Davis can bring more than just return ability to Packers' table

-- It's not one of the most well-documented storylines centering around the Green Bay Packers this offseason, but the elephant in the room should at least be addressed.

Trevor Davis is entering a contract year.

Of course, had Davis been on the heels of a season that he played in all 16 games -- much like his 2017 campaign -- then he would likely be a no-brainer to retain. However, a nagging hamstring injury caused Davis' third season in the league to culminate on injured reserve.

But when he's healthy and capable, there's little doubt that Davis is the best return man on the Packers' roster, regardless of how difficult that is for some to admit. While Davis has never been flashy or consistently impacted games on a weekly basis, even the slightest shift in field position by a serviceable return man could be momentous for the offense.

Davis' punt return average since 2016 (min. 30 attempts) ranks second in the league behind only Jamal Agnew of the Detroit Lions. He's one of only three players in the league to rank in the top 10 for both punt-return and kick-return average in that same timespan.

Davis does offer more than just the savvy of a return man. Even with his 289 punt return yards in 2017 -- which ranked sixth in the league at a 12.04-yard average per return -- and fourth-best 707 kickoff-return yards, he may be able to find a role in the Packers' new offense under head coach Matt LaFleur.

LaFleur has made his admiration for Davis' speed evident, and LaFleur's offensive-oriented philosophy could offer Davis new life. He's shown spurts of what he's capable of doing as a receiver, even hauling in a touchdown reception from quarterback Aaron Rodgers during the team's regular-season road trip to Atlanta in 2016.

Davis' ability to visualize the field in front of him and quick feet provides another opportunity for him to contribute: as a gunner.

Since parting ways with special teams coordinator Ron Zook and hiring his successor, Shawn Mennenga, the ties between coach and player became far more apparent. Mennenga, who was a special teams assistant for the Cleveland Browns for seven seasons, saw Davis' speed firsthand in an overtime loss to the Packers in 2017.

"We faced him before when I was in Cleveland and stuff, so I've known about him," Mennenga said during minicamp last month, according to Forbes.com. "Got a lot of respect for him and excited about him. He's continued to get better through the spring and excited about where he's trending to and projecting to."

It was Davis who fielded a Britton Colquitt punt with just under three minutes left in the game. The Packers were trailing by a touchdown to the 0-12 Browns when Davis' 65-yard return gave the Brett Hundley-led Packers offense an opportunity to send the game into overtime.

Hundley and co. followed through, capping off the team's seventh win of the season with a 25-yard touchdown to receiver Davante Adams. A sequence that likely would've never transpired had Davis' return not gifted the Packers with appreciable field position.

For Mennenga, it was his first exposure to Davis. Now, he holds the key to Davis' future.

"He's got a lot of big-play ability. Having experience back there returning kickoffs and punts, but the other thing I think people forget about is he's also a good cover player. He's a good gunner and he's a good cover player on kickoffs. To get a guy that can return both punts and kickoffs and cover kicks is invaluable."

Davis may not have such a wide-open window at cracking the Packers' roster as a receiver, but offering such a multi-positional arsenal could be critical for a team whose special teams unit has faltered in recent memory.

The Packers reconvene for training camp later this month, and after an impressive offseason program, Davis will be returning to the team with fresh legs and just enough elbow room to wedge his way into the universal conversation of some of the league's top return men.

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Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (46)

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Hawg Hanner's picture

July 04, 2019 at 04:24 pm

I'm more than willing to keep Davis around. No reason he shouldn't get some reps at WR. perhaps as a slot guy as well. Just needs to stay healthy

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Lare's picture

July 04, 2019 at 04:53 pm

It will be interesting to see how Davis performs during training camp. If he stays healthy and learns the offensive WR routes it would solidify his spot on the roster. If not, they'll need to find someone else that can produce and stay healthy.

The key to being a special teams return guy is to catch and hold on to the football. If not, he's more of a liability than an asset.

