It's no secret that Jamin Davis' rookie season was a difficult one for him.
The 19th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, Davis struggled last season and was unable to find a consistent role in Jack Del Rio's defense. The Kentucky product started eight games as a rookie and finished with just 48 tackles on the year, a disappointing effort from the Washington Commanders' first-round pick.
It's been a different story for Davis in 2022, though. After a so-so start, the linebacker has made a tremendous jump in Year 2, particularly over the past six or seven weeks during Washington's hot streak. With middle linebacker Cole Holcomb out for the year with a foot injury, Davis has stepped into the MIKE role and played inspired football.
Davis' growth in his second season has pleased his coaches and teammates, including captain Jonathan Allen. Speaking on the Sports Junkies Tuesday, Allen said that Davis' Year-2 leap is a reminder that for some players, the adjustment from college to the pros takes time.
"We're in an age when you draft a guy in the first round, you expect him to immediately be that guy," Allen said. "And I can understand it. But people don't understand -- because you watch the top guys in the league make plays day in and day out -- I truly think people take for granted how hard the NFL is. You can look at the 'worst player' in the NFL and he was a stud in college. A baller. The best player on his team. For you to make plays in the league, it's tough."
Allen was also quick to point out that Davis only started one year for Kentucky. When Washington selected Davis, they knew he was athletically gifted but lacked experience. The limited action Davis had in college showed throughout his rookie season.
"Jamin only started one year in college, so he didn't come in already super experienced," Allen said. "Then he was thrown into a situation and expected to start and be the guy. And it comes with the territory. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. But, man, you've got to give people time."
Back in 2017, Allen himself dealt with some struggles as a first-round rookie. Allen should flashes of his potential when on the field, but a foot injury limited him to just five games, one sack and 10 tackles as a rookie. It wasn't until his second professional season that he really took off.
Another key point Allen brought up with just how rare it is for players to be extremely impactful as rookies. The defensive tackle reminded everyone that Patrick Mahomes sat on the bench in his first year behind Alex Smith. Guys like Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase, who were immediately impact players as rookies, are rare.
Davis also plays middle linebacker, one of the most important and complex positions in the NFL. Since Holcomb went down, Davis has been wearing the green dot on his helmet, responsible for relaying the defensive calls from Del Rio to the rest of the unit. It takes time for a player, especially a young one, to become comfortable doing such.
"He's playing a position that's a little bit harder to come in and play," Allen said. "There's so much in the middle aspect of a middle linebacker, it's tough. And, he wasn't coming in as a four-year starter. So I feel like people have to be patient and give him time."
In 2021, the Commanders were coming off an NFC East title. With that came a first-place schedule that featured a gauntlet of elite quarterbacks, including Mahomes, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and others.
Davis already faced an uphill battle as a rookie hoping to make an impact while playing a key defensive position with limited college experience. Facing those elite signal-callers throughout the year only made that transition more difficult.
"Look at the quarterbacks we played last year," Allen said. "They're going to attack you. You're the first-round pick, rookie middle linebacker. They're going to attack you. It's not really fair. You've got guys in the league for 21 years going against a rookie."
Davis' 2022 season didn't start off on a high note, either. Del Rio publicly called him out after Week 1, expecting better play. But Davis has responded by turning in the best football of his career, something his defensive coordinator has taken notice of.
"I think he has just steadily worked at it and improved," Del Rio said on Nov 23. "I think he is gaining confidence and gaining maturity. He’s in a big spot right now with Cole [Holcomb] down, he’s the one staying on the field. He’s a valuable guy doing a good job for us.”
As a whole, Allen is proud of the way Davis has handled criticism throughout his time in Washington. The second-year veteran has blocked out the noise and made tremendous strides as a player.
"Things don't happen with a snap of a finger. I'm glad he was able to overcome that and really start to play good football." Allen said. "... He took the criticism. He had all the negativity in the world and he just shut up and worked. You're starting to see that pay off for him."