Davis Webb was born 12 years after Bear Bryant passed away. But if you had to choose a quote to describe the 22-year-old Webb's approach to football, Bryant said it best: "It's not the will to win that matters, everyone has that. It's the will to prepare to win that matters."
Webb may be the most well-prepared quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft class. Some players grind their way through the monotonies of board work, film study, playbook installation and the like, but Webb lives for it and prospers in it. "Football isn't a hobby of mine. I'm an addict," Webb told STACK.
The more that NFL personnel get to know Webb, the higher his draft stock seems to climb. Once labeled as a likely mid-round developmental pick, Webb is now a potential first-round selection. He recently said at least 10 teams have told him they have a first-round grade on him.
When you dive into Webb's football history, it's not hard to see why teams are enamored with him. His football education began when he was just a kid growing up in Texas. As a 12-year-old, he would plant himself in front of televised football games with a stack of 50 blank notecards. Throughout the game, he would fill up the cards with diagrams of different plays. He'd then give them to his dad, Matt, who was the assistant head football coach at Keller High School, in hopes that some might make the offensive game plan for that week. Matt would question Davis on his designs, urging him to explain the logic behind his concepts. Though many of the plays were trick plays, one or two of Webb's creations indeed ended up on the call sheet each week.
"I've always loved the Xs and Os of the game," Webb says. "Diagramming plays that have your players execute the game plan and exploit the defense's weakness is something I take a lot of joy in."
Webb would join his dad on game days as a ball boy, but he'd also find himself eavesdropping on play calls so that he knew what to watch for.
Webb started playing the sport himself in seventh grade, but he was far from a natural. He started his football career as the back-up quarterback on the D-team before getting "promoted" to the C-team back-up spot the next season. But his love for the game had been ignited. "I'd come home from seventh grade practice and my dad would ask me how skelly [7-on-7] went instead of talking about politics or TV shows," Webb says. "I've always loved this game."
Webb's football IQ continued to blossom while his body physically matured during his early teenage years. By his junior season at Keller High, Webb had become the team's starting quarterback. He threw for 22 touchdowns that season, but the team's 2-8 record led to the coaching staff's dismissal—Webb's father included.
Shortly thereafter, Matt accepted an assistant job at nearby Prosper High School. Davis followed him there to play out his final season. Coming into a new school for a senior season can be tricky, because you never know how a player will fit into a program. But Webb's endless work ethic—he could often be found in Prosper's field house late at night, running through drills by himself or with his dad—quickly won him the respect of his new teammates. He was elected a captain and began the season as the team's starting quarterback. Webb threw for 2,722 yards and 32 touchdowns and rushed for 572 yards as Prosper made a deep run in the playoffs. Webb cites Prosper's victory over Frisco Centennial—which at the time, was the top-ranked 4A team in the area—as his favorite high school game:
Webb's dazzling senior season and impressive physical stature (he was listed at 6-foot-5, 200 pounds in high school) helped him earn a number of offers. He elected to stay in-state and committed to Texas Tech. During pre-season camp, he contracted a nasty stomach virus that caused him to lose 45 pounds in three days, taking him down to a rail-thin 168 pounds. He claims it was the sickest he's ever been, but Webb didn't miss a single practice or meeting throughout his illness. When he was forced into action during the third game of the season against TCU, he still wasn't at 100 percent. In fact, he was hooked up to an IV shortly before the game. But Webb persevered and he tossed a 48-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. That inspiring performance led Webb to start seven games the rest of the way, including a brilliant four-touchdown performance in a 37-23 win over Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. His encouraging on-field play combined with his tireless work ethic led Webb's Tech teammates to vote him a captain heading into his sophomore season, making him the youngest captain in school history.
But Webb's fast rise at Texas Tech was followed by a jarring fall.
Eight games into an up-and-down sophomore season, he suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Shortly thereafter, he underwent surgery for a non-throwing shoulder injury he had sustained in September. Patrick Mahomes took over the starting job in Webb's absence, and he retained his grip on the QB1 spot even after Webb returned to full health.
Webb spent his junior season holding a clipboard as Mahomes started every game. Webb and Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury had developed a close relationship, and the two had an honest conversation. Kingsbury knew Webb had talent and drive, so he offered to help him find a place where he could play out his final season of eligibility as a starting quarterback. When Webb did decide to transfer, Kingsburg released a statement calling him "the hardest working individual [he'd] ever had the privilege of coaching" and a "fierce competitor." How often does a coach give such a strong endorsement of a player who's leaving their program?
Webb eventually settled on the University of California. Jared Goff's departure for the NFL left a void on Cal's depth chart, and Webb was confident he could win the job. The day after he graduated from Texas Tech (yes, he graduated in three years), Webb loaded up his car and made the 20-hour trek to Berkeley. Under NCAA rules, a player who earns an undergraduate degree and has eligibility remaining can transfer to a different program to pursue his Master's without having to sit out the usual requisite year.
