Updated 4/25/2020: This article has been updated after an interview from Ashtyn Davis.
The next chapter of Ashtyn Davis’ comeback story is about to be written.
The former Cal football safety became the first Cal football player to be selected in the 2020 NFL draft, as the New York Jets drafted the former walk-on with the No. 68 overall pick in the third round.
“I was just excited, obviously,” Davis said in a conference call. “I don’t know how to describe it other than that — my hands were shaking. I didn’t expect myself to really get too nervous, but I did, and it was awesome seeing my parents’ reaction and everybody’s reaction and how excited they got.”
According to Davis, numerous teams, including the Jets, had contacted him throughout the predraft process. His selection near the beginning of the third round by New York, however, occurred with other teams showing more interest.
“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Davis said of the selection. “A lot of teams reached out to me, so the Jets had reached out to me before. There were a couple of teams that were showing particular interest, but the Jets weren’t necessarily one of them.”
A former collegiate hurdler for the Cal track team, Davis walked onto the football team in 2015 and was a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, given to the nation’s best walk-on, in 2019.
Throughout his college career, Davis gained attention for his speed and intelligence, rising up draft boards to become one of the most highly regarded safeties in the country. During his time with the Bears, he played in 48 games, during which he had seven interceptions, three forced fumbles and 171 total tackles. Davis was also utilized as a kick returner, showcasing some of the speed and agility that made him a conference champion in track and field. These are skills and experiences he hopes to bring to his new team.
“I just want to be an immediate impact, whether that be on defense, special teams,” Davis said. “Whatever the case is, I want to have an immediate impact and help us win.”
Pundits and observers had raised concerns over Davis’ draft prospects after he sat out both the 2019 Redbox Bowl and the NFL combine because of a recent injury. Those concerns had made his draft position unpredictable, but the Jets still elected to take a chance on his athleticism and potential.
Earlier in the draft, the Jets selected Louisville offensive tackle Mekhi Becton at No. 11 overall, and Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims at No. 59. New York is coming off a 7-9 season and has high expectations with star running back Le’Veon Bell and quarterback Sam Darnold on its roster.
Last season, the Jets finished in the bottom third in the NFL in turnover differential, but ranked No. 7 in yards allowed per game at 323.1.
Davis’ selection is Cal’s first since the 2018 draft, when linebacker Devante Downs and defensive end James Looney were chosen as seventh-round picks by the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers, respectively. With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the mobility and communication of NFL teams and their players in the near future, Davis is eager to get started in any way he can.
“I know the vets are starting Monday, so I want to start as soon as possible with whatever I can do, whether that’s film stuff, whether that’s getting on a field tomorrow,” Davis said. “I’m hyped up and I’m ready to get started.”
As a program, Cal football has now had at least one player selected in 32 of the past 34 drafts. Inside linebacker Evan Weaver, fellow safety Jaylinn Hawkins and nickel cornerback Traveon Beck are among the former Cal players in this year’s draft, still awaiting word on their futures at the next level.
In the meantime, their former Cal teammates are excited for Davis’ future as a New York Jet.
“My phone’s still going off as we talk right now,” Davis said. “I’ve spent the last 15 minutes trying to respond to everybody I could and just try to enjoy it right now, but they’re super happy for me, and everyone is super pumped.”