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Florida Gators in the NFL: Malik Davis finds the promised land

The other talented rookie running back from Florida got a score that was a long time coming.

Indianapolis Colts v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Malik Davis scored his first NFL touchdown on Sunday. After the journey he’s taken the past five years, I can only imagine how sweet it was for the undrafted rookie.

Not getting selected in the NFL Draft isn’t the kiss of death many think it is. Roughly 20 percent of rosters in the NFL are comprised of undrafted free agents. In fact, a recent study found NFL teams get more value out of their undrafted players than they do from sixth- and seventh-round draft picks.

That said, making a team’s 53-man roster or even the practice squad as an undrafted player means getting an invite to a training camp and then standing out in the sea of dozens of hungry, undrafted rookies all fighting for those few precious spots. It’s a path Davis attacked with the same determination he did fighting back from two serious injuries in his first two seasons at Florida.

Davis arrived in Gainesville in 2017 as a three-star recruit out of Tampa Jesuit. His high school tape showed a player capable of being Florida’s most explosive running back since Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey.

Davis immediately flashed a burst and sizzle that made it hard to keep him off the field. In seven games to start the season, he rushed for 526 yards, averaged 6.7 yards per carry, and had five 90-yard games. (Trevor Etienne, through seven games this year? 334 rushing yards, 6.3 yards per carry, and no 90-yard games.)

In that seventh game against Georgia, though, Davis tore his ACL and missed the rest of the year.

He came back in 2018, but saw only limited playing time in the first three games behind Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett before breaking his foot and once again missing the rest of the year. Davis wasn’t the same in 2019, as he recovered from those brutal injuries and shook off the rust of barely playing for two years.

2020 saw Davis return to form as part of a three-headed backfield along with Dameon Pierce and Nay’Quan Wright. He ran for 310 yards and caught 31 passes — tops among the backs — for another 377 yards, bedeviling Georgia on wheel routes to the tune of five catches for 100 yards.

The 2021 season saw Dan Mullen use the same committee in pretty much the same way, with Davis flashing even more of the explosion and power we’d seen back in his freshman campaign.

Everyone likes to clown Mullen for not getting Pierce more touches in Gainesville — we’re not immune to it, either. But a complicating factor there is that Mullen should have used both Pierce and Davis — arguably his two best skill players in 2021 — a lot more.

Davis fought back in Gainesville after devastating injuries. He fought to make the Cowboys’ practice squad this past fall after being undrafted. He fought to eventually make the 53-man roster. He fought to earn touches in a crowded, explosive Dallas backfield. And he fought for that first NFL TD.

We think Davis is gonna keep fighting for even more.

Other Week 13 Notables

Good to see Dameon Pierce get back on track with 73 rushing yards and another 22 through the air. Pierce eclipsed 1,000 scrimmage yards for the season. He’s the first rookie to do that this season. He’s 15th in the league with 1,026 total yards.

Unfortunately, Pierce is still looking for his first touchdown since before Halloween.

Production is an every-other-week thing for Demarcus Robinson, apparently. D-Rob grabbed seven for 41 yards last week. Two weeks ago, he had his season high with nine for 128. Two games before that, he went six for 64. In the two games in between those three, he combined for two grabs for 29 yards.

In other words, keep D-Rob out of your fantasy lineup this week — but get him back in the lineup for Week 15.

Carlos Dunlap returned to Cincinnati for the first time since he was traded away in 2020. Dunlap wasn’t just a Pro Bowl defensive end there; he was a pillar in the community and one of the faces of the franchise for a decade.

Dunlap was fired up to face his former team and came up with a huge fourth down tackle for loss that was a strong candidate for play of the week.

Teez Tabor saw his first game action in a month and recorded a tackle and played well in coverage in limited snaps. The Seahawks lost safety Josh Jones for the season which could mean even more PT for Tabor.

I failed to mention it beyond listing him among the practice squad players a few weeks ago but Antonio Callaway has another chance in the NFL, this time with the Dallas Cowboys. He’s on their practice squad, although maybe not for much longer if they reel in Odell Beckham, Jr. soon.

Player of the Week

Brandon Powell had 84 yards from scrimmage in the second best game of his career. He made plays in the passing game and rushing attack all over the field. Powell was the best player on the Rams’ injury-ravaged offense.

Pro Football Focus gave Powell a 90.1 grade, the highest of his career. Powell was the third-highest graded receiver in week 13 behind only Devante Adams and Tyreek Hill. It was the second best game of Powell’s career after his only 100-yard game in week 17 of 2018..

