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Fantasy Football: Is Mike Davis the cheapest three-down back available?

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Mike Davis (28) with the ball in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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It was a long and winding road for six-year veteran running back Mike Davis to land a full-time gig in the NFL. His career started with a couple underwhelming seasons in San Francisco before briefly flashing in a two-year stint with the Seahawks. Davis spent a rather useless seven games with the Bears before finding his way to the Panthers at the end of 2019, where he managed to beat out incumbent backup Reggie Bonnafon for the No. 2 job behind Christian McCaffrey ahead of the 2020 season.

Obviously football fans weren’t pleased with CMC missing 13 games in 2020; that doesn’t mean that Davis wasn’t largely a joy to watch on a week-to-week basis. Rushing, receiving: Davis stepped up and handled a true three-down role for the majority of last season and did so with style.

Fast forward to 2021 and Davis will now be playing with a falcon on his helmet. What follows is a breakdown on just how good he was last season and what we should expect from him as a fantasy asset in Atlanta.

Davis was far better than most remember in 2020

The definition of a three-down back is an RB who doesn’t need to be taken off the field. This was Davis in 2020. He played at least 60% of the offense’s snaps in all but three of his 12 starts, generally thriving as both a rusher and receiver along the way.

Davis proved plenty capable of maintaining at least average efficiency even while racking up a total of 224 touches on the year. Davis forced more missed tackles per rush than every running back other than Nick Chubb, averaged more yards per carry than teammate Christian McCaffrey and tallied the same amount of yards after contact per rush as Alvin Kamara and Jonathan Taylor:

  • PFF rushing grade: 73.6 (No. 28 among 47 qualified RBs)
  • Missed tackles forced per attempt: 0.26 (No. 2)
  • Yards per carry: 3.9 (tied for No. 39)
  • Yards after contact per carry: 3.0 (tied for No. 19)

We saw more of the same from Davis as a receiver:

  • PFF receiving grade: 74.3 (No. 12 among 46 qualified RBs)
  • Yards per route run: 1.23 (No. 17)
  • Percentage of catchable targets that were caught: 93.7% (No. 13)
  • Drop rate: 4.8% (No. 14)
  • Total missed tackles forced on receptions: 22 (No. 1)

The eye test matches the numbers: Davis routinely made the most out of his touches and gave defenders of all shapes and sizes problems in the open field.

The total results were 1,015 total yards from scrimmage, eight trips to the end zone and the 12th-most PPR points among all running backs. Not bad for someone who was perceived as a career journeyman backup just a few months before the season started.

Luckily for Davis, he impressed enough to earn another starting job ahead of 2021. 

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