Before I analyze rookie offensive tackle Julie’n Davenport’s season, I wanted to comment on the Houston-based chaos that broke out on Radio Row in Minneapolis yesterday. First off, I thought it was pretty cool to actually see two radio stations and worlds collide in this heated exchange. Here is a link to the SportsRadio 610 stream. Go to 2:05:00 to watch the shenanigans break out. Favorite line: “You are Gulf Coast regional radio.” Damn, put a dude in his plac, why don’t ya? I do not think I have all the context that I need to for the argument, but the situation was absurd enough to make the venerable John McClain get up and leave mid-show. I don’t always listen to sports radio, but when I do, I prefer Seth Payne. Do I think that the altercation was necessary? Probably not. Do I know who would have won if it came to blows? Probably so. (Hint: Seth). Anyway, it looks like the icy conditions in Minnesota have some in the Houston media a little riled.
Back to the rookie offensive lineman...
I was thoroughly confused when the Texans drafted Davenport over two-time first-team All-ACC pick Roderick Johnson out of Florida State. Both players were 6’7” and had 36” inch arms, but Johnson was a starter at Florida State and played against some of the best talent in the nation. Yet as we sit here with the 2017 season over, I believe the Texans made the right decision. Johnson spent his rookie season on injured reserve, and Davenport eventually becamse the starting left tackle for the Texans.
Coming out of Bucknell, Davenport was a prospect with a ton of potential who needed to be groomed to become a starter in the league. At the onset of the 2017 season, it appeared that was the plan. Duane Brown would start at left tackle, and whoever decided to show up would play at right tackle. Well... Duane played one game this season for the Texans before getting traded, Kendall Lamm played like someone gave him drunk goggles, and Chris Clark was consistently inconsistent. With all these players dropping the ball, Davenport was inserted into a starting role.
When Davenport started the season, he only came in to support the offensive line in jumbo packages. Usually placed as a tight end, Davenport assisted Breno Giacomini on the right side of the line of scrimmage. Against the Bengals, Davenport switched between playing a stand-up position a bit behind the line of scrimmage and putting his hand in the ground. He was used to help slow down the Bengals’ pass rush to give Deshaun Watson (making his first NFL start) more room horizontally to move the defense with his legs.
Seen here, Davenport is an extension to the Texans’ offensive line. His presence stretches out the defense and makes Watson’s read over the middle easier.
After Week 2, Davenport’s playing time dipped when the tight ends got (relatively) healthy again, and there wasn’t a need for a sixth offensive lineman.
It was not until Week 9 against the Colts where Davenport saw legitimate action again. Unfortunately, the rookie made a lasting impact on the game in the worst type of way. In one of the most egregious displays of playing offensive tackle in the NFL that I’ve seen in awhile, Davenport was simply pushed aside by Jabaal Sheard.
Sheard has the advantage from the start. Davenport is still transferring his weight to his back foot while Sheard is about to drop a move on him. Sheard’s distance from Davenport on the line of scrimmage gave Davenport an awkward situation to overcome since Sheard is too far to lunge at yet too close to get depth on.
Sheard knocks down Davenports initial punch. Sequentially, he dips his shoulder around Davenport and uses his leverage to turn Davenport’s hips.
This play resulted in a sack fumble for the Colts, though fortunately Davenport partially made up for his mistakes by recovering the fumble.
After this game, Davenport was out for the next four weeks with a shoulder injury. When he came back, it was good timing. Kendall Lamm was out with a concussion. Jeff Allen was started at left tackle. Davenport moved around the offensive line and tried to put out a dumpster fire. He played well over the next two weeks. Even with some ups and downs, he finished the season as one of the better offensive linemen on the roster.
Against the Steelers, Davenport had some good moments and some bad ones. Let’s start with the bad.
On this play, Davenport is playing LT against Cameron Heyward. Against a 4-3 over set with a safety walked down, Davenport is one-on-one with one of the better defensive linemen in the league.
Right off the bat, Heyward gets leverage and turns Davenport’s feet. He establishes inside hand position on the rookie and shoves him to the side on his way to smothering T.J. Yates. A slow get-off and poor technique will get you beat every time.
On a happier note, this play against T.J. Watt showed great form against a quicker OLB.
From this defensive set, there are a lot of potential combinations the Steelers can throw at Davenport. When T.J. comes off the line of scrimmage, Davenport does a great job of getting extension and matching Watt’s leverage with his own momentum.
As the play develops, Davenport pushes Watt to the top of the pocket as Yates steps forward to avoid the pressure. Well done.
Davenport also made strides the next and final week against the Colts. He was the highest graded Texan and did not allow a pressure on 29 pass blocking snaps, earning a Pro Football Focus grade of 81.9.
With a quality end to his rookie season, people are arguing that Davenport should be given, or at least compete for, the starting left tackle role in 2018. I don’t know if his development and skill set are up to snuff to start 16 weeks as a second-year player, but I do know that the offensive line needs a complete makeover. If Davenport can hold down the left tackle position, it would allow the Texans to spend their free agent money somewhere else.