Faceoff: Vernon Davis
Andrew Garda: Davis is a powerful, athletic tight end who is both a mismatch on short routes and a threat to go deep. He's fast enough to blow past linebackers and strong enough to run through corners and safeties. Davis is able to make a myriad of catches look easy, which is important as up-and-down Alex Smith is his quarterback.
Smith and Davis really synced up last season - nobody on the 49ers came close to Davis' 129 targets or his 78 receptions. While the full offseason of work and training camp will help second year wide receiver Michael Crabtree, it will also bring Smith and Davis closer together. So look for Smith to continue to target his reliable tight end with great frequency.
Especially since there is a strong possibility that the offensive line will have at least one and probably two rookies on it. Smith may have to get the ball out quick and more than likely he will go to the guy he habitually targeted last year - and that guy is Davis.
Even the fact that Smith looked better last season was in large part because of Davis who finally became a reliable weapon for the offense in 2009. Smith knows this and will keep it up.
The huge leap forward came because Davis finally found a coach who he could respect in Mike Singletary. I think if the parade of slightly wishy-washy coaches had continued without Iron Mike stepping into the role, Davis would have disappeared into a poof of wasted potential. But he finally had a coach stand up to him and lay it out for him and Davis responded spectacularly.
Singletary didn't go anywhere this offseason and has rewarded Davis with praise and accolades and more work - just enough motivation to keep him from complacency. He'll keep pushing the former Maryland tight end and as long as Singletary is pushing him, Davis will continue to produce.
Finally, aside from the opportunity, new lease on life and prowess, there is another huge factor in Davis having a big year: money. Davis is in the last year of his rookie contract and could be in line for a huge pay day. While it isn't true that a player automatically plays well when in line for a huge pay day, his potential contract (or an extension even given the CBA issue) paired with the motivation Singletary gives him will continue to allow him to reach all his potential.
He has the ability, opportunity and motivation to continue to succeed as a top tight end in your fantasy league.
Jason Wood: Vernon Davis first jumped onto the scene with an eye-popping performance at the NFL Combine which, according to many, was the most athletic display by a TE in the history of the event. He wasn't merely a workout warrior though, having been a reception machine for Big East Maryland. The 49ers chose him with the 6th overall pick and many thought he would fit right into the NFL's new crop of uber-productive fantasy tight ends. He started 8 games as a rookie and showed some athleticism (13.3 yards per reception) and the table was set for a breakout 2007. Unfortunately 52 receptions for 509 yards and 4 TDs was solid, but not enough to make him a Top 10 fantasy TE. Then in 2008 Mike Martz invaded San Francisco and proceeded to suck the life out of Davis (31 receptions for 358 yards and 2 TDs). At THAT point, the pendulum swung all the way to extreme pessimism and fantasy owners viewed Davis as a bust.
Those who weren't put off by Martz' one year as OC were rewarded last year as new OC Jimmy Raye turned Davis into the focal point of the passing attack. 78 receptions for 965 yards and THIRTEEN (13) touchdowns. Astounding stuff.
Which brings us to this year. The 49ers are the trendy pick to win the NFC West and Davis is universally considered a Top 3 fantasy commodity. While he certainly has the ability to perform at that level, I think it's very risky to bet on a repeat of last year's heroics.
- Even the very best to ever play the position don't score double digit TDs very often - In fact, it's only happened 23 times in league history.
- Michael Crabtree is ready to emerge as a dominant force - Crabtree got off to a slow start thanks to a protracted hold out, but there was little question he fits the bill of an elite WR1 by season's end. With a full training camp under his belt and a year of experience, Crabtree should make the ascension to full-time star in 2010, and he'll compete with Davis for targets and red zone looks
- The run/pass balance is going to swing toward the run - HC Mike Singletary is an old school coach and he's told the world loud and clear that he wants the 2010 49ers to have a balanced offensive approach. The defense will be good enough to allow for that, and RB Frank Gore is certainly up to the task. Add to that a pair of promising rookie 1st rounders on the offensive line and you've got a team that's going to run more than last year's 371 times (which ranked just 30th in the league).
Don't get me wrong, I think Vernon Davis is a rare talent and think circumstance earlier in his career prevented us from seeing what he was really capable of. But I also think that he'll be hard pressed to match last year's catches, yards and -- most importantly -- come close to his TD tally from a season ago. What that means is he can still be a solid fantasy TE1, but his ADP doesn't really give you much wiggle room for a letdown.