Many expected the Cincinnati Bengals to trade down sometime during the 2020 NFL Draft. When they stayed put at the top of the second round, many eyes turned to the fourth round for another opportunity to acquire more draft capital. Once again, they refused to move off their pick.
And just like that, Akeem Davis-Gaither was drafted.
The second of three linebackers the team selected from this year’s draft, Davis-Gaither is a shifty and crafty second-level defender that has had success playing multiple positions for a defense in his collegiate career. His versatility will be counted on as soon as he takes his first snaps in the NFL.
College: Appalachian State
Hometown: Thomasville, N.C.
Up until the beginning of the regular season, Davis-Gaither’s salary cap hit will remain $610,000 for roster displacement purposes. Once the top 51 rule goes into effect, his cap hit will increase to $814,378, per Spotrac. He will take home a little over $1.4 million in total cash during the first year of his four-year, $4,112,512 rookie contract.
The multi-sport athlete takes many different forms. Davis-Gaither happens to be one of the rare ones. In high school, Davis-Gaither lettered in four different sports: track, baseball, basketball, and, most notably, football. While he ended up becoming a two-star recruit at linebacker, Davis-Gaither also played defensive back and running back. The truly special athletes usually aren’t limited to one specific position.
Only one power five school, Boston College, offered Davis-Gaither a scholarship. Instead of packing his bags for New England, he stayed in North Carolina to join Appalachian State in their first year joining the FBS level of college football. He accrued just three starts during his first three years before arising as a starter in 2018.
By the end of 2019, Davis-Gaither was a two-year starter with over 200 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 16 pass defends and an interception to boot over the course of his final 27 starts. He was also the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year last season as well.
App State used him more as an edge defender in their odd-man front scheme and despite his lack of preferred size, he produced in that role. When he wasn’t attacking quarterbacks, he was utilized as an overhang defender more so than a traditional linebacker. Even so, Davis-Gaither showcased an aptitude of reading his keys and scrapping over the top as a run defender.
There was plenty of momentum going for Davis-Gaither heading into the pre-draft process this year. He played for the Bengals coaching staff during the Senior Bowl and a solid NFL Combine performance should’ve solidified himself as a top-100 draft pick. Unfortunately, a stress fracture injury in his foot that he suffered during the 2019 season sidelined him during the combine and drop him down to the fourth round, where the Bengals eagerly selected him.
Outlook for 2020
An offseason without formal team workouts may’ve aided Davis-Gaither’s recovery a bit. He enters training camp fully healthy and ready to take on what we can assume to be second-string duties as an off-ball linebacker.
Special teams is where Davis-Gaither may make the majority of his impact this year. Darrin Simmons’ unit needs to replace a fair amount of snaps they lost in the form of veteran players leaving this past free agency. There’s a clear opportunity for Davis-Gaither to be an activated player every week and slowly build his case to be featured on defense.
The trio of Josh Bynes, Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson figure to consume the lion’s share of linebacker snaps. But with Davis-Gaither’s distinctive skill set, it shouldn’t take long before he’s given the green light to counter the modern marvels of today’s NFL offenses.
It may not happen this season, but Davis-Gaither should become an integral role player for the Bengals’ defense. He’ll be here to stay, even if the Bengals go light at linebacker for the second straight year.
Roster Odds: 95%