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Firstdown's picture

July 05, 2019 at 01:34 pm

By your own standards, Davis is your guy-

2017- Davis 0 muffs/fumbles
2018- team returners- 9 muffs/fumbles

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cheesehead1's picture

July 04, 2019 at 04:59 pm

Let him compete at WR. He has to stay healthy, obviously, but he’s had his share. Same with Kevin King. Keep hearing how good he is, and he appears to be, but must stay on the field. Hope Lafleur watches him very closely. Want to see King play in 13 or 14, he’s due. If he winds up injured again, then maybe it’s time to rethink.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

July 05, 2019 at 11:51 am

King is a quality player still on a rookie contract. If he cannot stay healthy maybe for 2nd contract he becomes that quality backup DB who plays X percent during season. Almost like MM managed Aaron Jones on a game snap count to try keeping him healthy thru season.

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jannes bjornson's picture

July 04, 2019 at 05:22 pm

Not a Game Changer.

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stockholder's picture

July 04, 2019 at 06:05 pm

I say he is. He's the best returner the packers have. With Cobb gone, he will be on this team.

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fthisJack's picture

July 04, 2019 at 08:34 pm

we don't need any one dimensional guy chewing up a roster spot. he has to show he is a viable WR which he hasn't done yet.

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Firstdown's picture

July 05, 2019 at 01:36 pm

Go back and look at his return in the final minutes of the Cleveland 2017 game.

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Guam's picture

July 04, 2019 at 05:33 pm

Good return guy, but a washout as a WR so far. He will have to prove he can play a position as well as be a special teamer to make the 53.

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Bearmeat's picture

July 04, 2019 at 06:15 pm

The league changed in 2011 - empasizing cheap/productive players on their first contracts. MM never adjusted to the new CBA: His offense was needlessly complex. Not only Capers, but MM himself turned into a very bad fit for Ted (who of course hated veterans and their expensive contracts) by 2015.

Davis is an example of that. It was clear that he wasn't cutting it in the complex McCarthy system. His routes weren't precise enough. His communication with Rodgers never jived. So he didn't play on offense. End of story.

Totally different in the Shanahan system. This is the type of offense that puts the onus on creativity in the coaches hands - not the players. Davis (among many younger players) could/should thrive in that almost-collegiate environment. I'm excited to see what happens!

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flackcatcher's picture

July 04, 2019 at 10:59 pm

Good points all, even if some dislike it. However, Davis has two strikes against him. One is he is not Jeff Janis. (what, WHAT!) I'm serious here. While Janis was a field tilter on special teams, he could not connect with QB1 in the previous offense, and as we as we all have seen, getting on Rodgers bad side is the 'kiss of death' for a offensive player on this team. Two. Davis to date seems unable to play through injuries. Janis was able to play though very serious injuries that allowed him to be on the field. So far, even though Davis is remarkability talented, his inability to play though injuries hurts his standing on this team. (by he way, Packers latest 'greatest white hope' at WR has the exact same problem too.) To put it bluntly, Davis needs to be on the field to make plays. And more often than not, Davis is not there. Just like Janis (JANIS!!! sob......) who became a one dimensional player, unless Davis can show value beyond special teams, he is gone. (new system, new coach, and a GM who did not draft him, Davis has a rough road ahead......)

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dobber's picture

July 05, 2019 at 07:59 am

For He-Who-Invokes-the-JANIS---

greenbaypressgazette.com/story/sports/nfl/packers/fans/2019/07/01/former-packers-jordy-nelson-jeff-janis-reconnect-spare-time-over-tires/1616732001/?fbclid=IwAR2W0OTfpX-KvkNijW2arlTsT8T8dMtXbqbd4JLNTLbhj9i1Ux-AQr9-eKU

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flackcatcher's picture

July 06, 2019 at 06:17 pm

Reading the story over breakfest, my wife ripped my tablet of my hand. After she found out the story was about Jordy and Janis. NO MORE JANIS FOR YOU. In my face with the stare of death added. Mother in law was laughing so hard she had to leave the table. (she's a NYG fan. what can you say........-:)

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jannes bjornson's picture

July 05, 2019 at 07:05 pm

There's a difference between cutting it and catching it. He's getting paid as a WR and his deep ball ability has been supplanted by MVS, a superior talent.
Punt return ability is not outstanding. The KR battle will feature J'mon and Dexter Williams, maybe Shepherd? As a gunner, did he tackle anybody/

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EricinGB's picture

July 04, 2019 at 07:06 pm

Davis is a talented, dependable return man...definately has the skill to warrant a spot on the 53. Watching him last year it was all about his hamstring...it never quite healed. If his hamstring is 100% he will likely make the team. If it is not healed by now, he will never be himself and won't make the team. The preseason will determine his effectiveness...hope he makes it.

