KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs and Packers start Thursday night's preseason finale in Green Bay with 180 players on their rosters, yet within fewer than 48 hours after the game, only 106 will remain on the active roster.
Chiefs wide receiver Rashard Davis is one of those players who hopes to remain standing at the end. He entered the league as undrafted free agent from James Madison in 2017, and saw stints with Philadelphia and Oakland before coming to Kansas City on a tryout basis at rookie minicamp in May. He impressed the Chiefs enough to land a spot on the offseason roster.
It's been a tough journey through the NFL, but Davis never considered abandoning his dream.
“I'm just the type of guy that stays optimistic and tries to see the best outcome out of it,” Davis said during training camp. “I just try to grind my way through it, put my best foot forward every time I go out there so that way I don't have an everlasting impact on somebody that was negative.”
Davis certainly didn't have many negative plays during training camp. One Chiefs front office member said David stood out during camp because “all he does is make plays every day.”
But cracking the Chiefs lineup at receiver is a tall order with a lineup up Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Damarcus Robinson and rookie Mecole Hardman. The return of De'Anthony Thomas also added depth, leaving Davis is a battle with other young receivers including Byron Pringle and Cody Thompson for perhaps one more receiver slot.
Players who capture the last few spots on the roster must prove their worth on special teams. Davis earned FCS All-American honors at James Madison, earning the Colonial Athletic Association special teams player of the year as a senior. He averaged an eye-opening 28.4 yards on 15 punt returns that season with four touchdowns.
In the Chiefs' first preseason game, Davis impressed special teams coordinator Dave Toub with a smart yet unheralded play.
“The punt return really stands out in my mind because it was a short kick,” Toub said. “He's got the coverage coming down on him in a hurry and he still was able to focus and make a good catch and save us like 15 yards there with no fair catch. It was impressive what he did there."
Despite a 5-foot-9, 175-pound frame, Toub sees other special teams abilities in Davis.
“He can play gunner,” Toub said. “That's where we're working him. We're working him on the edge on punt return. He's also a returner in both phases. He can be what we call a "fast five" on kickoff. He's got opportunities.”
Davis' doesn't like to brag, but he also possesses something his teammates covet – a Super Bowl ring. Davis was on the practice squad for the Eagles during their championship season in 2017. He spent preparation for the Super Bowl imitating Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks on the scout team.
“You help out at practice squad, but this year at least I'm trying to get on the field in the game and actually feel like I'm putting in plays in the game that's actually going to the Super Bowl,” Davis said. “It was obviously a great experience the first time around, but if I'm fortunate to go back again, this time I really want to be on the field helping out during the game and doing what I can do.”
The Super Bowl title was the second of back-to-back championships for Davis. James Madison won the FCS national championship his senior season.
“It was a long ride,” Davis explained. “It was actually a similar run from senior year national championship to rookie year Super Bowl. You kind of see the same type of cliques, you see the same movements as a team, the way we came together, the way we had each other's back and the way we clicked in the locker room. You just see the same similarities, and it pays off in the end because you become a big family.”
Davis is one of three current Chiefs players who own a Super Bowl ring. Defensive tackle Justin Hamilton and safety Harold Jones-Quartey also won rings with the Eagles that season. Davis doesn't know how many of his teammates know about his championship history.
“I didn't bring it out here with me to be honest,” Davis said. “Guys in my position group know about and they've asked me about the experience and how it was and the ring and everything. I told them about it and shared my experience, but overall I don't think too many people know about it.”
It was his experience in Philadelphia that attracted Davis to Kansas City. The Eagles run a similar offensive system under head coach Doug Pederson. The verbiage differs a bit, Davis noted, and the Chiefs move their receivers around to do different positions. There's a lot of similarities, but the Chiefs stand out in a couple of ways.
“I thought it was fast in Philly, but here, this is next level speed,” Davis said. “Tyreek, Mecole, we got a lot of guys. Davon, Pringle, Sammy. For Sammy's size to be able to run like that, it's crazy. I don't think I have been around this much speed for.”
The Chiefs also have Patrick Mahomes. “I tell people if you take a canon or something and attached it to your arm, that's what it's like, him as a quarterback,” Davis said.
“But it's just crazy, man, some of the throws that he makes out here, seeing from the sideline and seeing in the game, it's like how? How does he put the ball exactly right there? How does he do those no-look passes so easy? It's just crazy.”
Davis certainly hopes his ride with the Chiefs doesn't end soon, but the preseason finale at Green Bay is a prime opportunity for Davis and dozens of other players on both sides to prove they can play in the league. Toub said Davis has the skills to make it.
“He's a good player,” Toub said. “He would be a starting punt returner on a lot of teams, probably not this one, but on other teams he probably could be."
There's one other big reason, however, why Davis wants to make a lasting impression Thursday night.
“Anytime somebody sees me, I want them to say, 'Oh, yeah, I remember that guy,'” Davis said. “He may not have made all the plays, but the effort was there, the smile was there, positivity, attitude was there. That's how I go about it. I stay faithful, pray every morning before I get up, and it's been working in my favor.”