- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Shortly before the 200 NFL draft, I remember asking an analyst what players he would stay away from. Among the three names he provided: then-USC tight end Fred Davis.
He did not like Davis’ off-field behavior. Soon after arriving in Washington Davis missed a spring workout because, well, because of some late-night activity that caused him to oversleep. And the tone for his career was established.
Now that he’s suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, Davis’ Redskins career will go down as a major disappointment -- brought about by poor habits and choices. Davis was always a pleasure to talk to; never treated anyone in the media poorly that I saw. He always seemed like a big kid. It made him likeable; it also made him vulnerable.
Alas, that is also why he’ll be lucky to play in the NFL again. It’s a shame, too, because Davis had a lot of talent.
For the first few years of his career you could see it on the practice field. He was always one of the more impressive players during full-team drills, grabbing passes and making defenders miss. He looked like a big receiver running the ball in the open field. But he was an unreliable route-runner and he never seemed to be dedicated to being a professional player, at least not one who planned on sticking around a long time.
But a change occurred several years ago when free agency was nearing. He worked harder to become a better blocker, for example, and it showed. Then came his first drug suspension. Then came the requisite “lessons learned” quotes from Davis. Then came more whispers that, perhaps, nothing had been learned about what it took from him to have a long-term career. We now know that's true. But, after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon in 2012, the Redskins kept him around and signed him to a one-year deal last offseason and then drafted the more athletic Jordan Reed.
Davis could not understand why, early in the season, the Redskins benched him for Reed. What he should have done was pay attention to why Reed had surpassed him. It was easy to see: Reed worked on his game and cared about his results. He celebrated his blocks more than his catches. He stayed after every practice to work on his game. Davis said he was working as hard as he always had. But that clearly wasn’t good enough.
Davis was once as talented as Reed; but he never maxed out because he never developed the habits that would have enabled him to do so. To be great, you need more than talent. It’s a shame, because Davis was given a gift and let it slip away. He says he'll reapply for reinstatement in the fall and that he did not test positive for marijuana, but, rather a banned substance that was found in a supplement he was taking. Thing is, the NFL will never confirm nor deny why an athlete says he tested positive. Regardless, Davis now has bigger things to worry about than how well he plays on the field. Or if he ever makes it back.