NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When Demario Davis reflected on his decision to sign with New Orleans last offseason, the reasons the linebacker listed had little to do with the style of defense the Saints played or even the role the club envisioned for him.
Mainly, he said, it was the opportunity to play on the same team as Drew Brees — who Davis sees as the game's greatest quarterback — and the likelihood of experiencing the playoffs for the first time in his seven-year career.
"That's the whole reason why I'm here, man. I didn't have to be recruited. I looked at it as a situation where my only goal here is to get Drew another Super Bowl ring. So I just came to be part of the show," Davis said. "That was huge. The best quarterback to ever play the game. I just want to be a part of it."
Suffice it to say, Davis hasn't regretted a thing. He'll play in his first playoff game Sunday in the Superdome against Philadelphia after what, by his own account, has been his best season yet.
Playing primarily weak side linebacker — as opposed to the middle spot he played previously with the New York Jets — Davis finished this season with 110 total tackles, five sacks, 11 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, a critical fumble recovery that sealed a victory over Pittsburgh, and four pass breakups.
"He's a physical player. I think he's a good pressure player," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "He gives us a little pop there relative to his physicality."
Not all of Davis' numbers this season were career highs, but statistics do not tell the whole story, Davis noted.
"The numbers are up there with some of my best seasons, but definitely efficiency" has improved, he said. "That's my goal every year is to be a better player than I was the year before and I think I've done that.
"I've gotten more efficient as a pass rusher. I've been better out in space in coverage," Davis continued. "When you're holding one of the top running backs, or when you're holding one of the top tight ends, and they don't have their best day when they play you, that speaks a lot about your game. It may be an untold stat, but something I'm looking at."
Generally, the middle linebacker wears the helmet with the ear piece allowing him to receive the formation call from the defensive coordinator and relay it to teammates on the field. Davis wears it for the Saints, even though he only plays in the middle intermittently, normally moving outside while 2017 third-round draft choice Alex Anzalone occupies the inside.
"He's made a big difference. He's a natural-born leader," Saints defensive tackle and 2016 first-round draft choice Sheldon Rankins said. "For him to be able to step into a huddle in front of a grown group of men and command them and get everybody lined up in the right spot has been effortless for him and then, obviously, he's been a hell of a player."
Davis, who turns 30 on Friday, grew up in Brandon, Mississippi, and played at Arkansas State before starting his NFL career as the Jets' third-round draft pick in 2012. He joined Cleveland as a free agent in 2016 before being traded back to the Jets in 2017. New Orleans was his third team in three seasons, but he signed a three-year, $24 million deal with the Saints and now seems all but certain to at least make it to Year 2.
"He can do everything," Rankins said. "You don't have to bring guys off the sideline for him. If a team wants to come out and go five-wide, well, you can put him on a Darren Sproles-type guy and trust him in coverage. And then if a team wants to come out and run the ball at you and he's still effective, I think that's the sign of a great player."
Davis has had 99 or more total tackles in five seasons, and said he expected to assume a leadership role in New Orleans, even though he was in his first season and joining a team that included veterans such as 2017 All-Pro end Cam Jordan.
"I'm just myself. Leaders are born and it just comes with the territory. Everywhere I've been, they've called me a leader in the locker room. I think it's just attached to my personality," Davis said. "I care about the guys in the locker room. ... I'm going to lead by example on and off the field and I think guys just kind of gravitate to that. They gravitate to guys who set high standards for themselves and demand the same out of them."