Mike Davis is 2021's Must-Have Fantasy RB2
We’ve all learned that a lot can change in one calendar year. Looking back at last summer, Mike Davis was virtually unknown throughout the fantasy football community. But the untimely injuries that limited superstar RB Christian McCaffrey to just three games in 2020 opened the door for Davis to go from zero to hero.
Thrust into action as Carolina’s new feature back, Davis did an admirable McCaffrey impression, averaging a nifty 78.8% snap rate in the 12 games he suited up without McCaffrey. In all, Davis produced 1,015 scrimmage yards and eight touchdowns en route to becoming one of the most valuable waiver wire adds in recent memory.
Editor's Note: Read more player profiles from the rest of the 4for4 staff!
After those results, Davis was able to parlay his success into a 2-year, $5.5 million deal with the Falcons, where he’ll enter 2021 as the unquestioned starter for the first time in his career. While he doesn’t have a long history of fantasy success, Davis showcased a solid three-down skill set with the Panthers.
As Atlanta’s starter, Davis is now quite fantasy-relevant, particularly in redraft leagues. The biggest question ahead of the 2021 fantasy draft season is: what can we expect from Mike Davis now that he is a legitimate starting-caliber player?
Mike Davis’s Skill Set
Prior to joining the Panthers in 2019, Davis had bounced around the league, playing on special teams and as a reserve back, mostly in a pass-catching capacity. In 2018, Davis caught 34-of-42 targets with the Seahawks while also averaging a solid 4.6 yards per carry.
That stint in Seattle allowed Davis to show his versatility, especially as a receiver. While Davis wasn’t expected to be Carolina’s direct backup, Davis won that job last summer and immediately took over McCaffrey’s workhorse role starting in Week 3.
When McCaffrey unexpectedly went down, Davis stepped up and became a significant source of production. In the 19 games that Davis has topped double-digit carries dating back to 2017, Davis averaged 17.9 touches, 80 scrimmage yards and 0.63 touchdowns per game.
In 2020, Davis caught multiple passes in all but one game and finished the season ranked fifth among all running backs with 70 targets in only 14 games. Those aren’t just volume-based numbers either. Davis was only credited with one drop all season.
As a runner, Davis was continually able to create yardage behind a suspect Carolina offensive line. Davis ranked eighth in the league with 72 tackles evaded and an impressive third with a 32.1% juke rate.
Mike Davis's 2021 Outlook
Davis signed with Atlanta prior to the 2021 NFL Draft, so there was still some concern that the Falcons would address the position with a premium pick. After the Falcons ignored the running back position altogether in the draft, Davis’s grasp on the club’s starting job was secured.
Recently, Atlanta has struggled with balance. In each of the past three seasons, the Falcons have fielded a top-five passing attack but ranked 27th or lower in rushing. Much of that had to do with starting running backs Devonta Freeman and Todd Gurley, who were in decline due to wear-and-tear.
Davis is 28 but has a lot of tread left on the tires. He proved that he could handle a big workload last season without breaking down and is fully capable of playing on all three downs.
For the Falcons to restore balance to their offense, Davis is going to need to be involved early and often as both a runner and receiver. With 195 targets now available following the Julio Jones trade, those opportunities should be readily available.
While Davis should be a good bet to rack up a lot of touches in a potent offense, 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed tool ranks the Falcons with the third-toughest schedule for a running back. However, things ease up considerably in the second half, highlighted by a phenomenal Week 16 matchup at home versus Detroit that is just in time for the fantasy playoffs.
Even though he was not Carolina’s starter all season, Davis ranked 10th among all running backs with a 66.5 % snap share and 13th with a 64.2% opportunity share. For a Falcons squad in desperate need of a player to absorb plenty of touches, Davis is going to eat.
The Bottom Line
- Davis produced weekly RB1/2 numbers last season and now will have the opportunity to be the starter for the first time in a much better Atlanta offense.
- As ineffective as Todd Gurley was last season for the Falcons, Gurley still had nine rushing scores in Atlanta’s first nine games. Davis is a significant upgrade, has little competition for carries, and should be in an excellent position to approach double-digit touchdowns.
- After signing Davis, the Falcons did not address the running back position in the draft or add any veteran competition.
- Davis has excellent hands and underrated elusiveness. He’s an excellent fit in the system Dave Ragone and Arthur Smith plan to use this season.
- With an Underdog ADP of 47.6, Davis is often available in the fifth round, making him the ideal RB2 target, particularly for ZeroRB drafters.