Before the season, I wrote that Brandon was likely to be a bigger factor on offense for the Rams this season after garnering only three offensive snaps during the Super Bowl season in 2021. He’s up to 142 offensive plays and has set career-highs in catches (18), receiving yards (135), and rushing yards (53)

Play of the Week

That ol’ Kiki Neal boom stick still works.

As Baldy says in that breakdown, Neal’s hit probably saved the game, and perhaps the season, for Tampa. He’s had to play a lot for the Bucs in a banged up secondary and has played well around the line of the scrimmage. This was the type of play, though, many have doubted he could still make. Covering ground, closing speed, it was pretty close to perfect by Neal.

He had five tackles in total Sunday night including bringing down Tayson Hill on a third down short of the end zone and forcing a field goal. Big night for Neal, big win for the Bucs.

Here are all of the Week 13 stats (ranked and tiered in order of performance):

The Good

  • Brandon Powell, LAR, WR

Week 13: 4 rec, 39 yards, 3 rush, 45 yards, 1 KR, 17.0 avg, 2 PR, 4.0 avg, 26 snaps (41%), 13 ST snaps (48%)

  • Keanu Neal, TB, S

Week 13: 5 tackles, 1 PD, 58 snaps (98%), 3 ST snaps (11%)

  • Marcus Maye, NO, S

Week 13: 11 tackles, 80 snaps (100%)

  • Dameon Pierce, HOU, RB

Week 13: 18 rush, 73 yards, 3 rec, 22 yards, 47 snaps (72%)

  • Malik Davis, DAL, RB

Week 13: 3 rush, 29 yards, 1 TD, 1 tackle, 3 snaps (4%), 19 ST snaps (61%)

  • Demarcus Robinson, BAL, WR

Week 13: 7 rec (8 targets), 41 yards, 55 snaps (76%)

  • Alex Anzalone, DET, LB

Week 13: 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FR, 56 snaps (100%)

  • Carlos Dunlap, KC, DE

Week 13: 4 tackles, 1 TFL, 39 snaps (54%)

  • Van Jefferson, LAR, WR

Week 13: 2 rec (4 targets), 39 yards, 64 snaps (100%)

  • Evan McPherson, CIN, K

Week 13: 2/2 FG, Long 41, 3/3 XP, 1 tackle

  • Jawaan Taylor, JAX, RT

Week 13: 56 snaps (100%)

  • Trent Brown, NE, RT

Week 13: 54 snaps (100%)

  • Jon Bostic, WAS, LB

Week 13: 5 tackles, 39 snaps (59%)

  • Taven Bryan, CLE, DT

Week 13: 3 tackles, 32 snaps (49%), 8 ST snaps (26%)

The Limited

  • Teez Tabor, SEA, S: Inactive

Week 13: 1 tackle, 24 snaps (38%), 15 ST snaps (56%)

  • Tommy Townsend, KC, P

Week 13: 1 punt, 55.0 avg

  • Zach Carter, CIN, DT

Week 13: 14 snaps (25%), 5 ST snaps (22%)

  • Dante Fowler, Jr., DAL, OLB

Week 13: 14 snaps (19%)

  • Feleipe Franks, ATL, TE

Week 13: 3 snaps (6%), 8 ST snaps (32%)

  • Jonathan Bullard, MIN, DT

Week 13: 6 snaps (7%)

  • Stone Forsythe, SEA, T

Week 13: 5 ST snaps (19%)

  • Jonotthan Harrison, ATL, OL

Week 13: Active but did not play

The Inactive

  • Eddy Pineiro, CAR, K: Bye Week
  • C.J. Henderson, CAR, CB: Bye Week
  • Marco Wilson, ARI, CB: Bye Week
  • Max Garcia, ARI, G: Bye Week
  • Kadarius Toney, KC, WR: Inactive (Hamstring)
  • Kaiir Elam, BUF, CB: Inactive (Ankle)
  • Kyle Trask, TB, QB: Inactive
  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, PHI, S: Injured Reserve (Kidney)
  • D.J. Humphries, ARI, LT: Injured Reserve
  • Kyle Pitts, ATL, TE: Injured Reserve
  • Jonathan Greenard, HOU, DE: Injured Reserve

The Practice Squad

  • Marcell Harris, NYJ, LB
  • Jabari Zuniga, NO, DE
  • Antonio Callaway, DAL, WR
  • Tyrie Cleveland, DEN, WR
  • Jarrad Davis, DET, LB
  • Fred Johnson, PHI, OL
  • Freddie Swain, MIA, WR
  • La’mical Perine, MIA, RB
  • Jeff Driskel, HOU, QB
  • David Sharpe, BAL, T
  • Jeremiah Moon, BAL, LB
  • Duke Dawson, PIT, DB