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From unknown to the first round: UK star Jamin Davis drafted by Washington

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 6/22/2021 Josh Moore, Lexington Herald-Leader
a man standing in front of a store: Commissioner Roger Goodell announces Jamin Davis as the 19th selection by the Washington Football Team during round one of the 2021 NFL Draft at the Great Lakes Science Center on Thursday, April 29, 2021 in Cleveland. © Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America/TNS Commissioner Roger Goodell announces Jamin Davis as the 19th selection by the Washington Football Team during round one of the 2021 NFL Draft at the Great Lakes Science Center on Thursday, April 29, 2021 in Cleveland.

Less than a year ago, Jamin Davis was projected to be a key backup in the University of Kentucky’s linebacking corps. On Thursday, he realized a dream entertained by just about anyone who’s ever put on a pair of cleats.

The Washington Football Team drafted Davis with the 19th overall pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, making him the highest Wildcat selected in the event since Josh Allen was picked seventh overall in the 2019 edition. Including American Football League drafts, the official records of which are combined with that of the NFL, Davis becomes the 18th first-round pick in Kentucky history.

Davis is the third player drafted in the first round during head coach Mark Stoops’ tenure, following Allen and Bud Dupree (2015). Before Dupree, Kentucky’s most recent first-round selection was Dewayne Robertson, who went fourth overall to the New York Jets in 2003.

Based on information from Spotrac, a site dedicated to sports salaries, the projected value of Davis’ rookie contract is $13,794,176, which includes a $7,392,128 signing bonus.

Davis was the third linebacker drafted, following Penn State’s Micah Parsons (12th overall to Dallas) and Tulsa’s Zaven Collins (16th overall to Arizona).

A former three-star recruit coming out of Long County High School in Georgia, Davis redshirted in 2017 before playing 26 games, primarily as a reserve behind Kash Daniel, in 2018 and 2019. He came on strong at the end of his sophomore season, making his first start against UT Martin, and was expected to be a key figure in a three-headed middle linebacker rotation consisting of himself and projected starters DeAndre Square and Chris Oats.

In May of last year, Oats was hospitalized after suffering a stroke and later placed in a rehabilitation facility. That resulted in Davis having to shoulder a heavier load during Kentucky’s 2020 season; he started 10 of UK’s 11 game, missing its contest at Alabama due to COVID-19 protocols, and led the Wildcats with 102 tackles (50 unassisted) and was second on the team with three interceptions. He was the first Kentucky player since Danny Trevathan (a sixth-round selection by the Denver Broncos in 2012) to record double-digit tackles in at least five consecutive games.

BIG RISER

Davis was named to the All-Southeastern Conference First Team by Pro Football Focus and Phil Steele following his junior season. He declared for the draft on Jan. 8, and at the time was considered a middle-round prospect, with the most optimistic projections putting him late in the third round. When the Herald-Leader interviewed Davis for a feature in early February, The Draft Network had him tabbed as the No. 248 prospect available; that service had him ranked No. 45 overall going into Thursday.

Matt Miller of The Draft Scout was the first major analyst to peg Davis as a first-round pick in late February, and the 6-foot-4, 234-pound linebacker has only continued to cement himself in the eyes of prognosticators since.

During a recent appearance on the Ross Tucker Football Podcast, longtime NFL Films producer Greg Cosell attributed Davis’ rise to the simple fact that more NFL types were seeing him in the offseason than watched him play during the season.

“I love this guy’s tape,” Cosell said. “I think he is one of the most intriguing linebacker prospects. He’s one of my favorite players to evaluate. This kid has size, length, play speed, coverage ability. The more I watched him the more I felt his combination of length and play speed traits, he transitions beautifully as a three-down backer.”

Davis put up impressive figures during Kentucky’s Pro Day on March 31, running a 4.47 40-yard dash (fifth-highest among all linebackers) and posting a 42-inch vertical jump, highest at the position and seventh overall among all NFL Combine participants in 2021. His 132-inch broad jump was the second-best among linebacker prospects and was tied for the fifth-best mark posted by any participant.

He became a subject of national interest leading up to the draft. In a story from the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala on Davis’ ascension, his parents shared that as a child running back LaDainian Tomlinson was his sports idol but he quickly took a liking to the defensive side of the ball.

“He’s a totally different person (on the field).” James Davis, his father, told the Post. “He’s just focused. It’s like David Banner turning into the Hulk — he’s going to get there and he knows what he’s got to do, and he just focuses on completing the mission.”

KENTUCKY IMPACT

Davis’ time as a Wildcat was somewhat brief — he was a significant contributor on the field for only part of one season before breaking out last season — but his success in those limited opportunities is a continued indication of the program’s ability to develop talent, much of it often overlooked. UK was the only SEC school, and the first Power Five program, to offer Davis as a recruit.

Matt House, a former linebackers coach at UK who’s now an assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs, was Davis’ lead recruiter but left the Wildcats following the 2018 season. Davis has credited current linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Jon Sumrall for making things easier for him to understand at the college level.

“The main thing he told me before the season started is you’ve got to pave your own way, and I took it and ran with it,” Davis told the Herald-Leader in February.

Davis became the 12th player, and the fifth linebacker, drafted from Kentucky during Stoops’ tenure, and kicked off what could be a record-setting weekend for the Wildcats in the draft. Defensive back Kelvin Joseph is expected to go in either the second or third round, and several other UK players — including in-state products Drake Jackson and Landon Young — have been listed in middle-to-late round projections prior to the draft.

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