Spotlight: Fred Davis

posted by on Jul 31st


's thoughts

I'm sure many of you have often wondered what would happen to a team's tight end production when it inserted a new coach, acquired a veteran quarterback, and loaded up the backfield with long-in-the-tooth running backs. Also factor in a Pro Bowl tight end returning from a broken ankle (Chris Cooley) and a replacement that did very well (Fred Davis) and you have the recipe for the Washington Redskins tight end situation in 2010.

Whether or not anyone has actually wondered about that in the past, it's pretty safe to say that those same set of circumstances has not occurred before. So this will be uncharted territory in the annals of fantasy football (and likely will never happen again). As we approach the season, the key question will become whether the Redskins could produce two fantasy relevant tight ends this year. And if not, would one of them get enough of the workload to be a big fantasy contributor this year.

For argument's sake, let's pick an arbitrary outcome, say, the fantasy TE10 and fantasy TE15 as benchmarks as goals for the Redskins tight ends to reach. Last year, those players produced 109 (Greg Olsen) and 88 (Kevin Boss) fantasy points respectively for a total of 197 fantasy points. For a 0 PPR, 12-team fantasy league, that would represent a starting tight end and a top back up.

The best way to delve into this may be to take a look at how the individual puzzle pieces have fared over the years. First up, new head coach Mike Shanahan and how well his tight ends (collectively as a unit) have done over the years. Most people will remember Shannon Sharpe getting fed the ball and rumbling for scores in Mile High Stadium, but over Shanahan's long coaching career, there were several seasons (particularly early on) where the Broncos tight end production was nowhere near as good. Here are the numbers from seasons when Shanahan was either a head coach or an offensive coordinator:

Year Team Rec Yds TD FP
1985 DEN 58 593 4 83
1986 DEN 37 527 2 65
1987 DEN 72 910 3 109
1988 OAK 19 223 0 22
1989 OAK 31 543 3 72
1992 SFO 52 704 5 100
1993 SFO 84 867 4 111
1994 SFO 64 821 9 136
1995 DEN 79 928 5 123
1996 DEN 107 1276 10 188
1997 DEN 86 1221 4 146
1998 DEN 71 854 10 145
1999 DEN 85 977 4 122
2000 DEN 99 1124 7 154
2001 DEN 103 987 13 177
2002 DEN 88 901 6 126
2003 DEN 75 887 9 143
2004 DEN 78 878 7 130
2005 DEN 60 673 2 79
2006 DEN 43 518 6 88
2007 DEN 81 891 8 137
2008 DEN 83 1118 8 160
AVG x 71 837 6 119

The takeaway from this chart is that only four times in 22 years did teams led by Shanahan hit 150 fantasy points by their tight ends and usually they were quite a bit away from that 197 point marker. Remember, we are exploring the possibility of whether the Redskins could field two relevant fantasy tight ends.

Now let's take a look at how the Eagles tight ends (collectively) did with Donovan McNabb predominantly as their starting quarterback in his time in Philadelphia:

Year Team Rec Yds TD FP
1999 PHI 44 462 7 88
2000 PHI 91 885 8 137
2001 PHI 52 511 8 99
2002 PHI 53 534 5 83
2003 PHI 50 614 2 73
2004 PHI 68 689 9 123
2005 PHI 75 794 5 109
2006 PHI 64 825 7 125
2007 PHI 49 522 3 70
2008 PHI 66 626 4 86
2009 PHI 79 996 8 148
AVG x 63 678 6 104

They failed to post a single season with at least 150 fantasy points from their tight end corps (and clearly did not come close to the 197 point benchmark). While some seasons the Eagles produced a single tight end that was a decent fantasy option, they for the most part focused on utilizing one primary tight end and the others were usually no more than window dressing.

Now let's move on to the Redskins tight end performance in the Chris Cooley era. Individually, he's ranked in the Top Ten four times.

