Vontae Davis was worth the risk for the Indianapolis Colts. Even at the price of a second round pick. But to understand why, you can’t look at Davis by himself.
I am teacher. Great teachers can find the smart or talented kids, even when they try to hide. They can see through the crazy cloths, bad language, poor attitudes, and other distractions to see what is underneath. Every great teacher I’ve ever known, finds one or two of the kids that is slowly slipping through the cracks each year, and motivates them to achieve what they are capable of. It is the true teachers gift.
Coaches and teachers are kindred spirits. Great coaches are also often great teachers. (Wooden, Knight, Belichick, Walsh) They earn their stripes teaching positions and fundamentals. They toil for years teaching the fundamentals of a system. They see the raw talent and athleticism where others don’t. They go out of their way working with talented individuals to maximize that talent. Hoping that they eventually get the opportunity to do it “their” way because it has always been successful.
Chuck Pagano earned his shot at being an NFL head coach the hard way. He’s been coaching for 25 years. He knows talent. But what is more important is to look carefully at how he’s earned it. In his 25 years of coaching he’s had direct or indirect responsibility for the secondary in 23 of those years. Put that into perspective. He’s coached DB’s essentially since Davis has been born. If ANYONE in the NFL can maximize Davis’s talent, it’s him.
Just like great teachers, great coaches believe they can figure out how to get the best work out of someone. Usually, they are right. Before we even talk about Davis we must look at Pagano. He believes that he can focus Davis into being the amazing player he has the talent to become. He has the defensive credibility (from Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Nnamdi Asomugha) to get him to buy in. If he does buy in, the Colts could easily have gotten a young, Pro Bowl caliber player for a 2 and 6. I’d trade a 2 and 6 right now for a 24 year old Asomugha on a rookie deal. That is the talent level we are talking about. Pagano thinks he can reach him. As a 20+ year secondary coach, if he can’t, no one can.
Now lets take a look at Vontae Davis. He and his brother (Vernon Davis TE, SF) grew up in a pretty rough neighborhood. The social transition to the NFL (and the NBA too) is difficult for many. There are so many examples that I simply don’t want to take time to point them out. This transition can be even tougher when you come from an impoverished area. While you may not understand it, it is fact. Many players that find themselves suddenly wealthy and famous have a VERY tough time adjusting.
Look at the struggles that Vernon had his first several years. It took being publicly humiliated and benched by Mike Singletary in his third year to motivate him to become the player he should. The next year, he made the Pro Bowl. Compare this with Vontae. He is in his 4th year. The coaches discussion of him being traded is on national TV (HBO Hard Knocks). That has to be at least a little embarrassing to say the least. If you combine that with the fact that he lost his starting role to a journeyman street free agent, he should have plenty of motivation to improve. Lets hope he reacts like his brother.
Is trading for Davis a risk? Absolutely. However, I trust a man that has 23 years of experience evaluating and teaching secondary talent. If anyone can turn him around, it will be Pagano. If Davis can’t turn his career around in this defense, with this coach that is a secondary expert. He likely will never turn his career around. Is it a risk? Yes, but it’s worth it.