The St. Louis Rams 2014 season was supposed to begin with Sam Bradford at quarterback, but he went down in the third preseason game with a torn ACL. Shaun Hill started the regular season as the Rams starter, but didn't even make through the season opener before leaving the game with a thigh injury. Enter Austin Davis, an undrafted free agent signed in 2012 out of Southern Mississippi. Since then, Davis has bounced around from the Rams, to the Dolphins practice squad, and now back with St. Louis.
Davis's college career was an impressive one. At Southern Miss, Davis broke Brett Favre's career passing yards record, throwing for 10,898 yards, 83 touchdowns, and only 27 interceptions while completing 61.1 percent of his throws. Not only could Davis throw, he could run like Favre too, rushing for 1,375 yards and 25 touchdowns. In his college career Davis went to three bowls, winning two.
So far, Davis has had a fairly good year for the Rams, and his 96.8 passer rating is an indication of that. I took a look at all his film to give a scouting report on who Austin Davis really is. There's a lot to like about him. He has a lot grit, toughness, smarts, and some things in his game the 49ers can expose.
Quick Progressions: Davis makes the right read often and without hesitation. The pace that he looks at one receiver and moves on to the next is impressive considering Davis has limited experience as a starter. "The thing that impresses you on tape [is that] he doesn't force the ball,'' Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "A lot of times he's checking it down to the back, but he really quickly gets through his progressions. It's one, two, down to the back, and trying to get the drive extended from that standpoint.''
Mobility: Davis has only rushed for 27 yards this season, but that's a deceptive number, Davis has wheels. So far this season Davis has mainly used his mobility to buy extra time in the pocket. On a 3rd and 10 touchdown in the red zone against the Eagles, Davis bought more time doing a Russell Wilson maneuver to fake out a defender and then send a bullet into the end zone to Brian Quick.
Poise: "He was calm, collected, and just so focused on what he needed to do, he was not flustered at all." Jeff Fisher said after the Rams loss to the Eagles, where Davis was 29-49 for 375 yards and three touchdowns. Davis has the grit to get off a throw on the money with a defender bearing down on him. Not all quarterbacks can do that.
Accuracy: Davis can deliver a lot of big time throws that have perfect timing and placement. From throwing shallow crossers with zip allowing receivers to not break stride from throwing back shoulder darts that cornerbacks can't really defend, Davis makes many great throws. On the season, Davis has a 67.8 completion percentage.
Davis possesses good accuracy on deep throws, not just his check downs. Per Pro Football Focus, Davis has completed 11 of 22 throws of 20+ yards for 346 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, and a 107.2 passer rating. He's currently tied for 7th in the league in yards per pass attempt, averaging 7.9.
Footwork: Davis is relatively good at throwing off balance on the run, but it's been inconsistent to this point in the season. At times Davis will throw off balance even in the pocket, or off his back foot, leading to errant throws and missed opportunities. Other times his footing is great and drives the ball with authority to exactly where he wants to be. Footwork needs to improve or interceptions will be soon coming Davis way.
Ball Security: In the game against the Eagles, Davis fumbled twice when both fumbles could have been avoided. Big defensive lineman can strip a ball from a player of his size most of the time when he has just one hand on the football. When defenders are closing in he needs to learn how to tuck it in, otherwise his fumble numbers will only increase.
Gun Slinger Approach: Although Davis only has three interceptions so far, I counted more than a handful of passes he has thrown that were either dropped or should have been picked if the defender turned his head around. The ball is forced into too small of a window occasionally, and throws are made that a corner could jump in front of the receiver or undercut the route. He has some of Jay Cutler's tendencies of forcing the ball down the field. I will stress that this doesn't represent the entirety of his throws, as Davis makes the right throw usually.
Different Numbers When Blitzed: When Davis isn't blitzed his passer rating is an impressive 109.0, when he's blitzed it drops down to a 67.4 passer rating according to Pro Football Focus.
How to beat Davis
The 49ers defense is the best one Davis has faced this season. If the 49ers are to limit his production, pressure must be applied. The 49ers don't normally stray away from their typical gameplan week to week, but I expect it to be modified this week somewhat.
- Vic Fangio does have a lot of exotic blitzes he likes to keep in his back pocket for the right time. Expect to see a few more blitzes in this game thrown at Davis to see how he responds. Some confusing zone blitzes could create a turnover with Davis being forced to make a very quick decision.
- Blitzes or no blitzes, Justin Smith and Aaron Lynch are going to be thorns on Davis' sides. If the Eagles front can strip the ball twice, I like the 49ers chances to make Davis fumble at least once.
- The 49ers have much more awareness play to play by their secondary than what the Eagles displayed last week. In that game alone, I counted five passes that should have gone for interceptions the Eagles way, one of which ended up being a touchdown pass. Antoine Bethea and Perrish Cox have been playing well together, and that side of the field could become a problem for Davis, they're usually looking at the quarterbacks eyes and not just the receiver. His best success against the 49ers will be on comeback routes or back shoulder throws. The 49ers have been doing well at limiting the yards on any check down recently.
Davis was really intriguing to scout, and he may have a bright future. His positives make him a quarterback not to take lightly. I much rather have the 49ers be squaring off with Shaun Hill this week. Davis has more to offer than Hill, he can do more things to will a team to victory. His numbers are good but I find them to be a bit deceiving and he can be exposed if the 49ers defense plays disciplined and applies pressure. If Davis is given time he will be able to make the right decision and put up a good state line yet again. It's all up to the 49ers defense as to how Davis will play.
Highlights: Davis in the Conference USA Championship against Rams quarterback Case Keenum