Kevin Davidson Signs With the Browns
By JAY GREENBERG
A new Cleveland Browns regime with Ivy League ties has living, breathing, circus-catching proof that Stephen Carlson can play pro football. Next it is giving a shot to a quarterback with whom he made sweet music at Princeton. Kevin Davidson signed a free agent contract with the Browns Saturday night, a few hours after the draft ended.
“About a week ago their offensive coordinator, Alex Van Pelt, said they were going to use their picks at other positions, but you are the guy we want if you don’t get drafted,” said Davidson on the phone late Saturday night from the family home in Danville, California. “On the off chance you don’t, we would love to have you.
“So this has been on the table for a while and I’m really thankful for the opportunity. Ultimately, I don’t think there is big difference in being a seventh-round draft pick and a free agent. Actually there is more freedom with the latter to pick your best chance to succeed.
“I would say going into draft day there were 10 teams that had the most interest but most of the interactions are with the scouts and the decision makers are the GM and the owner. You never know what one opinion means. But just like picking a college, you want to go to a place where you think you’re a fit with the program and there is a belief they can develop you.
“It’s obviously tough to not get drafted, the Browns and some other teams thought I would be, but I don’t get rattled. I went into [Saturday] prepared for a number of scenarios, thankful to even be a consideration.
“I don’t think I have nearly reached my full potential. I want to prove myself at the next level and the pro game has tremendous weapons everywhere. I think my ceiling is high and with Coach [Kevin] Stefanski, I can hit my peak.”
Baker Mayfield is the incumbent Cleveland starter and Stefanski, recently the quarterbacks coach in Minnesota, has brought in Case Keenum, who two seasons ago passed the Vikings a round deep into the playoffs with a miracle last-second throw to beat New Orleans, only to lose his starting job to Kirk Cousins in 2019. The listed third quarterback on the roster is Garrett Gilbert, a 2014 sixth-round pick by St. Louis out of Southern Methodist University.
Davidson, who completed 66.8 percent of his passes and threw for 20 touchdowns for the Tigers in 2019, had a good performance at the East-West Shrine game earning him a place at the Scouting Combine that Princeton’s Chad Kanoff never received two years ago. Thus, there was hope Davidson might become the first Tiger draftee since Seth DeValve (fourth round by the Browns) in 2016. Davidson was not the only Combine quarterback to go untaken.
Twelve quarterbacks were selected in this year’s draft, starting with LSU’s Joe Burrow by Cincinnati with the first overall pick. There was a later run of selectees in the seventh and final round: Nate Stanley of Iowa by the Vikings, Cole McDonald of Hawaii by the Titans, Ben DiNucci of James Madison by the Cowboys, and Tommy Stevens of Mississippi State by the Saints. When the music stopped, Davidson still was seeking a chair in undrafted free agency.
Quarterback signees as of Sunday morning also included Riley Neal of Vanderbilt by the Broncos, Bryce Perkins of Virginia by the Rams, Anthony Gordon of Washington State by the Seahawks and Reid Sinnett of the Pioneer League’s San Diego by the Buccaneers.
In addition to Carlson, Jesper Horsted and John Lovett were undrafted free agents out of Princeton in 2019 who remain on NFL rosters. Horsted caught eight passes a year ago. Lovett spent the season on injured reserve with the Super Bowl champion Chiefs following an impressive camp as a slotback. Carlson, activated at mid-season by the Browns like Horsted by the Bears, caught five passes including a touchdown.
In Davidson’s only start behind Lovett in 2018, the first play of the game produced a 39- yard completion to Carlson, who went on for an eight-catch day in a 48-10 win over Brown.
“It’s going to be fun to train with Stephen,” said Davidson. ”I think there is a lot of chemistry there and he is one of my good buddies. Can’t want to get out to Ohio.”
Of course who knows how soon the pandemic will allow that to happen, or how the absence of minicamps this year will factor for an undrafted rookie trying to make a team.
“It’s going to depend on how you pick up the offense over a computer,” said Davidson. “It’s been pretty good for my schoolwork so I expect to pick it up quickly and be able to hang in that quarterback room.
“Obviously there are some veterans there and I don’t want to have to have them slow down for me. Developing chemistry over the phone is hard to do sometimes but I’ll do everything I can to be ready when I get out to Cleveland.”
The power teams in the power conferences dominate the draft, it being a battle not just for the Ivy League but the whole FBS to prove that the production put up and the efficiency shown by a smart and strong-armed quarterback like Davidson was against strong competition. Perhaps Stefanski, who played at Penn and GM Andrew Berry, who performed at Harvard, have a little better understanding than some that Davidson indeed was challenged while at Princeton.
“The NFL is a crazy meritocracy,” said Davidson. “No sentiments or favorites. But they knew the Ivies and that probably didn’t hurt.”