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TheKanataThrilla's picture

July 04, 2019 at 09:52 pm

I am hopeful that Darrius Shepherd gets the chance to return some kicks and punts. He can also add a slot receiver to our team.

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sam1's picture

July 04, 2019 at 10:10 pm

Been picking him all off season as my guy to become an impact player or have break out year!

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Tedlyflyfisher's picture

July 04, 2019 at 10:36 pm

This sounds pie-in-the-sky to me. Davis has shown some poor awareness in catching balls around the 10 yard line that would have gone through the end zone for a touchback. I’ve seen him make some poor judgements about whether to run a ball out of the EZ or which way to run, as well. Not sold on the guy.

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Firstdown's picture

July 05, 2019 at 01:44 pm

He was supposed to catch those punts inside the 10. Only punts that land on the 3 yard line or closer are statistically over 50% to go into the end zone.Very bad things happen in punt returning when the ball hits the ground.

I checked, and he did very little punt returning in college. He was learning on the fly in 2017, and I think that explains some of the bad decisions. Regardless, he never turned the ball over, and he was rated by Pro Football Focus as the best punt returner in the NFL in 2017, his first year returning punts.

When he played his first game last year against Seattle, I thought he looked very comfortable and smooth. Every decision he made in that game was perfect. His upside is tremendous.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 06, 2019 at 01:26 pm

Agreed. I posted a link to an article that had the percentage chance of a punt that landed on the X yard line rolling into the endzone versus being downed. I have little doubt that Davis caught balls at the 5 to 7-yard line because the coaches told him to do just that.

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Oppy's picture

July 06, 2019 at 09:59 pm

As TGR knows, I don't have any opinion at all on the "conventional wisdom" regarding letting punts go inside the 10 yard line, or the statistical realities of what happens with punts inside the 10 that are allowed to touch the ground... lol

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Coldworld's picture

July 05, 2019 at 12:47 am

Davis can return when healthy, but he also has made some bad decisions that have cost points while never actually scoring on a return.

As a receiver, a few flashed in shorts have vanished when the pads go on. So let’s see. Are there other candidates flashing ability on returns? Does Davis show up with wow plays in camp?

Ultimately, for me, Davis has never been reliably healthy and never been a real positive difference maker as a returner despite the odd flash play. If I right, then the decider for me would be fo we have another competent returner? If we do, even if that returner is less spectacular, does he offer more on O or D? If so i’d say Davis is out.

So it’s up to Davis to show he should be on the field offensively for me. Absent him making a strong push, I hope that we have a better option. If he really is a player transformed in attitude and by the system, then this debate should be over by mid camp. That would be great, but I am still not able to believe it likely.

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Bearmeat's picture

July 05, 2019 at 06:15 am

Did you forget the Cleveland game 2 years ago? He ran a punt back for a TD in that one - or we lose to an 0-14 team.

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dobber's picture

July 05, 2019 at 08:02 am

Umm...big runback, but no TD.

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Coldworld's picture

July 05, 2019 at 08:31 am

As far as I recall, and having done a bit of self checking, Trevor Davis has never scored on a return, either of a punt or kick, in a regular season game.

If I am correct, in that instance you reference he certainly helped get the offense close enough. I am not saying that he can’t operate with the ball in his hands. I am questioning the tendency to anoint him as a great returner and game changer.

He simply has not been a Hester or Howard like contributor. His longest punt return is 65 yds with another at 55. His kick returning is less impressive with a long of 34. He does have good average punt return yardage but he hasn’t had the big play value equivalent to a young Randall Cobb or even Mycah Hyde, both of whom also had higher average returns in kicks as well.

Put in perspective then, he has been a decent kick returner and a productive but not spectacular or game changing punt returner. I did not go back and try to determine negatives for poor decisions and any associated points cost, but there have been some of those.

I think we agree that, to date, his position as a receiver has been based solely on his special teams value. As a result, I look at his net contribution to the success of the team in light of what talent he may exclude by taking a slot. This year, with variation in the offense, he may be taking the spot of a WR, TE, FB, DB were the same basis for retention to apply.

