7. LB Deshaun Davis
Why he’s here: Davis was an essential part of Kevin Steele’s defensive turnaround in 2016. Though he hadn’t played a full football season in more than three years — Davis was sidelined with a left knee injury as a senior at Vigor High School and redshirted during his first two seasons on the Plains — he quickly emerged as a leader.
The sophomore commanded the Tigers with the savvy of a veteran and the attitude of a pro. He was responsible for managing a defense that played well enough to win arguably all of Auburn’s 12 games. While considered undersized by most, the 5-foot-11, 239-pound linebacker was the team’s fourth-best tackler (55 total) and often had a bigger impact than stat sheets indicated.
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) November 28, 2016
When the Prichard, Ala., native wasn’t delivering merciless hits, he was earning high praise for his preparation from Steele.
“He studies film like a pro. A lot of times, he’s telling guys actually what play’s coming,” Steele said. “That’s unique. It’s hard to do … he’s very instinctive. He’s very, very football smart. Very football smart. He can kind of run things. They have confidence in him out there for him to get them lined up and get the checks.”
Davis’ eagerness to succeed was contagious. He played with a boldness that only made the unit stronger. At one point, senior defensive back Josh Holsey, who often strolled through the Tiger Walk with Davis firing up fans, dubbed the linebacker the team’s biggest trash talker.
— ⭐️Deshaun Davis⭐ (@_Davis_Boy12) November 21, 2016
“That motivates him. That’s all he does,” Holsey said. “He jumps around. He celebrates. And that’s just how he plays. And he plays great, so you can’t really tell him to stop because he’s playing awesome. Those guys really feed off of him. As a secondary, I feed off him as well because he’s one of those guys who’s been waiting for that moment. His moment came, and he’s really ran with it now.”
It became clear just how important Davis was after he was ejected for targeting in Auburn’s game against Vanderbilt. Even on his way into the locker room, Davis found a way to be influential by charging up the crowd in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Video: Auburn LB Deshaun Davis ejected for targeting https://t.co/Ian15IqBIv
— SEC Football (@SECfootball) November 5, 2016
Season stats: 55 tackles (30 solo, 7.5 for loss), 3 pass deflections
Next season: Davis will continue to be one of the biggest threats on defense for Auburn. As he familiarizes with SEC opponents, he’ll become an even bigger nightmare for opposing offenses, but his leadership will be invaluable.
The linebacker is the kind of player underclassmen (and upperclassmen) will look and listen to as Auburn tries to maintain its defensive prowess. Davis also likely will remain one of the most passionate players on the roster, inspiring Tigers on both sides of the football.
Top 10 Auburn football players
No. 10: DE Marlon Davidson
No. 9: RB Kerryon Johnson
No. 8: QB Sean White
No. 7: Deshaun Davis