Jay G. Tate/AuburnSports.com
Carlton Davis' sophomore season is one he'd like to forget.
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The cornerback from south Florida, a freshman revelation in 2015, saw his numbers dip across the board during his second college campaign. The biggest surprise was Davis' year-long interception drought, which was unexpected given his long arms and remarkable instincts and three picks as a freshman.
That's really the crux of the matter: Davis' first season was so good that everyone, including the player himself, expected him to become a lock-down presence on the perimeter. That didn't happen, but this isn't a story of failure.
No, it's a story of a quick-twitch talent who lost some of his quick and twitch due to injuries. He had a terrible game against Clemson, though he played through a shoulder injury suffered during the first quarter. Rather than head for the sideline, however, Davis elected to fight through the pain. That's commendable; Auburn didn't exactly have a plethora of options ready to go head-up with Clemson All-American Mike WIlliams.
Davis also missed one game entirely (Alabama A&M) and came off the bench twice (Mississippi State and Alabama) due to a pair of ankle injuries.
Davis ended the Clemson game in pain and never regained full fitness.
With that said, he was fantastic in the Tigers' narrow win against Vanderbilt. Davis was targeted five times and allowed two short gainers. He also knocked down a pass in coverage; Davis tied for the team lead in 2016 with 10 pass breakups.
He also played relatively well in Auburn's loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl as a substitute. Oklahoma's passing attack featured two Heisman Trophy finalists and Davis never backed down from the challenges, though he conceded a pair of intermediate passes and a pair of short gainers as well.
Davis enters the 2017 as a potentially elite 'press man' defender. His long arms, size and combative mindset give him clear advantages when working to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. A healthy Davis gives defensive coordinator Kevin Steele confidence that opponents cannot and will not gash the Tigers' defense with their No. 1 receiver.
Last season wasn't easy for this rising junior. He was down at times, frustrated by his inability to make plays he felt like he should make, and seemed to lose some measure of focus along the way. The Davis I interviewed in April no longer seemed saddled with that disappointment, but spring practice is a much different beast than 3rd-and-7 in the fourth quarter of a tight game at Clemson. He knows the difference. And he knows the 2017 season must be his best.
ON THE UP SIDE: Length, 'press man' coverage, aerial ability, tackling
ON THE DOWN SIDE: Mental compartmentalization, ankles
VOTING RESULTS: Jay G. Tate (4th), Jeffrey Lee (5th), The Bunker (6th), Bryan Matthews (7th)
2016 RANKING: No. 3
POSTSCRIPT: Davis always strikes me for his lack of bravado. Cornerbacks are notorious for chirping at receivers (and anyone else within earshot) yet Davis, who rose to the top of the highly competitive Miami high school scene, says very little on the field. I occasionally hear receivers attempting to bait Davis — UGA's Isaiah McKenzie never stopped talking in Athens — but Davis never so much as looks their way until the ball was snapped. I don't know if he's really that into pre-snap observation or if keeping his eyes directed inside simply keeps him focused on the task at hand.
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