Saturday, January 28 2023

By Henry McKenna
FOX Sports AFC East Writer

Back in 2020, Gabe Davis was talking to Rihanna at The Roc Nation Brunch on the morning of the Grammy Awards. Jay-Z and Beyoncé hosted the event, and such other stars as Dave Chappelle, Meek Mill, Megan Thee Stallion and Kevin Hart were there. 

Davis, then a 20-year-old draft prospect out of UCF, enjoyed the merriment in moderation, even if he froze — starstruck — when Rihanna chatted him up. Afterward, when Davis’ trainer picked him up from the party, Davis confided in Bert Whigham that he had reached that point because he’d made the right choices. 

And to stay in that company, he told Whigham that he would continue to do what was difficult. It’s not just saying no to a beer; that part is easy. It’s the relentlessness that the NFL requires of its players.

“Dude, how did you get so smart at 20 years old?” Whigham said to Davis. “That perspective at 20? Like it was just — it was emotional.”

Three months later, the Buffalo Bills called Davis to let him know they were drafting him in the fourth round. Guess where he was at the time.

“When we turned the pick in, he was working out,” general manager Brandon Beane said this offseason. “He’s so driven, and that’s not fake.”

Davis has not changed after two NFL seasons. Just two weeks after the Bills lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs last postseason, Davis was at work with Whigham at the UCF campus. Just two weeks after the best game of Davis’ life — with the wideout nabbing eight catches for 201 yards and four touchdowns — they commenced their offseason routine.

No vacation. No nonsense.

“Just straight work,” Davis told reporters at training camp. “It’s a big season this year. I know how important it is to everybody in the room, and I want to be able to have those guys trust me.”

For four days a week in the offseason, Davis would lift and run, with one-and-half to two-hour sessions in the weight room and two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half-hour sessions on the field. Yup, two-a-days. Mondays, he and Whigham did speed work. Tuesdays, they would do cutting drills. Thursdays and Fridays, they were running routes — with a focus on conditioning on Friday. For the other three days of the week, they did active recovery, with massage, yoga and pilates. Davis lived with Whigham for most of the offseason.

“If on a Wednesday we weren’t running, we’re getting physical therapy for two hours and then recovering at the house,” Whigham said. “It’s like, ‘OK we’ll bring the jugs out, and we’ll catch 300 balls.'”

Beane actually joked on a sports radio hit that maybe Davis had worked too hard this offseason. The only time Davis has taken a vacation was after his first season. He drove his boat down to Captiva Island for a week of fishing. That’s it.

“The not taking a break thing — it’s OK because we’re not overtraining,” Whigham said.

Davis’ dedication should earn him a spot on the starting unit for the NFL’s odds-on Super Bowl favorite. Stefon Diggs will serve as Josh Allen‘s No. 1 receiver. When the Bills chose not to re-sign Emmanuel Sanders, they signaled that Davis was in line for a promotion. He will, of course, have to fight off other suitors for snaps. But most of those receivers — Isaiah McKenzieKhalil Shakir and Jamison Crowder — play in the slot. 

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Davis, who said he gained five pounds of muscle this offseason, nabbing the WR2 job in Buffalo in 2022.

In his first two seasons in the NFL, Davis had 70 catches for 1,148 yards and 13 touchdowns (not counting his postseason performances). It’s fair to wonder whether he can match those two-year numbers this season alone. Davis would rather talk about what he needs to improve.

“I’m not the best receiver in the NFL, so again, you can talk about everything,” he said during training camp. “I’ve got to work on route-running, getting off press coverage, working on off coverage, learning coverages, knowing where to be, knowing the playbook better. I mean, there’s a lot of things I can do better.”

Davis may not the league’s best receiver, but fans are starting to know his name. He tied the NFL record for receiving touchdowns in a postseason game (4) against the Chiefs. Anyone watching that game will remember Davis. If that performance was a teaser of what he can do in 2022, then the Bills are in for a treat. 

It wasn’t just the volume of his touchdowns, it was also the timing. His second touchdown came at a gotta-have-it moment. There were two minutes left in the third quarter and the Chiefs were trying to slip away at Arrowhead in Kansas City. Down nine points, Allen found Davis on the first play of the drive.

Seventy-five yards. Touchdown.

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“That’s the greatest play I’ve ever witnessed live,” said Whigham. “To take the energy from that whole stadium and flip it in one play, that takes — I don’t care what level you’re at — that takes a special player. And he and Josh did it.”

They didn’t quite do it. Despite Davis scoring three of his four touchdowns in the final 17 minutes of regulation, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs won the coin toss and scored to end the game in overtime. The Bills lost to Kansas City, which then lost to the Cincinnati Bengals (who then lost to the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl). This season is as compelling for the Bills as any since before Tom Brady joined the AFC East. With one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, receivers and defenses, the Bills should end up in the Super Bowl.

But Davis doesn’t seem to care about any of that. He fights for everything like he has nothing — like he’s due nothing. That’s why he’ll make the Bills dangerous in January and maybe even February.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.


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