Former Iowa receiver Keenan Davis had some explaining to do when he competed in the East-West Shrine Game in January.
It had nothing to do with his personal life or his physical ability or whether he was truly committed to trying to make it as an NFL football player.
NFL scouts were curious why the Iowa passing attack sputtered throughout last season, producing just seven touchdowns in 12 games. Davis caught 47 passes last season as a senior, but only one resulted in a touchdown under new offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
“I kind of had a little taste of that at the all-star game in interviews and everything,” Davis said Monday night in a phone interview. “It is something you have to explain.
“It’s football. It happens. And (the people in the NFL) understand that better than anybody. It’s just going to be another test to see if you can bounce back from it and just turn it into a positive.”
It’s uncertain which path Davis will take in his quest to play in the NFL. He was not invited to the NFL Combine, which was held last month in Indianapolis. His next chance to show his skills for NFL decision makers will be at Iowa’s Pro Day on March 25.
Davis could be drafted or he could sign as a free agent with a team of his choice. The former Cedar Rapids Washington standout just wants a chance to make it at the next level.
“My expectation is just to go out there and do the best I can,” Davis said. “I’m not trying to predict anytime being drafted or anything like that. I don’t care when I’m drafted. I just want to keep playing football.
“Hearing my name would be great. It would definitely feel good. But if I don’t get drafted, you still have another chance to go out there and compete. So it’s important, but not that important.”
As Davis’ agent, Blake Baratz is fully aware of what happened to the Iowa passing attack last season. Baratz isn’t worried about it having an adverse effect on Davis’ draft status because Baratz said NFL teams will do their research to find out exactly what happened.
Davis finished with 571 receiving yards last season after catching 50 passes for 713 yards and four touchdowns as a junior in 2011.
“The NFL spends millions and millions of dollars on their scouting departments,” Baratz said. “They get to know these guys pretty well. They have a lot of contacts with the university, with the coaching staff and a guy like (Iowa) coach Kirk Ferentz is so well respected at the next level that a lot of that speaks for itself.”
Baratz compared Davis’ situation coming out of Iowa to what former Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton experienced heading into the 2011 NFL draft. Mouton had to overcome the stigma of playing on some of the worst Michigan defenses in school history under former coach Rich Rodriguez.
The San Diego Chargers did their research and thought enough of Mouton to select him in the second round with the 61st pick overall. Mouton missed most of the 2011 season while on the injured reserve list before making his debut for the Chargers against Cincinnati this past December.
“He ended up being a second-round pick and Michigan had the worst defense in the entire country,” Baratz said. “So, that stuff kind of sorts itself out over time. It’s more difficult if you’re at a smaller school or a Division II school and you’re just not on the radar.
“But a school like Iowa and a guy like Keenan, because they’ve been on the radar for so long, teams are going to put in the necessary time into digging to find out about him. And ultimately they know he can only control so much. Not only can he not play quarterback, but he’s not the offensive coordinator and he’s not the coach.”
Davis would move into a select group if he was drafted. Only three Iowa receivers — Kevin Kasper in 2001, Kahlil Hill in 2002 and Marvin McNutt in 2012 — have been selected in the NFL draft since Kirk Ferentz became the Iowa head coach in 1999. Kasper, Hill and McNutt all were selected in the sixth round.
However, McNutt was the only one recruited to Iowa by Ferentz. Kasper came as a walk-on when Hayden Fry was the Iowa head coach and Hill also signed with the Hawkeyes under Fry.
Iowa’s inability to produce NFL receivers under Ferentz is hardly a secret. For Davis, it’s fuel for the cause.
“We all do notice it and it’s going to push us that much more,” Davis said. “It pushed Marvin. It’s pushed me all four years. It’s a dream of ours. It definitely gives a little more of an edge to us.”
Davis also has a hometown hero pushing him to succeed at the next level. He hopes to follow the same path as Adrian Arrington, who also graduated from Cedar Rapids Washington and then played receiver at Michigan before embarking on an NFL career. Arrington played for the New Orleans Saints after being drafted in the seventh round in 2008, but is currently a free agent.
“It’s crazy because he was one of my heroes growing up,” Davis said of Arrington. “He and my brother played on the same team. And going to the same high school as him and being able to be a receiver and really compare myself to him has definitely helped me get better.
“I still keep in contact with him. But yeah, that would be great for Cedar Rapids and good for the younger kids trying to be receivers because it was great for me to be able to see him go to the (NFL) and for younger guys in Cedar Rapids knowing it’s possible, the ability to get there.”
Davis is trying to become the third Washington graduate to play receiver in the NFL over the past two decades. Dedric Ward played receiver in the NFL for eight years from 1997-2004 after graduating from Cedar Rapids Washington and attending Northern Iowa, where he now coaches the receivers.
Davis has the kind of size that NFL scouts covet at the receiver position. He was listed at 6-foot-3 and 215-pounds throughout college.
He hopes to make a strong impression at Iowa’s Pro Day event on March 25. That would include running the 40-yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds.
“I think the knock on Keenan’s NFL chances is he’s got good size, but they question his speed, they question his separation, which obviously speed and separation go hand-in-hand,” Baratz said. “But I think he’s going to surprise people at the pro day. I think he’s a lot faster than people think.”
Davis already has helped his cause with his performances in practice leading up to the East-West Shrine game, which was played Jan. 19 in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was singled out for praise in the days leading up to the game by Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting.
“Davis showed the most consistency out of the West receivers, attacking the ball well in the air, finishing catches on the interior, and tracked the ball well vertically,” Galko wrote in early January.
And while the problems on offense certainly didn’t help Davis’ cause last season when Iowa finished 4-8, being a former Hawkeye still carries some weight in NFL circles. Iowa has had six players selected in each of the past three NFL drafts.
“At the all-star game talking to some scouts, I definitely noticed that they do have respect for coach Ferentz,” Davis said. “All four years I’ve been here I’ve heard that.
“I think it’s definitely going to help me being in this program for four years because this program is a program the NFL scouts, they respect it. It’s a good program to be a part of.”
Davis was asked repeatedly during the season for reasons why Iowa’s passing attack was so anemic. Never once, though, did he make excuses for himself or blame others.
Baratz said things like that also matter to NFL executives because character counts.
“That’s a major quality that we look for,” Baratz said. “We’re not necessarily just going after the top 20 guys in the draft. We’re trying to find guys that we think can play that are good guys, high-character guys and intelligent guys that do the right things. We have a history with a lot of those types of guys.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football