Posted: 3:00 p.m. Thursday, July 11, 2013
By James Brady
Tight end Vernon Davis has certainly had an interesting career trajectory thus far. After a high draft slot, Davis was virtually invisible for the first few years of his career, leading many San Francisco 49ers fans to completely write him off. I was convinced that Davis was a bust and done for, and then Mike Singletary took over and did one of the few things he actually did right in San Francisco: set Davis straight.
Davis, the athletic freak, suddenly started actually holding onto the football when it was thrown his way. He caught 78 passes for 965 yards and 13 touchdowns, at the time tying a single season record for tight ends. He followed that up with another good year, in which he caught 56 passes for 914 yards and seven touchdowns.
But it's been downhill from there. In 2011, Davis dropped about 100 yards of production, and last season, he had just 548 receiving yards and five touchdowns. The reasons for this were all over the place, but the prevailing theory is that Davis was simply asked to black more often than usual.
And this is true -- Davis was not asked to do all of the things he was in previous seasons, but the amount of his actual blocking was exaggerated to an extent. Another culprit to his lower stats: double coverage. It took awhile for defenses to realize that Michael Crabtree was keen on finally breaking out and Davis was double covered a lot over the first few weeks.
In the end, Davis was only targeted 61 times, down from 95, 93 and 129 in 2011, 2010 and 2009, respectively. That's why he only had 548 receiving yards.
But what should we expect of Davis going forward? Given the injury to Crabtree, most are looking for Davis to step up and be that elite receiving threat. The fact that he was lining up at wide receiver more than anything at minicamp is somewhat overblown, as lining up at tight end wasn't necessary given the lack of contact and the needlessness of Davis being forced to demonstrate his blocking prowess on the practice field.
That said, I do think Davis will take more snaps outside this year. The 49ers will give him more opportunities to read defenses and not have to work consistently from the three-point stance, which minimizes a player's ability to read defenses pre-snap. Anything the 49ers can do to get Davis more advantages against the cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers he'll be up against will help.
However, I'm not sure what I expect out of Davis this year. I don't think his good seasons were luck or anything other than Davis being an exceptional player, I'm just not confident enough to predict a huge season from him. What are your expectations for Davis for 2013? Will he be the top target for quarterback Colin Kaepernick or will that fall to Anquan Boldin or one of the younger receivers?