DeAndre Square could not believe what he was hearing. It did not make sense; there was no way it was possible.
Square had gotten to know Jamin Davis pretty well over the past three years. He had seen Davis go from being a solid backup and special teams contributor to Kentucky's best tackler and earn All-SEC honors. His teammate and fellow starter ran interceptions back for touchdowns, covered some of the best pass-catchers in the 2021 draft class and became the first Wildcat in a decade to finish five consecutive games with double-digit tackles.
The NFL advisory committee knew all of that, and yet it slapped Davis with "a fourth- or fifth-round grade" as he prepared to enter the draft.
"When we would talk, I would tell him, 'That can't be your grade,'" Square said.
There are many in NFL circles who view the Washington Football Team's first-round pick as someone who came out of nowhere. Those who only look at stats would believe such a story; he had 42 tackles in 2018 and 2019 combined before his one year as a starter. Of course, those who view Davis as a surprise would be wrong, because he has been this talented for quite some time now. The only thing missing was a chance for him to prove himself, and that required one key element: patience.
Patience is a virtue that is found in short supply these days, especially in college sports. After all, athletes are only given a finite amount of time to prove themselves, and every moment not spent on the field means fewer points to put on their resume. But a lack of physical evidence does not always equal inactivity, and for his first three seasons with Kentucky, Davis was working and waiting for his opportunity.
So what did Davis get for all his stoicism? Only one of the best seasons a linebacker could have in college football. He led Kentucky with 102 tackles in 2020 and was one of four SEC players to average 10 or more stops last season. He earned an 87.5 run-stopping grade by Pro Football Focus and was the only player among FBS schools with at least 100 tackles and three interceptions.
Now, he will be contributing to one of the NFL's best statistical defenses last season with an opportunity to carry a hefty role, should he have a strong offseason and training camp. Those fourth- or fifth-round projections are hardly relevant anymore, unless people care enough to remind others how far the outside perception of the linebacker has changed in recent months. Clearly, patience paid off for Davis.
"You can tell his story to anybody and they'll feel motivated," Square said. "I've seen him at his lowest, and now I'm watching him at some of his highs. He still has so much improvement, so far to go. ...It's amazing to me to see that. It motivates me because he never gave up. In today's world, giving up is so easy, but he kept going. He's a first-rounder, and now he's living his dream."