GREEN BAY - Each year, hundreds of NFL hopefuls navigate a pre-draft process tinged with absurdity. The exhaustive research process of front offices around the league lends itself to bizarre inquiries at the scouting combine such as boxers or briefs, cats versus dogs and what color is chocolate — all grouped loosely under an umbrella of psychological exploration.
But even in a practice grounded in the peculiar, former Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) edge rusher Marcus Davenport turns heads when he tells personnel men about his love of poetry.
“They’re like, ‘Really?’” Davenport said last month at the Senior Bowl. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s one of my things.’”
Another one of Davenport’s things is rushing the passer, and that particular skill set has molded him into a likely first-round pick come April. At 6-5 7/8, 259 pounds and with 27 ½ tackles for loss in the last two years combined, Davenport is ranked among the top five outside linebacker/defensive end hybrids in a year when the Packers should be shopping for depth behind starters Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, a duo whose injury history breeds uncertainty.
And given Davenport’s unique combination of intellect, raw ability and three-sport athleticism, he just might entice the Packers and their No. 14 overall pick. Davenport will get another opportunity to impress teams this week at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
“Solid player,” one scout said. “Still raw and has to develop his lower body. Has the lower body of a skill player.”
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Part of Davenport’s appeal is the idea that his production steadily improved during college despite an unpolished skill set. He was a three-sport athlete at John Paul Stevens High School in San Antonio — basketball, football and track — and spent two years as a wide receiver before converting to a beanpole defensive end as an upperclassman. When larger college programs saw Davenport’s 198-pound frame and demurred, the unranked prospect stayed home and chose UTSA over UNLV.
Once enrolled at UTSA, a fledgling program whose inaugural game was played Sept. 3, 2011, Davenport’s development consisted of two primary themes: finding ways to gain weight and absorbing the fundamentals of pass rushing.
To accomplish the first, Davenport said he met regularly with the strength and conditioning coaches to overhaul his diet, workout patterns and stretching habits. They encouraged him to gain as much flexibility as possible to offset the added mass, and by Davenport’s senior year he weighed 264 pounds — a 33-percent increase from the time he arrived on campus.
All of it was necessary as Davenport learned to set the edge against the run.
“Weight has been a big deal for me,” said Davenport, whose current measurements align favorably with the height of Kyler Fackrell and the weight of Matthews or Ahmad Brooks. He also has long arms (34 inches) but surprisingly small hands (nine inches).
As a pass rusher, Davenport needed to augment his natural athleticism with the requisite technique. He worked diligently with the defensive coaches to emphasize hand placement, coverage responsibilities and posture, which Davenport admits he still struggles with at times.
The coaches afforded Davenport the option of standing up or playing with his hand on the ground in a defense that relied mostly on four-man fronts, and Davenport said he modeled his game after Calais Campbell, J.J. Watt and Von Miller.
“They’re all great players but they have (individual) things that they do exceptionally well,” Davenport said, “And at times I want to be able to rise to that eventually.”
Davenport’s junior and senior seasons launched him up the draft boards. He jumped from 6 ½ sacks to 8 ½ sacks, from 10 tackles for loss to 17 ½. He finished second-team All-Conference USA in 2016 and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2017.
At the Senior Bowl, where Davenport faced better competition than what he was accustomed to in college, he finished with a half a sack, four hurries and one fumble recovery while drawing positive reviews most of the week.
“The man’s motor (is impressive),” said Brian Price, the former Packers’ defensive tackle and a teammate of Davenport’s in college. “If there is any skill/trait that you want to see in any D-lineman, it's their motor. If you see a play ran opposite of Marcus, you (still) see him in the picture.
“This guy had the ability to catch (alley) oops with a 360-degree spin. His build alone lets you know that he's a different monster.”
If his build failed to give it away, his personality certainly would. The flow of this story mirrors Davenport’s media session at the Senior Bowl, where the necessary football questions felt rather sandwiched by more interesting off-field pursuits.
Davenport told reporters that his love of poetry stems from a love of music, both of which give him a sense of “security.” His most recent fixation is R.M. Drake, a modern poet who used Instagram to reach the masses. Davenport said he attended a poetry reading but lacked the courage to share his own poems he writes in private.
At this point, Davenport finds it funny when people ask him what he does outside of football because the answer almost always catches them by surprise. But poetry is only one of Davenport’s things; chasing quarterbacks remains his primary obsession.
The Green Bay Packers are replacing the turf at Lambeau Field. Wochit