When ESPN’s Rece Davis heard about the idea for boosting the college football insight into the NFL draft, he didn’t need any convincing.
“My immediate reaction was, this is a no-brainer,” Davis said.
Davis will spearhead the network’s overdue look at the draft this week. He’ll host College GameDay from the event in Arlington, Texas, then host college-oriented draft coverage of the first round on ESPN2 (alongside college analysts like former Bucs Booger McFarland and Joey Galloway).
The Tampa Bay Times caught up with Davis for a Q&A (which has been edited for space and clarity).
What was your reaction when you heard about this college-focused idea?
I think it’s a long time overdue, because I think that while the draft experts like Todd (McShay) and Mel (Kiper Jr.) do an unbelievable job in terms of pure, old-fashioned scouting, I don’t think that anyone knows these guys better than we do. We’ve not only followed their careers and watched them on tape and seen them in person, but in most cases we’ve been around a lot of them.
We’re not going to spend a lot of time debating the Browns’ depth chart. But we’re also not going to immediately swing it (if they take Sam Darnold) — USC has a whole to fill. We’re going to talk about Sam Darnold, what makes him a good player, what we know of him in college will translate or in some cases will not translate.
How is GameDay going to be different than what we see in the fall? Lee Corso’s not going to put on a Saquon Barkley head, is he?
I will not divulge any show secrets at this point. But I would urge you to stay tuned.
We are a pregame show for the entire sport on any given Saturday, but the atmosphere is provided by one particular campus and one particular game. That will be different, but it’s going to be more about the anticipation of the fans. I think the atmosphere you see at the NFL draft, as it’s traveled around the last few years, will give a vibe that’s at least somewhat like you see on Saturday mornings from us.
What are your main goals with this approach?
Evaluating that guy as a player. Certainly I don’t want people to ignore any NFL knowledge that they have in terms of a coach’s scheme and whatever a player does or doesn’t do. The crux of our conversation will be based on what we know from them in college and why that makes us feel the way we do. If Joey Galloway has seen something in a guy that will not translate, that they will need to change to play in the pros — it will be more about things like that than, how does this person fit on the depth chart? We’re not reinventing the wheel. I think we’re just giving it a little bit of a different perspective.
How are you preparing for this? You’re not poring over every team’s depth chart…
You want to have a basic, fundamental understanding of the teams’ needs. But the biggest thing you’re doing is making sure that from watching tape, refreshing myself on some video, reading a bunch of articles to give people an insight into who these guys are. What we want to do as much as we can is to make that personal. If we can give a story about interactions that we’ve had with different guys over the course of their careers in college, I think those are insightful and useful when it comes to evaluation.
What’s the biggest college story in the draft?
I think it’s the quarterbacks. That is such a difficult position to evaluate, not only for the NFL but in college. Look at all the guys that come in as five-star guys who are beaten out by someone else, or they transfer, or maybe they don’t live up to the billing. There are a lot of sure bets in this draft … but all of that is superseded by trying to find the right quarterback, and that is a much dicier proposition.
What are your thoughts on Lamar Jackson? It seems like most of us who cover college football are much higher on him than the NFL is.
Lamar is already a great thrower, and he’s also a pretty good passer. He can just sling the thing, and he’s got this other unique skillset of being able to run. I don’t understand the people who talk about him changing positions. Certainly he could, there’s no question. The guy runs like crazy. He’s got good size. He certainly could, but why would you? Until he proves, or disproves, the notion that he’s not a quarterback, I don’t know why you would even consider that, because he’s got plenty of arm strength, and he’s got good enough size.
Who’s a sleeper who impressed you in college and the NFL might not be quite as high on?
Memphis receiver Anthony Miller — I think they’re actually fairly high on him. (UCF linebacker and Lakewood High alum) Shaquem Griffin, I think he’s going to be a terrific player as well. You take a guy like Troy Apke at Penn State, who’s a really high-level athlete, and his productivity is now catching up to his athleticism.