Once again, Webb was forced to fit into an entirely new program for his senior season. But he had a plan. "I had a plan when I left Texas Tech. I wanted to get to know all my teammates at Cal, all the DBs, the defensive linemen, the scout team, the other quarterbacks, the receivers—I wanted to know all of those guys. I wanted to develop chemistry and learn what they're like on and off the field," Webb said. It didn't take long for the team to embrace Webb. He said, "I think they trusted me and saw my work ethic during those early weeks in the summer workouts and it rolled from there."
Webb also began self-imposed 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. work days at the team facility so he could fully immerse himself in Cal's "Bear Raid" offense. He devoured hundreds of hours of film. He watched every single practice at least twice. He logged more hours on STRIVR, a virtual reality football training system, than any other quarterback, college or pro. He even studied NFL passers like Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Russell Wilson, scrutinizing their drop-backs and throwing mechanics.
"[Davis] watches more film than anyone I've ever coached," Jake Spavital, his offensive coordinator at Cal, told ESPN. Soon enough, Webb was running his own weekly meeting with the team's receivers. His rigorous work ethic did not go unnoticed by his teammates, who elected him a captain just eight weeks after his arrival at Cal. "That's probably the accomplishment I'm most proud of in my college football career," Webb says.
When it came time to turn all that preparation into results, Webb didn't disappoint. Though Cal finished the season at 5-7, Webb threw for 4,295 yards (sixth in the FBS) and 37 touchdowns (tied for eighth in the FBS). He displayed tremendous ability on deep throws, as 18 of his touchdown passes traveled at least 20 yards in the air. "One of my favorite sayings is, 'Scared money don't make money.' I like to throw the deep ball, that's what football is all about," Webb told STACK.
Once his senior season concluded, Webb quickly set his sights on the NFL. When he was invited to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, he flew in two days early so his body could adjust to the time change. He also scheduled a throwing session with receivers from the nearby University of Southern Alabama as a tune-up. Webb went on to win the Senior Bowl's MVP award after going 11-16 for 165 yards and a touchdown.
Webb then started training for the NFL Combine and his Pro Day. He turned to ProActive Sports Performance in Thousand Oaks, California, to help him get ready. STACK was on hand to witness one of his workouts, and he was tenacious in the weight room, squeezing the most he could out of every rep.
"Davis Webb is a competitor. He likes to train hard, get right in there and roll his sleeves up with the rest of the guys," says Ryan Capretta, owner of ProActive. "Those are the kind of quarterbacks we're used to working with. [When he's here], Aaron Rodgers is in there lifting with the rest of his teammates and doing what the rest of the position guys are doing. Not all quarterbacks are built that way."
When Webb wasn't working up a sweat, he could often be seen wearing Brady's "TB12" apparel. Webb idolizes Brady for the way he's overcome adversity throughout his career, and he sees a little bit of himself in the five-time Super Bowl champion. Like Webb, Brady bounced between back-up and starter throughout his college career at Michigan. "There are similarities in the college experience, being the back-up quarterback and proving people wrong," Webb says. "But I just want to be the best version of myself I possibly can."
Webb aced the Combine, finishing in the top five among quarterbacks in each event. His 4.79 40-Yard Dash at 6-foot-5, 229 pounds was particularly impressive. But where Webb really made his mark was in the team interviews. As NFL personnel grilled him on his football knowledge, he drew from his thousands of hours of film study and board work. It didn't matter that he played in an Air Raid-style offense at both Texas Tech and Cal, a system that rarely produces quality NFL quarterbacks. Webb's wealth of wisdom convinced multiple teams that he's capable of handling the mental workload associated with being an NFL quarterback, a big reason he's gone from "mid-round developmental prospect" to "likely-first round pick" in a span of months.
When an NFL team is evaluating a prospect—especially a quarterback—it's of great importance that they determine his makeup. What makes him tick? What kind of teammate is he? What kind of influence will he be in the locker room? To determine those intangibles, NFL personnel take a deep dive into a player's background. Not only do they interview the prospect, they also interview his former teammates, his college coaches, sometimes even his high school coaches. It's hard to imagine any of those people giving Webb, a player with a legendary work ethic who's been a captain at every stop of his amateur football career, anything less than a ringing endorsement.
"My two biggest strengths—I work on them every year, because I can control them—are being a great teammate and being the hardest worker in the facility," Webb says. "If you ask anybody at those schools or anybody that's ever known me, they'd never say I was lazy or that my work ethic was an issue."
One thing's for certain—he's come a long way since his days as a D-team back-up in seventh grade. Webb isn't lacking in confidence. He told us he can "throw it better than anybody in the country." It comes off less as cocky and more as a player who truly believes in himself. "The first thing I think when I wake up is, 'who do I want to prove wrong today?'" Webb says. "I'm one of the best quarterbacks in the country and I want to prove that every single day. I'm going to make the most of this opportunity."
His obsession with preparation naturally lends itself to an eventual coaching career, something Webb readily admits. "This is what I want to do the rest of my life, whether I'm playing or coaching," Webb says. "I'm very passionate about this game."