Safety Ashtyn Davis' knack for the ball and strong effort have earned him increased playing time this season on a Jets defense that is loaded with talent. The defensive back, in his fourth season, has 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries and a safety this season and is just the second player to achieve those numbers in the NFL since 2000.
"It is funny, all Ashtyn does is find the ball," HC Robert Saleh said. "I am a big fan of his. He has done nothing but work. He been a valuable and very underrated piece of this defense. The way he goes about his business and the way he works, that play embodies everything that he represents for this defense."
Davis started the season primarily as a contributor on special teams and a backup safety to second-year player Tony Adams and veteran Jordan Whitehead. He played sparingly on defense and played more than 5 snaps in a game once over the first five weeks.
In Week 6, with the Jets without both All-Pro CB Sauce Gardner and CB D.J. Reed, Davis played a season-high 28 snaps and hasn't looked back.
Over the last three weeks, Davis has played at least 13 snaps in each, and last week against the Falcons helped to create (with DL Quinnen Williams) a safety. With Atlanta backed up at its own 2-yard line, Davis broke up a run play by driving his blocker into the end zone and knocking down RB Bijan Robinson.
"We feel like we have already upped his play time this year and he has earned it," Saleh said. "He has earned his right to be on the football field. He is forcing his way on the field. [DC Jeff] Ulbrich is very comfortable getting big nickel out there because Ashtyn fits up. He can run all the zones. He can play man coverage. He understands run fits. He understands all the blitzes. He understands everything. We are kind spoiled in that Ashtyn is playing at such a high level that we are able to use him accordingly."
See the best photos of the Jets during Thursday's practice of Week 14.
The Jets drafted Davis in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft (No. 68) out of Cal and have seen him steadily progress.
In Davis's first season, 2020, he sustained a foot injury in Week 13 that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Despite playing 13 games (10 starts) in his second season, it took him time to rebuild his confidence from the shock of his first year being cut short, but he has developed into a key contributor. This season, Davis has registered a career-high 4 pass defenses and 2 tackles for loss to go with 20 tackles.
"The biggest thing for me was confidence," Davis said. "That's the biggest thing that I have noticed change. Coming off my foot injury in my rookie year, I lacked confidence, coming into a new scheme and stuff. But I have gained a lot more confidence and realized that I can play in this league."
Saleh added: "He may be underappreciated, but not in this building. The appreciation we have for him runs deep and he embodies everything we believe in with regards to playing defense on this football team."
But for all the Davis has done on the field, his prowess in the film and meeting rooms has been just as impressive.
"We always joke around that he is the coach in the room," Whitehead said. "He is on his stuff. He doesn't say too much but if anyone needs a question answered they go to him. If I am confused about something, I go up to him and he tells you. He is a great memorizer, and he plays every position. A very likeable guy and he does what is best for the team."
In Week 4, Davis made a leaping interception in the first half of two-time NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. In Davis's first year, he felt like he may not have made that play. But in 2023, he is no longer "chasing ghosts," just making plays.
"I have figured out that I don't I have to be perfect," Davis said. "Knowing that mistakes are going to happen in a football game and knowing when your keys. You don't want to feel like you have to be perfect. Because then you are chasing ghosts, so to speak. You're worried about the 'what ifs', and you can't play football like, that's paralyzing."