Smart, savvy talent evaluation and acquisition is back in the building in Santa Clara. The 49ers, led by new general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan, have shown an ability to scope out talent at all levels. They found unheralded gems in receiver Trent Taylor, a fifth-rounder, and safety Adrian Colbert, a seventh-rounder.
The team even has five undrafted rookies on the active roster lasting beyond Week 10, several of which have seen real action in the regular season. There’s also five UDFA players stashed on their injured reserve and four on the practice squad.
Expect this team to be at it again in a crucial follow-up offseason, looking under every rock for their next steal.
And we have the name of one potential player it could be.
The 49ers had a scout attend a practice at the University of Texas San Antonio back in August to watch and meet with cornerback Devron Davis, who is declaring for the 2018 NFL Draft.
The 6-foot, 210 pound defender spent his first two years at a California junior college, then transferred to UTSA to finish out his junior and senior seasons in 2016-17, flying under the radar for the most part.
What might the 49ers see in the former JUCO-turned-D1 prospect?
Well, a healthy blend of ball skills, leaping ability, 4.4 speed, length, and aggressive tackling. He has the prototypical traits teams look for, and if he were on a Power 5 roster (which he could’ve have been), he’d very likely be talked about as at least a mid-rounder by now.
Over his final two years in the FBS with the Roadrunners, Davis finished with 61 tackles, 7 TFL, 1 FF, 3 INT, 15 PBU, and 1 TD.
While he hails from a lighter conference, Davis attended school in Texas, which is football country. And being from that region, he matched up against high-level receivers from the likes of Texas A&M and Baylor, among others, demonstrating his ability to tackle, and run downfield and be disruptive at the catch point.
A November 2016 contest against the Aggies was a prime example, as Davis logged a career-high in tackles (6) and pass breakups (2).
Here is Davis (#1) covering current Los Angeles Rams wideout Josh Reynolds, leaping with and ripping the ball away from the 6-foot-3 receiver in the end zone.
He had another dominant breakup against Reynolds down the right sideline, again showing off two of his better traits, which are timing his jump and winning that hands battle at the catch point.
In a matchup with Louisiana Tech, Davis made another athletic and instinctive play on the ball to prevent a touchdown.
There are definitely coverage skills to work with. He's shown he can press and play the ball well in the air.
He's also shown he can tackle, coming off as a physical player as a blitzer and in run support.
These are a few of the punishing and generally solid hits Davis laid at UTSA.
While not a tackle, this forced fumble was Peanut Tillman-like. Given that he over-pursued a bit, the effort and football intelligence stood out here, as he reacted to stay engaged in the play.
Even acknowledging him as a JUCO transfer that was still adapting to a higher level of competition, it already looked like he could be battling in Big 10 or ACC games on Saturday. I wanted to learn more about why Davis still looked out of place on a Conference USA team, and then things began to make sense.
Davis was a late bloomer. As a high school senior, San Jose State and San Diego State were the only schools to extend offers. He took the road less traveled and enrolled at Merced College in California, about an hour-and-a-half drive from his home in Stockton, then bulked up and developed his game.
“When I got to this level I grew a little bit, my arms got longer and I added an extra gear to myself with hard work and going to the gym every day,” Davis said, according to Oregon Live. “Just having that work ethic, that changed my game, because I didn't really work out in high school.”
He grew alright. He grew into a four-star prospect and top-100 recruit.
And before long, offers started pouring in from all over – 38 in fact – including ones from Alabama, Auburn, Colorado, Florida State, Georgia, Louisville, LSU, Maryland, Miami, Ole Miss, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, UCLA, Washington and Washington State. Overall, there were 46 schools competing for his services.
Davis committed to Colorado State, but soon asked to be released from his letter of intent due to family reasons.
“This has been one of the toughest and longest processes of my life, and yet it has continued again,” Davis wrote on Facebook. “I want to say thanks to all the coaches at CSU that have guided me. But due to the sickness of my mom, and other things, I have decided to ask for a full release and Coach Bobo has granted that to me.”
“I would love to thank the fans for always keeping it real with me. And I’m sorry to everybody I let down in Colorado, but I have to (do) what’s best for my family, and mostly myself. Thanks.”
After talking to Baylor, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Arizona State, and BYU again, Davis signed on with Texas-San Antonio, having been won over by first-year head coach Frank Wilson and the staff. Staying with a small school may have impacted his visibility, but Davis clearly continued to show what made him such a sought-after prospect in the first place.
Luke Easterling of the NFL Draft Wire has Davis as a top-25 corner in this year's draft.
It's no wonder pro teams like the 49ers have already caught on.
If you’re looking for a riser at the NFL combine, and a player to potentially sneak into the middle rounds of the draft, Davis might be that guy. Anyone that tracks his career path back to his high school days will find that Davis has loads of ability and is trending upwards, he's just worn less-recognized uniforms.
Media courtesy AP Images, San Antonio Express News, @TheDraftMiracle