In the NFL, it takes one to know one. That's why Herm Edwards, who has been around football for six decades, knows the Giants got it in rookie defensive tackle D.J. Davidson.
"Players know who the good players are," the Arizona State head coach said on the "Giants Huddle" podcast about his former Sun Devil. "That's one thing about the game of football. It doesn't take very long to figure out who the guys are, and he was one of those guys for us last year."
The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Davidson blossomed as a fifth-year graduate in 2021 and recorded 31 run stops, second to Cincinnati's Curtis Brooks among FBS interior linemen. It also put Davidson on the radar of the Giants, who selected him in the fifth round as part of their 11-man draft class.
"He has a lot of natural talent," Edwards said in his scouting report. "He's light on his feet, understands blocking, can fight through double teams, good getting off the ball, uses his hands very well to shed to run down the line of scrimmage to make plays. He really made himself a complete player."
Edwards, who spent 10 years as a player in the NFL and nearly another decade as a head coach in the league, said Davidson has a sixth sense about feeling blocks. His ability to understand what offensive lines were trying to do coupled with elite physical traits made him a force up front.
"He was very good at splitting double teams, avoiding that and getting penetration in the backfield," Edwards said. "That's what we wanted our guys to do on the D-line. We really wanted them to get off on the ball and play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. And he could do that because he had power and great balance. [He was] not on the ground a lot, and that's what you want to see from defensive lineman. You don't want guys on the ground a lot. He was always light on his feet and really within that five-yard box was very quick and very active."
With the Giants, Davidson joined a revamped defense under Wink Martindale, another seasoned coach with a wealth of knowledge from which he can draw.
Martindale is known for his aggressive play-calling – "I'm not one of those guys that's going to drive home [after games] and say, I wish I didn't play max coverage there" – and will look to unleash players like Davidson and fellow rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux. While Davidson might not have the pass rush resume of a Thibodeaux, he can help in other ways.
"If you can warrant a double-team, you're going to free someone else up," Edwards said. "But at times you're going to get some one-on-one matchups with the guards and maybe even the center, at times, depending on how they use you. You've got to be able to win those. That's going to really separate you whether it's in college or professional football. That's the separation right there. As we know, you have to stop the run first, and once you stop the run, you have to get home, especially when you can get home with four guys. That's the uniqueness. When you have four guys up front that can get to the quarterback, you can do a lot with the back end of your defense. I think he's a guy, if he gets one-on-one opportunities, he can take advantage."
As Tom Brady knows all too well, the Giants won their past two Super Bowls with a disruptive front. The captain of one of the 2007 defense was Antonio Pierce, who spent the past four seasons coaching in multiple roles at Arizona State before becoming linebackers coach for the Las Vegas Raiders this off-season. Pierce most recently served as associate head coach/defensive coordinator at ASU in 2021.
With a staff consisting of him, Edwards, and Marvin Lewis, the Arizona State program readied Davidson for the pros.
"He's seen it before. He's heard the lingo. He's heard the language. He understands how to process it," Edwards said. "We meet that way. We practice that way. We run an NFL-style defense. I think that any guy that leaves here will have that advantage, the fact that he knows how to work."
Like Pierce, Davidson garnered "great respect from his teammates" but did so in his own way.
"He's not a rah-rah guy," Edwards said of the 24-year-old NFL rookie. "But when he speaks, people listen. That's the most important thing. He chooses his times that he has to speak. There would be times I would nudge him and say, 'Look, you've got to get those guys going on this series.' [He would say], 'I've got it, coach.' There were words of encouragement, and he's kind of like E.F. Hutton. When he speaks, everybody listens. He doesn't speak a lot. But when he speaks, people say, 'Oh, he's about to say something.' He's one of those."
So, don't overlook the quiet nose tackle or do so at your own peril.
"You shouldn't because sometimes those are the scary guys," Edwards said. "They don't say a lot, and then all of a sudden, they do say something and you're like, 'Uh oh.' I just think every player has his own way of doing things. That's the greatness of a football team. We all understand everyone has different personalities and how they go about doing things."
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View photos of the the Giants' 2022 draft class on the practice field during spring workouts.