Year Team Rec Yds TD FP
2004 WAS 53 465 10 107
2005 WAS 92 945 8 143
2006 WAS 61 756 7 118
2007 WAS 74 888 9 143
2008 WAS 94 926 2 104
2009 WAS 81 850 11 151

Last year was the first time the Skins hit 150 fantasy points by their tight ends in recent years (a fair distance away from the 197 point marker). With Cooley doing well early on and Davis doing even better as his replacement (41-464-6 for 82 fantasy point over the last 10 games of the season). Even with both players being productive, Davis ranked at TE16 and Cooley TE28.

In fact, the only teams to have two tight ends score 75 fantasy points in a season in the past 40 years were the 1979 Oakland Raiders (Raymond Chester 199 and Dave Casper 95) and the 1984 Chargers (Pete Holohan 85 and Kellen Winslow 78).

As for recent news on Cooley, he appears to be back to full strength and full speed and is back practicing with the team. He also has been taking reps lining up as a wide receiver. Early reports have head coach Mike Shanahan also liking Fred Davis, and there's been speculation that the Redskins will use a lot of two tight end sets to disguise pass plays and running plays (and to prevent tipping off which side of the field the play will be to).

Positives

  • The histories of Shanahan and McNabb show that both have produced top fantasy tight ends over the years, and Cooley has done very well in the past without either of them.
  • The Redskins offense should get an infusion with the changes made this offseason, allowing for longer drives and more scoring opportunities.
  • Cooley appears to be healthy again and Davis proved he could handle a bigger workload and gives Washington some added wrinkles in the offensive scheme.

Negatives

  • History suggests that it is rare that NFL teams can support enough production to produce two fantasy relevant tight ends.
  • If the tight end targets and production are split even close to evenly, neither one will make for a great fantasy option.
  • With so many changes all happening this offseason, there's a realistic chance that things don't work out as planned, especially in the early going until everyone gets on the same page.

Final thoughts

If the Redskins are serious about using Davis more, that will serve to reduce Cooley's fantasy value. It's unlikely that Davis will take over the starting role, and he most likely will go back to being a backup (just with some additional time on the field). There's nothing to suggest that both players could both put up fantasy start worthy numbers, so the chances of that are very remote.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

souteastjerome said:

With all the changes in Washington this season, I expect there to be at least one familiar face leading the way offensively and that's Chris Cooley. He is still their best offensive weapon and now he has an upgrade at the QB position and a reworked offensive line that could allow him more freedom in the passing game. Make no mistake, Cooley will be on the field a lot and he will likely remain the team's best player in the passing game. He is a proven pro bowl caliber TE with an improved QB situation and he's coming off of the board as the 11th TE. The emergence of Fred Davis will probably prevent Cooley from being a top 3 TE, but if healthy, I do not see a situation where he ends up outside the top 10 which is where he is being drafted.

Footballguys Senior Writer Jason Wood said:

While Cooley, when healthy, has been a steady producer in spite of different offensive systems and supporting casts, he has never quite been considered a true elite option against folks like Gates, Witten, Gonzo and Dallas Clark. Then, upon going down last year, Fred Davis emerged as the Redskins most important receiving outlet in his own right. Logic would argue that both Cooley and Davis should be on the field this year A LOT because they're the team's two best pass catchers, but will Mike Shanahan do that? If not, there's a very real chance that both could commoditize one another at best, and Davis (the younger player) could end up being the top dog.

Holy Schneikes said:

I don't think Cooley is the lock to be a go-to guy that many do. New GM + new OC + new head coach + new QB = you can throw away anything that has happened in the past in terms of predictive value going forward.

Fred Davis in his little stretch last year was just as effective as Cooley has ever been over a similar stretch. He's younger, faster, and ostensibly healthier. Cooley has the track record for sure, and I do think he's a talented receiver. I just think Davis is ALSO a talented receiver and if he looks a little better out there, I don't think the current regime is going to give the vet Cooley as much of the benefit of the doubt as the previous regime might have.

I think either one of them COULD have a nice season though, because the system uses TEs, and the QB has a history of liking his TEs. My fear would be they split the pie more evenly than is ideal for fantasy purposes.

I think Davis is nice sleeper, and Cooley might be a SMIDGE overrated right now in terms of perceived floor.


Fred Davis projections

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