Frankly, as I look at it based on past performance, we would quite conceivably be better off with a less productive returner in terms of average yardage and either better home run threat or just contribution outside of returning. Obviously if it clicks for Davis and he is a true situational weapon and depth resource as a receiver, thus analysis has a very different outcome.

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sam1's picture

July 05, 2019 at 10:55 am

Davis had a TD against the Eagles on a Thursday in 2017 in preseason. Yes no regular season games.

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Firstdown's picture

July 05, 2019 at 01:53 pm

In 20-18, without Davis, our special teams had -3.9 net yards versus our opponents. Meaning we lost field position

In 2017, with Davis, we were +4.5 yards versus our opponents, meaning we gained field position on every kickoff or punt return, on average.

Davis alone accounted for an extra 280 yards of field position, that's 28 first downs.

On kick off returns, every long return he's had has been called back, 70, 55, 53 and 45 yards.

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Coldworld's picture

July 05, 2019 at 06:27 pm

And we were without him a lot. We also had no alternative. This year there some competition was deliberately brought in, one of whom has NFL experience, so I think the comparative is misleading.

Again, let’s see what he and others do when the pads are in and there is completion at the line and press coverage. If Davis has matured as a receiver then he will have a perfect opportunity to prove that through camp. If he does this conversation is over.

However, if others pass him by as a receiver, then the fact of his record being somewhat more highly touted than his stats seem to warrant becomes very relevant, as does the comparative play of others, ST and otherwise, and the question of durability.

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jannes bjornson's picture

July 05, 2019 at 07:12 pm

Davis is not on my 53.

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Bure9620's picture

July 05, 2019 at 09:36 am

I am not opposed to Davis if he can really bring something offensively, but is it the same thing with him every year, he is fast, has 4.3 speed, looks great in shorts and them disappears in camp. He has to do a better job of getting off the line and beating press coverage. If he cannot, he may as well be running a 4.8. I am skeptical if Davis can be a passing game threat and I believe he does not make the 53, but I hope I am worng.

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Slim11's picture

July 05, 2019 at 10:43 am

Davis has the physical abilities. If he can be a useful PR ...AND KR...then he is worth keeping. His judgement on fielding deep punts inside the 10 concerns me. He has to show better decision making in these situations.

As a WR, I am not sold. After Adams, MVS, ESB, Moore and several of the PS WRs, Davis is looking at the #8/9 WR roster spot entering training camp. He has to play well above his past performance to make the team this year.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

July 05, 2019 at 12:05 pm

I look at Davis and I see no development physically after 3 + years in league. He has always had trouble getting off line of scrimmage. He is still slender and looks the same. I find that very telling. If fighting to make the squad he should have physically changed his body to counter act physical DB's at line of scrimmage, and to be able to go up and fight for the ball. A stronger physique would allow him to withstand the pounding he would take in the slot.

Like him as returner on special teams if he can stay healthy but not as a WR. We already have the 6'4" Valdes as as a speed WR.

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Doug_In_Sandpoint's picture

July 05, 2019 at 11:07 am

Do we really think we’re going to find someone better on special teams? Alexander and/or Savage could be game-changers at returning, but do we want to subject them to additional injury risk? He can be a fine receiver #7 who hopefully never sees the field. And Lafleur can use him on the occasional jet sweep or reverse. He will make the 53 as one just inside the bubble and will be dressing on Sundays.

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Coldworld's picture

July 05, 2019 at 01:13 pm

We should be able to. He is not second contract material at this point, so we may have to. They brought in competition, let them fight to prove if any of them can compete at a position on O or D.

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PatrickGB's picture

July 05, 2019 at 11:10 am

Just spitballing here. First of all I doubt the team extends him next year. Second, he is a smaller lighter player who suffered injuries due to size and position. Third, I don’t think that the team can keep as many WRs as last year. Personally I would like to have some of those reps go to a developing player like ESB. He is bigger, just as smooth and is cheaper and will be around longer.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

July 05, 2019 at 01:27 pm

Patrick,
Totally agree!

As I say above in a different post Davis has had 3+ years to add strength and bulk, particularly since he was on IR but he did nothing. His physique has not changed a bit. Find a new returner and move on.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 05, 2019 at 12:22 pm

I guess I don't think Davis has to do diddly squat as a WR in order to make the team. Gunner, KO coverage guy, good PR and decent KR is probably enough.

