The 49ers have had tremendous success in recent seasons identifying athletically gifted edge rushers and plugging them into spots that create mismatches against interior offensive linemen. Nobody in the NFL is better than Kris Kocurek at maximizing talent on the defensive line, and this offseason is the perfect opportunity to jumpstart a unit that could use a bit of a tune up.
Sticking with the theme of potential free agent defensive linemen, I’m going to focus on one particular player who fits this specific archetype that has led to a vast amount of success for the 49ers in recent seasons.
Davenport was selected 14th overall in the 2018 draft after starring at University of Texas San Antonio for four seasons. After testing off the charts at the combine, the New Orleans Saints moved their 2018 and 2019 first round picks as well as a 2018 fifth rounder to move up from the 27th pick to the 14th overall spot to select Davenport.
Listed at 6’6 265 pounds, Davenport had a special combination of size and explosiveness that would make any defensive coaches mouth water at the thought of how they could develop and utilize this exceptional athlete at the next level.
I’m a firm believer in sacks on their own being an inefficient metric to chart individual pass rush production. There simply are too many outside factors at play like how long the quarterback holds the ball, what the protection scheme looks like, does another player benefit from the sack by cleaning up another player's pressure etc.
While some might look at the fact Davenport only had one sack during the 2022 season, I’d be much more inclined to emphasize the value of the 12 percent pressure rate he logged, which is far more indicative of the success and consistency of a pass rusher on an individual level.
That pressure rate is something that has been consistent throughout Davenport’s NFL career, as he has recorded a double-digit pressure rate in each of his five seasons in the NFL.
Davenport is more than capable of winning off the edge in a more traditional role, but perhaps his most valuable trait is his ability to wreak havoc on the interior when he gets isolated on guards.
That would play extremely well on the 49ers defensive front, where players like Arden Key and Charles Omenihu have had breakout seasons being utilized in a similar role during their time in the red and gold.
There are some glaring similarities between Omenihu and Davenport from a physical traits' standpoint that would indicate the latter is a strong candidate to replicate the success that the former had in the same capacity with the 49ers. Here’s a look at some physical traits and test scores from the combine from each.
280 pounds (although it's been reported its closer to 265 now)
7.48 second 3-cone drill
4.36 second short shuttle
7.20 second 3-cone drill
4.41 second short shuttle
I put together some cut ups of Davenport from this past season that highlight his ability to win off the edge, as well as the value he adds when isolated on interior linemen.
This first clip shows Davenport utilizing a chop move to soften the edge, before finishing with a rip move to win the corner and help bring down Joe Burrow for a sack.
Marcus Davenport utilizing a chop to soften the edge before finishing with a rip move to win the corner pic.twitter.com/rxYuYfoJvj— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) February 17, 2023
In this next one, Davenport will be lined up on the edge, but end up matching with the left guard due to a stunt being run. Look at the raw power Davenport has to drive back to the guard with what looks like a long arm, forcing an errant throw from Burrow in the pocket.
The 49ers have had great success in recent years finding ways to isolate long/athletic defensive ends on interior offensive linemen— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) February 17, 2023
Have to wonder what the ceiling would be if you gave Kris Kocurek and Darryl Tapp a player with the physical tools that Marcus Davenport has pic.twitter.com/DEZl6IMp97
Here’s one more that demonstrates the sheer force that Davenport can generate when isolated on an interior lineman.
Davenport is tailor-made for the role that Key and Omenihu have thrived in. The versatility to line up on the edge, as well as the interior, would be a nightmare for opposing offenses in the game plan for. A potential front four of Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Drake Jackson, and Davenport could be a game wrecking force in obvious passing situations.
It’s clear what kind of potential Davenport possesses, and the track record the 49ers have with getting the best out of players with similar traits. What remains to be seen is what kind of market Davenport would command.
It’s also worth noting that due to some financial maneuvering, Davenport would count as a 7.6 million dollar dead cap hit if the Saints were to let him walk this off-season. It is not clear how much the Saints will prioritize bringing Davenport back at this point, but if the interest is strong enough on their part, they will also gain additional financial flexibility if they can work out a deal to retain his services.
Ultimately, I think there is a strong chance Davenport hits the open market. According to Spotrac, New Orleans is currently $-54,605,434 in cap space while also being linked to a veteran quarterback who will eat a large chunk of whatever space they manage to free up with the annual “how on earth did they pull that off” cap manipulation that general manager Mickey Loomis has become well known for.
San Francisco has a great pitch to make to Davenport. Will they make it?