Running Back Instincts: Mike Davis

Nick Whalen


Editor’s Note: This article is a Dynasty Scouts exclusive. Remember, our Dynasty Scouts section focuses on the stars of tomorrow, with a laser focus on High School recruits and College players who look to have the talent to be future assets in dynasty leagues and have value today in devy leagues.

Next in the Running Back Instincts series is an in-depth look at South Carolina’s Mike Davis. At 5’9 220 pounds, Davis has a great build for a running back and possesses decent speed and quickness, but nobody is going to claim he’s a great athlete like CJ Spiller. Davis’ forte is using his power and cutting ability to get by defenders. He is also a willing pass blocker and can catch the ball well out of the backfield. Davis is the complete package at running back, outside of being a dynamic athlete and he often gets overlooked because of that detail. But Davis has other aspects to his game that just don’t show up on paper. He has a good feel for the position and instincts to sniff out extra yardage.

Play One 


Let’s take a look at a 23-yard run by Davis on a speed option play. South Carolina is successful a few seconds into the play and Davis is 15 yards down the field. He’s near the sideline, which limits his opportunities, but he still has a few yards to gain if he continues up the sideline (yellow arrow). Natural human instincts would take a running back on the yellow path because he could go out of bounds and save his body from contact. But Davis doesn’t take the yellow path; instead he takes the black path right into defenders. Davis notices the defender (gray circle) is over pursuing and he takes advantage.


Just a few frames later, Davis stopped his momentum near the sidelines and let the defenders over pursue. The defender (gray circle) is in a poor tackling technique as he’s facing the sideline and can only get a hand on Davis.


A split second later reveals that Davis successfully made it inside of the outside defender (gray circle). He is getting ready to initiate contact on the next defender (blue circle). However, this defender is also in a disadvantage with his feet out of position to make a good tackle attempt on Davis.


The out of position defender (blue circle) has now been completely run over by Davis and is just trying to hang on while the rest of his teammates are in pursuit. What was probably an 18 yard gain for most running backs turned into a 23 yard gain because Davis had the instincts to recognize the over pursuit of the defense and initiate contact at the right moment. Here is the entire play.

Play Two


This is a few seconds into a nice cut back run by Davis. His initial path (black arrow) is indeed going to get him lots of yardage on this play. However, the defender (gray circle) is closing quickly on Davis and has a different plan.


Only a few frames later and it’s clear to see that the defender (gray circle) has closed the gap on Davis. The yellow arrow was Davis’ initial running path, but it will soon be altered.


We all reach that point in our lives when we need to be honest with ourselves and know our limitations. Davis acknowledges his limitations and knows he can’t out run the defender. But he has the instincts to know how to get the most out this run, despite his limitations. He changes from his old running path (yellow arrow) to a wider path away from the defender (black arrow). This simple shift results in another 25 yards for Davis on this run.

Play Three


A few seconds into this play shows Davis breaking a tackle at the second level and now hoping to get a touchdown. He reads his block (red circle) on the only defender between him and the end zone. Plants his outside foot and takes a path (black line) to the end zone.


Davis cuts (black line) off his block (red circle) as the defender attempts to shed and work inside. At this point though the defensive pursuit has the angle (gray arrows) on Davis and will be able to prevent him from scoring a touchdown.


Only a split second later, Davis stops his momentum and changes direction (black arrow) to run into the defender (gray circle). Why the heck would he run into the defender? I know that it seems unnatural and counterproductive for a running back, but it works to his advantage. Basically, Davis goes into the defender off balance and the contact puts him back in balance. The benefit is it puts the defender in a worse position to make a tackle because he’ll have less power and leverage. Basketball players do this when they drive to the basket as they lean in and draw contact. Sometimes they get the foul call, but most importantly, they are in an advantageous spot to shoot with the defender off balance and unable to block the shot. The result of this action is Davis throws the defender off and carries him four more yards into the end zone.

Play Four


We’re going to start this play a several seconds into another successful Davis run. He’s now at the second level and cutting inside (black arrow) of his blocker because the defender has outside leverage (red circle). Davis is being heavily pursued by the defense (blue circles) and once again we’re going to see how a subtle change in direction due to his awareness is the difference between a solid gain and a touchdown.


Just a few frames later, the defense has really closed the gap on Davis because of their pursuit and one defender (blue circle) even has his hands on him. Another defender (yellow circle) no longer has a pursuit angle advantage, but is within an arm’s length of Davis and could make the tackle as well. The biggest problem for Davis is the defender (gray circle) with a great pursuit angle and he’s already aware of his own speed limitations.


Only a split second later shows Davis altering his running path (black arrow) and using his instincts to try and get by all of these defenders. Davis knows that the defender (red circle) that disengaged from the block doesn’t have the momentum to take him down and decides to cut in his direction. This takes out other defenders (blue and yellow circles) due to pursuit angles. That takes away three defenders and leaves only one (gray circle) as still a legitimate threat to tackling him.


Two frames later will reveal the completed product of a great instinct from Davis. I continued to circle the same defenders just to give you an idea of where they ended up in the process. The defender (gray circle) with an initial great path (gray arrow) to Davis is now off balance because it’s now the wrong path. In order for him to make the tackle, he would need to mirror Davis’ path (black arrow). I’m sure many of you remember the angle running of Tecmo Super Bowl and how difficult it was for the defense to make tackles as you ran with Bo Jackson. Well, Davis is doing the same thing on a football field and it allowed him to beat the odds to score a long touchdown. Here is the entire play.

Davis gets lost in the shuffle in the devy community because most owners are searching for the next Jamaal Charles or Adrian Peterson at every turn. Not too many of those guys exist and it pushes the lesser athletes, like Davis, further down the list than they should be. The NFL has a long list of successful players that have instincts and aren’t dynamic athletes such as: Arian Foster, Alfred Morris, Curtis Martin, Gio Bernard and Matt Forte. Davis could be an under the radar player entering the NFL based on metrics, but now you know he does the little things to succeed.

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