NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ryan Tannehill saw wideout A.J. Brown fall as he made his break, so the Tennessee Titans quarterback scrambled to his right to buy some time. Corey Davis watched as Tannehill was moving around, so he turned his route up the field and his quarterback gave him a chance to make a play. Davis leaped and caught the ball over Cleveland Browns cornerback Kevin Johnson for a 17-yard touchdown.
"C.D. [Davis] made a good play for us," Tannehill said of the touchdown connection. "[Johnson] did a good job initially covering him. ... [Davis] used his size and play strength to go up and make a tough catch with contact from the guy underneath him. You can't coach that type of stuff. That's just something that a guy instinctively can go do."
Tannehill recognized Davis' talent last season, but the two weren't able to connect on a regular basis. Tannehill prioritized developing the chemistry needed for them to be more successful. That broken-play touchdown is an example of how far along they've come.
Davis had a banner day against the Browns, posting career-highs in receptions (11) and yards (182). The fourth-year wideout admitted after the game that he is playing with confidence, but said there is more to his improved play.
"I’m healthy. I’ve been confident," Davis said matter-of-factly.
A series of nagging injuries in previous seasons -- including a hip strain and hamstring issues -- have kept Davis from being in peak condition. Now that he's healthy, the Titans are starting to see the talent that made Davis the No. 5 overall pick in the 2017 draft.
Entering this season, Davis had two 100-yard receiving games. He already has four 100-plus games this year even though he missed two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Davis has 801 receiving yards with four games remaining. It's very likely he will get to the 1,000-yard receiving plateau he missed in 2018, when he posted a career-high 891 yards.
Added Davis, "It's definitely one of my goals to reach 1,000 yards and pass it. That's been one of my goals ever since I started playing receiver."
Davis also said he's playing with a free mind, even as he mourns the loss of his older brother Titus, who died last month of cancer.
"He's done an unbelievable job of being able to reconcile with what has happened to him and somehow compartmentalize and be able to focus on the job at hand," Titans wide receivers coach Rob Moore said. "He's shown a lot of maturity and I've really seen a lot of growth in him this year in terms of being able to handle some tough situations."
The work ethic and drive Davis exhibits in practice shows in the drills that Moore, a 10-year NFL wideout, puts the receivers through. It shows in how hard Davis runs his routes for the quarterbacks. You can hear him grunting and pushing himself as he plants and cuts during practice.
"Corey has been out there every day at practice," coach Mike Vrabel said. "He's continuing to play with confidence and understand that he needs to run certain routes a certain way to get open."
"The speed he plays with, he attacks every route with a purpose," Tannehill said of Davis. "There isn't a lot of indecision on how he's going to run his route."
Davis credits his preparation for his confidence and progress in becoming a more consistent, reliable player. It shows in his securing a contested TD catch, as he did against the Browns. It was the type of play Davis didn't make frequently in the past. But he focused in the offseason on getting better with that and other areas of his game.
There was undoubtedly some added motivation when the Titans didn't pick up his fifth-year option, even though it was no secret Davis hadn't yet fulfilled the promise that comes with being a high draft pick.
"For me, I was going to come in this year and prove something to myself. No one else," Davis said. "I have nothing to prove to nobody but to myself."
It's hard to say what kind of contract Davis will be able to command on the open market given how the salary cap will be impacted by the pandemic cutting into revenue for teams this year. Here's a look at four recent deals for receivers that are in a similar performance tier to Davis:
It has been a long time since the Titans have had two receivers of the caliber as Davis and Brown. Both receivers are big targets who get yards after the catch and complement Derrick Henry and the rushing attack.
Davis has also established himself as a strong blocker. He's an ideal match for everything the Titans want to do and his breakout 2020 season has put him in a prime position to be rewarded with a second contract this offseason.