The conversation about Marcus Davenport has changed.
Before the rookie defensive end announced that he played second half of the season through a toe injury that was supposed to end his season, the narrative surrounding the Saints defensive end was that he faded during the second half of the season. But now that we know why and the reason was an injury, things look a little bit different.
You can divide Davenport's season at the moment when became hurt while sacking Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins. Before that play, he was an ascending player who was stacking positive moments by the week. After that play, he was different. There was still some good, but you had to look when before he would have a moment every week that forced you to take notice.
The difference in play down the stretch led to some questioning the wisdom of using two first-round picks to select him in the draft, but that was before anyone knew the extent of his injury. If you wipe out those games and only look at the ones where he was healthy, you’ll see an extremely athletic player who produced despite still working to harness his raw athletic potential.
That is why Davenport felt good about the things he was able to do when evaluating his rookie year in the days after the season ended.
“I feel like I did progress,” Davenport said. “I wanted to get better in a hurry, but I feel like I still got a lot of work to do.”
The rookie should feel positive about the first half of the season, as well as his ability to gut it out down the stretch. Davenport showed an ability to win in a variety of ways, even if he still needs to develop more technique.
Just his sacks showed some of the variety in his game. In Week 3 against Atlanta, he stunted behind David Onyemata and used his strength to truck center Alex Mack back into quarterback Matt Ryan.
Against the Redskins, he used his speed and power to stretch to knock a ball away from Alex Smith and cause a fumble. Then against Minnesota, he chopped his way through a block and on his other one in that game he just merely stuck with the play and caught Cousins trying to escape the pocket.
But some of his more impressive moments came in the running game. There was the play against the Giants where he beat a block with an inside move and dropped Saquon Barkley for a loss of 7 yards. Against Washington week later, he showed his strength by pushing a tackle inside with one arm to force a run outside and then stopping the run for a loss of 3.
Early on, at least. Davenport might have been better against the run than the pass. His range and awareness allowed him to excel in this area consistently. He probably did not receive enough credit for making plays against the run throughout the year.
But ask Davenport where he improved the most and the answer isn’t about the running game or the pass rush.
“Confidence,” Davenport said. “This is just football, and I deserve to be here.”
The rookie said he battled confidence issues throughout the year. He allowed himself to fall victim to his thoughts and let outside distractions, whether it be from family, fans, analysts or social media, influence his mind.
He eventually figured out how to change the way he thought and stopped searching for negative perspectives. Instead of allowing a few bad plays in practice to negatively impact him or create doubt, he learned how to use those moments as motivation.
Defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen also helped Davenport get on the other side of his belief issues.
“He helped me with my belief, helped put me around people who could help me,” Davenport said. “Especially the skills, practicing, seeing improvement always helps with confidence.”
Having that behind him, as well as the knowledge of how and where he needs to get better, should help Davenport make a big leap this offseason. It could be needed with Alex Okafor expected to opt out of his contract in the coming weeks, which would allow him to sign with another team.
“Now I don’t have to focus on the belief,” Davenport said. “I can just focus on physically getting better, honing my mental craft, not even on that aspect, but on the game.”
There is no question he belongs.