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Coldworld's picture

July 05, 2019 at 01:25 pm

Janis could stay on the field and was 6 foot 4, 200+. even he contributed more on O.

Davis has none of that on his record. He is not a great Kick returner either and he has less splash plays than Hyde or Cobb half at returner.

As a gunner, I fancy Holman and some of the others. I just don’t thing Davis can be expected to hold up physically in that role. If he can’t, then his returning is moot.

If he is suddenly bringing something to the table as a receiver, that’s one thing. Without that, I believe his reputation as a returner is overblown. Mental errors and failure to score a TD and a mediocre overall record as a kick returner (less important today it is true).

We can do better than that and this year with this scheme, the extra DB/WR may well add value as a role player as well as depth. So for me, let him earn his spot and, if there is no other competent returner who offers more, well then we had better do better next year. Mediocrity or simple inability to get on the field is not acceptable any more at other positions it seems (finally) and it shouldn’t be here.

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Firstdown's picture

July 05, 2019 at 02:06 pm

Mediocrity? Davis was rated the #1 punt returner in the NFL in 2017 by Pro Football Focus. If his three long kickoff returns hadn't been called back, he might have been rated the #1 kickoff returner too.

If that's mediocre, then what's good?

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Coldworld's picture

July 05, 2019 at 04:50 pm

Results, stats as a whole, availability, breadth of contribution.

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jannes bjornson's picture

July 05, 2019 at 07:18 pm

How many TDs ?

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 06, 2019 at 02:26 pm

Janis played out his rookie deal based on coverage ability. Janis' coverage was better than Davis', but Davis' PR ability is objectively very good though not GOAT, whereas Janis didn't return punts at all and had a mixed record as a KR. KR is slowly becoming unimportant anyway. Janis played in 80% of possible games whereas Davis is at 60%.

Davis' 12.1 average on 37 Punt Returns is excellent. Hester averaged 11.7 and Desmond Howard averaged 11.9, but both had more TDs. I put that down to Slocum and Zook. Howard had 8 career TDs, with 5 coming in two seasons. 6 seasons with no TDs and 4 more with just one TD. Hester had 6 seasons with no TDs, 2 more with 1 T D, and was lousy in the playoffs: no TDs and a 6.4 PR average.

Guys like Janis and Davis should always be looking over their shoulders if they are ST-only guys. If someone younger can do what they do and might develop into a position player, then it is sayonara. Until some young guy rivals Davis on STs, Davis has a decent chance of making the team. Look at the TOP TEN ALL-TIME PRs:

Mel Gray: 10.9 yd ave., 3 TDs in 13 yrs All-Pro x 3
Billy "White Shoes" Johnson:11.8, 6 TDs, 13 yrs.
Deion Sanders: 10.4 yd average, 6 TDs in 13 years.
Josh Cribbs: 10.7 yd average, 3 TD in 10 years.
Dante Hall: 10.5 yd average, 6 TDs in 9 years.
Brian Mitchell: 10.8 yd. average, 9 TDs in 14 yrs.
Rick Upchurch: 12.1 yd ave., 8 TD in 9 yrs, All-Pro x 3
Gale Sayers: 14.5 average, 2 TDs in 6 years.

A 12.1 yard average is scoffed at. Some fans don't know when they have it good/grass is greener elsewhere. I had to go all the way to Gale Sayers to find someone with a better average than Trevor Davis. When Upchurch retired he was the all-time leader in punt return yardage.

Tough crowd.

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Oppy's picture

July 06, 2019 at 10:04 pm

I have retired from fact-based martyrdom and pass the torch wholly to you my friend

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 07, 2019 at 12:35 am

LOL. I gather it was you that posted the % of times a punt reaches the endzone data? I thought it might have been Hank Scorpio. It wouldn't surprise me if all three of us posted it at different times or in different articles.

As for Davis, one can argue that with the usual prolific offense GB has, the 12 yards isn't that important, so the PR has to bring more to the table than just PR, or more than PR plus ST cover units. Or one can argue that Davis has missed 40% of all possible games to date. These all seem valid to me. The notion that Davis isn't a very good PR is not supported by the evidence. No fumbles either to date.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

July 10, 2019 at 02:08 pm

Funny Oppy!

And yes, Scorpio has tendency to be FAS!

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