s portfolio.
Davis was one of seven children in his family, growing up in Wheaton, Illinois. His family didn't have much money, and he drew himself inward to avoid dealing with stress as he grew up. A school counselor helped him open up, and as he improved his grades and focused on trying to earn a football scholarship, he made the decision to take on his football coach's family as guardians and move into their home. Rated a two-star recruit by Rivals when he left high school, Davis is a prospect that slipped through the cracks.
PJ Fleck began coaching the Western Michigan Broncos on a very tight schedule, and he needed to make some fast decisions about recruits. Davis, who had been overlooked earlier in the cycle because of his grades and background, was one of the remaining available players. Fleck offered Davis, not knowing that he was about to mold the greatest receiving in WMU's history.
One of Davis' older brothers, Titus Davis, was an undrafted free agent who spent a season on NFL practice squads before choosing to retire.
Dan: Davis owns the FBS record for career receiving yardage, a testament to the talent that manifested as soon as he stepped onto the field for the Broncos. There are two recent metrics that do a great job of helping us project talented wide receivers: Dominator Rating (DR), and the age at which the receiver first broke out with a strong DR. As an 18-year-old freshman, Davis hauled in 67 receptions for 941 yards and six touchdowns, representing 31 percent of all catches, 37 percent of all receiving yards, and a ridiculous 50 percent of all receiving touchdowns. That gave him a Dominator Rating of 43.5 in his freshman season. For comparison, Alabama's freshman phenom Amari Cooper had a DR of 33 as an 18-year old, albeit in a much more impressive offense. Standing six-foot-three and 215 pounds, Davis is a nearly-ideal combination of height and weight for the position. He moves well in space and has great speed on the field.
Chris: Explosively smooth. I assume he’ll measure in close to 6’3” and above 210 pounds with NFL-caliber strength and overall muscular build. Although he doesn’t have a Brandon Marshall-type body, Davis moves fluidly with no wasted movement and can get to top speed rapidly. His feet are exceptionally quick. He’s a fine jumper too. In my eyes, his raw talent wouldn’t categorize him as an elite, physical freak, but it’s darn close. He’s somewhat of long strider, which leads to deceptive long speed. I wouldn’t be surprised if he runs in the low 4.5s. Importantly, Davis possesses impressive (ankle) flexibility and burst on jerk routes / when making sharp cuts. He isn’t really limited athletically in any way.
Adam: While not necessarily a “big” receiver when it comes to size, Davis still has an NFL-ready body and shows both the power and leaping ability to battle for the ball. I’d complimented Mike Williams for his ability to track the ball in the air and out-compete a defender for it, and without a doubt, that’s a compliment I’ll extend to Davis as well. He has the straight-line speed to pull away from a corner or safety, along with the upper body strength to fight one off on his way to extra yardage.
Dan: Davis has a good foundation in his route running, showing a keen understanding of zone coverage in the middle of the field. He can operate from the outside or the slot, attacks the initial drive of his route pattern, and has fairly clean cuts in his stem. Davis has a good power foundation and doesn't let press coverage stop him. He doesn't have tremendous long speed, but he'll eat up the intermediate chunks of the field. Davis did play in a sort of gimmicky offense, with his fair share of cheesy screen pass setups. But he ran a significant route tree and shows elements of nuance to his game.
Chris: Davis is a smart, refined route runner. He makes sharp cuts on the variety of routes he can run and sells double moves well, even throwing in a head / shoulder fake with it. He typically recognizes zone coverage on drag routes and sits down. Although he ran more routes than Mike Williams in college, he too was featured on a myriad of screen passes. I’d assume most NFL wide receiver coaches will be happy with the level of route-running proficiency Davis has when he hits the practice field for the first time.
Adam: I came away pretty impressed by this facet of his game. For one, he lined up all over the field during his time as a receiver at WMU. It didn’t matter whether it was the left or right side, or the outside or slot receiver position, Davis lined up at each and every spot in a myriad of formations. To play each of these positions effectively requires an exceptionally deep route tree, and when it comes to the slot positions in particular, an equally exceptional execution of the route. On inside breaking routes such as slants, quick posts, and digs, Davis showed excellent footwork, breaking down quickly and chopping his feet before making his cut. He has a great head fake to go with that, which helps to sell a deeper or outside breaking route. This is a player that runs routes like a professional and he’ll have no trouble getting open at the next level.
Dan: Davis has a smooth process, catching with his hands, away from his body, and without breaking stride. His height gives him a great catch radius, and he does an amazing job of quickly and effortlessly tracking the football and adjusting to passes. He makes some very difficult end zone catches look easy, and has awareness of 100 percent of his body when making sideline grabs. Davis does drop more than his fair share of passes, which makes me wonder a bit about his hand size. It's not a major concern of mine, though.
