From UTSA to Selection Day, One of This Year's Best Stories Is Headed to the Draft

Jacob Feldman
Sports Illustrated

Late last week, the NFL announced it will host 22 prospects at the draft in Dallas. The list features most of the big names we've expected for the last year (with QB Baker Mayfield and OL Quenton Nelson being the most notable absences), plus one of this year's biggest surprises, a WR-turned-DE who grew up and played four hours south of AT&T Stadium.

Marcus Davenport showed up at the University of Texas at San Antonio—which played its first game in 2011—weighing less than 200 pounds, having switched positions late in high school and viewing football as a means to a good education rather than a potential lifelong pursuit. But as a Roadrunner, he added 60 pounds while turning into a game-wrecking pass rusher who most believe has not yet hit his ceiling.

Davenport was not in Albert Breer's heavily sourced first-round mock draft as recently as November, but sits at No. 12 in the most recent version, with other experts pegging him inside the top 10. Besides his lack of experienced polish, one of the biggest knocks against Davenport by old-school football thinkers is that he does not have a traditional football-obsessed, uber-confident mindset. Les Snead reportedly gave Davenport a book on thriving as an introvert after the prospect said he was nervous during their private meeting. According to USA Today, "He journals, writes poetry, watches Anime and is excited to wear the T-shirt his girlfriend bought him that says 'We should all be feminists.' "

While that might scare football purists—for whatever reason—it makes him a great ambassador for the game, proof of the sport's on-the-field meritocracy. Clearly those in the league agree, as the draft invitation comes with an expectation that Davenport will speak to the media (something he's been shy about in the past) and attend outreach events. The invitation also signifies the first formal recognition that he is truly one of the top prospects in this class as well as an easy player to root for as the draft nears.

"This is surreal, because I know this is what a lot of people dream for," Davenport said at his pro day. "This wasn’t necessarily my dream, but it’s growing into one.”?

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PRESS COVERAGE

1. Linebacker Thomas Davis, one of the most beloved players in Panthers franchise history, admitted to failing an NFL drug test (due to an estrogen blocker, he claimed) though he said he believed he was taking supplements within the rules. He will sit out the first four games of his 14th (and possibly final) season. Scott Fowler considered how this will affect Davis's legacy in Charlotte.

2. Jerry McDonald is reporting that the Raiders' decision to move on from Marquette King was about finances, rather than personality, writing that the team opted to allocate his $3 million to a cheaper punter and more talented special teamers. It's a convincing argument.

3. After trading away Brandin Cooks, the Patriots have added wideout Jordan Matthews, who previously played for the Bills and Eagles.

4. Fullbacks coming out of college have to prove they are capable of doing a lot more than just lining up and blocking a defender in the hole. Michael Rothstein talked to a few.

5. The Browns have traded yet another QB, this time sending Kevin Hogan to Washington in exchange for a beneficial swap of sixth-round picks. John Dorsey previously waived Hogan when they were with the Chiefs. Now Hagan, a Virginia native, gets to return home.

6. "League officials urged owners not to publicly discuss the anthem issue," Liz Clarke and Mark Maske report. "Afterward, in recounting what they were told at their closed-door meetings, one team owner made an exaggerated 'zip-the-lip' gesture." Expect more discussions—and news—come May.

7. The soon-to-be-formed Alliance of American Football (where Steve Spurrier will coach) is eliminating kickoffs. One interesting note: Instead of onside kicks, teams will be given one down to get 10 yards from the 35. Based on NFL data, that's a slightly more achievable task.

8. Steelers lineman David DeCastro might have taken the lead for biggest opponent of the NFL's new hitting-with-the-head rule. "You might as well take the ball away while you’re at it," he said.

9. The Seahawks attending Josh Allen's pro day is just the latest flashpoint in what could be a very interesting year of negotiating between Seattle and Russell Wilson.

10. As expected, Odell Beckham Jr. will show up Monday for voluntary workouts.

Have a story you think we should include in tomorrow’s Press Coverage? Let us know here.

THE KICKER

Marcus Mariota will warm your heart.

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