Saints first rounder Marcus Davenport begins adjustment to NFL
METAIRIE — Marcus Davenport’s level of success in the NFL will go a long way toward determining whether the New Orleans Saints’ 2018 draft is ultimately a success or a failure.
His impact as a rookie will be one of the keys to whether the 2018 Saints can surpass the 2017 Saints’ success, which included an NFC South title and a divisional playoff victory.
But when Davenport stepped on a football field for the first time as an NFL player last weekend, he seemed nonplussed by the significance of his presence as New Orleans’ No. 1 pick.
When asked when he first realized that an NFL career and being a No. 1 pick from unheralded Texas-San Antonio were realistic possibilities, Davenport replied matter-of-factly, “When I got drafted.”
He got drafted 14th after the Saints moved up 13 spots to grab him. The organization sent next year’s No. 1 draft choice to the Green Bay Packers for the opportunity to pick Davenport, whom they envision as an athletic, pass-rushing impact player to complement Pro Bowl end Cameron Jordan.
Jordan anchors New Orleans’ defensive line from the left end spot, and Davenport is expected to be the right end, though he won’t be handed a starting position with veterans Alex Okafor and Hau’oli Kikaha competing with him.
“I see a guy who has all the qualities you’re looking for in a right defensive end,” defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. “I think the one thing that really stood out to us throughout the draft process was his ability to rush the passer. He’s got the size (6-foot-7, 255 pounds), he’s got the length, he’s got the athletic ability. Now it’s really up to us as coaches and him as a player to develop those athletic qualities and turn him into a good football player.”
The Saints and Davenport got started on turning him into a good football player during the three-day rookie mini-camp. Allen called it “an introductory phase” in which the players get accustomed to terminology and technique.
“We’re not giving them too much, just the basics of what we do defensively,” Allen said. “This isn’t a process that just happens instantaneously. This is a process that happens over time.”
The process continues with 10 Organized Team Activities beginning next week, followed by a veteran mini-camp June 12-14, leading up to the start of training camp in late July.
Perhaps the biggest question mark facing Davenport is the quality of competition he faced at UTSA. It’s a bigger leap from Conference USA to the NFL than it is from a Power Five conference to the NFL.
That doesn’t mean Davenport, who Allen said possesses “a unique skill set,” can’t make the jump and have an immediate impact. Even if the level of competition in college requires a longer transition period, it doesn’t mean Davenport won’t ultimately make the transition to being the equivalent of Jordan.
“The first thing you’re looking for is how does he acclimate himself in the locker room environment, how does he acclimate himself when he comes out on the field and he’s got Cam Jordan on one side and (starting tackle and former No. 1 pick) Sheldon Rankins and some of those guys that have established themselves in the league,” Allen said. “How does he fit in with that group, and I don’t think he’s going to have any challenges there.”
Another transition for Davenport is his stance. He played primarily out of a two-point stance at UTEP, but the Saints are having him line up in a three-point stance, which figures to become the norm for him.
Either way, Davenport will be able to show off the skills that enabled him to play wide receiver early in his high-school career.
Even then, though, Davenport said he “gravitated toward defensive ends.”
“I always thought they were big and fast,” Davenport said, “and when you pressure sack the quarterback, it’s a big deal.”
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…