Chris: In my short-hand notes, the first thing I wrote was “hands catcher.” Making catches away from his body seems natural to him. He did have some disappointing drops, but that’s the case with every receiver. Nothing really to “ding” Davis for here. He routinely showcases the proper technique when catching the ball. He did have a flair for the acrobatic reception too. Fantastic concentration and balance on passes with coverage on his back, especially over the middle. Not a “power forward” and isn't a master high-pointer but comfortably tracks and brings in the football.
Adam: Albeit a touch inconsistent when it comes to hauling in the football, Davis has shown the ability to make purely astounding plays, so he certainly gets a pass (I know) when it comes to the occasional drop. Like Mike Williams, he’s also a hands catcher and only tends to use his body when shielding the ball from an incoming defender or when bracing for a hit. He’s the type of receiver that will simply go and get the ball, even if it means climbing up the defender’s back and reaching over top of him to get it. On quick throws, you can see him snatch the ball and immediately lock it away as he turns up field, showing plenty of promise when it comes to making a play after the catch.
Yards After Catch
Dan: He can catch balls in stride and immediately turn upfield to open up a big play. Davis has a great sense for where defenders will be and where they’re going – on a number of plays, he’ll catch the ball and immediately spin backward to juke a defender to the ground, giving him free space in front. He has the long speed to separate against NFL cornerbacks or turn a screen pass into a first down. The rest of the Western Michigan offense has improved since his freshman year, but whenever they stalled, Davis would bail them out by turning a hitch into a 20 yard gain.
Chris: Davis’ trump card. He instantly transitions into YAC mode after making the catch, and does a lot of his damage as a runner. He has top-level burst and wiggle in the open field for bigger WR. On occasion, he demonstrates the power to bounce off some smaller tacklers in the open field and even lay the wood on occasion. For West Coast Offense team like the Bills that will incorporate many short, horizontal passes meant to emphasize YAC, Davis is the ideal fit.
Adam: My last point regarding catching technique leads right into this segment, because this guy will make a play for you. He’s not a speedster, but if he gets the ball with room to run you can be sure he’ll get his yards. That said, he still had a few highlight reel plays in which he just burned every defensive back on the way to the end zone. On tape, he moves with what looks like 4.5 speed, which is plenty good enough for a receiver of his stature. He has excellent vision with the ball, as evidenced by his success on screen passes, but in general he has a nose for daylight and will toss in a juke or a stiff arm to get himself there.
Dan: Davis gives a good effort on his blocks and can be seen running downfield to catch up to his teammates when they are in the middle of a long run. He could take better angles to work his opponents away from the play, and occasionally he wouldn't switch his blocking priorities post-snap to account for an extra defender.
Chris: He won’t destroy defensive backs on the regular basis yet there are plays when Davis shows his willingness and underrated strength when blocking on the outside. I think he has the size, strength, and demeanor to be a blocking asset to a team’s outside run and screen game.
Adam: Davis isn’t a mauler on the outside, but he shows plenty of effort when blocking and will make a full effort to engage and drive the man in front of him. This wasn’t a successful endeavor 100% of the time, but the effort alone leaves me comfortable with this part of his game. He won’t take a play off on you and he’ll make sure he mixes it up with his defender. I even saw him give effort on plays that went away from his side, which earns him plenty of bonus points in my book.
Dan: More than most receivers I see, Davis is a playmaker with that “IT” factor. He completely dominated his level of competition without folding against more talented teams. Davis plays with confidence and has an awesome vision on the field. I expect him to transition directly to the NFL and impress before long. It is a shame that he will miss the Combine with an ankle injury, but that shouldn't affect his long-term prognosis in a negative manner.
Chris: Davis is a relatively big, smooth, productive, playmaker. Those are all huge positives. I’d like for him to be slightly better high-pointing the football with coverage on him, but beyond that, he’s a squeaky-clean, well-rounded wideout ready to be a big-time contributor from Day 1. Davis has tremendous YAC ability — burst, awareness, athleticism, quickness, deceptive speed — and would bring more fun to Buffalo’s offense if the Bills decide to take him with 10th overall pick in the 2017 draft.
Adam: This is the best wide receiver in the 2017 draft, folks. No, he’s not a ball hogging monster like Williams, nor is he a flat out game breaker like John Ross, but this guy can just all-around ball. He meshes his natural size and talent with honed technique and shows a savvy for the game that a lot of receivers never develop within the college ranks. Between his athletic ability, deep knowledge of routes, ability to run them precisely, and his propensity to line up anywhere on the field, he’s ready to step into any offense right away. The only thing holding him back will be his understanding of the playbook and his rapport with the quarterback, but a player like this will find the ball in his hands early and often.
NFL Player Comparison
Dan: Keenan Allen
Chris: Sammy Watkins
Adam: Allen Robinson