Reconsidering Vernon Davis
Raise your hand if you've ever been burned by Vernon Davis.
I'm having difficulty typing since both my hands are in the air. If you would have asked me this morning whether I'd be drafting Davis in 2013, I would have told you that the chances that he'd be available where I was willing to take him (~10th round) are about slim to none, and slim was leaving town. This morning, I couldn't trust that the 49ers would give him the necessary targets to justify his #5 TE ADP.
What do we know about him?
- He's 29 years old.
- In standard scoring formats, he was the #1 TE in 2009 and #3 in 2010. That ranking fell to #8 in 2011 and all the way to #15 in 2012.
- He has a tendency to come up big in the playoffs. (He averaged 4.4-109-1.0 in five playoff games in 2011 and 2012. Wowsers.)
- His targets have decreased from 8.1 in 2009 to 5.8 in both 2010 and 2011 to 4.4 in 2012 (including the postseason).
- In 2012, he was targeted more by Alex Smith (5.1 per game) than by Colin Kaepernick (3.9), though Kaepernick did lean on him in the playoffs (11-210-1 combined in NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl).
Has he suddenly forgotten how to get open, or how to produce once he has the ball? Probably not. Take a look at this table:
Over the past two years, 31 still-active tight ends have garnered at least 100 total targets. Davis ranks 4th in fantasy points per target (1.28 FP/T), which is one of my favorite measures of productivity. That equals Antonio Gates and ranks ahead of Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez and Aaron Hernandez. In 2009 and 2010 (when Davis finished #1 and #3, respectively), he averaged 1.39 FP/T.
So the production is still there, but the targets aren't. Some of this can be attributed to the arrival of Crabtree, who overtook Davis in average targets starting in 2010, and hasn't looked back.
Certainly the 49ers could lean on their receiving corps to pick up Crabtree's slack. Anquan Boldin figures to see WR1 targets, while Mario Manningham could be a viable WR2 if his knee is good to go. Second-year man A.J. Jenkins (who has reportedly bulked up), return specialist Kyle Williams and rookie Quinton Patton will also be in the mix.
But intuitively it would make a lot of sense for the 49ers to feature Davis, who is arguably their biggest and best weapon in the receiving game.
Take a look at what he's been able to do in the 28 games over the last two seasons when he's seen at least three targets.
|2011||3||@ CIN||W 13-8||8||9||114||0|
|2011||4||@ PHI||W 24-23||4||6||45||1|
|2011||9||@ WAS||W 19-11||4||7||41||0|
|2011||12||@ BAL||L 6-16||4||5||38||0|
|2011||14||@ ARI||L 19-21||1||3||32||0|
|2011||16||@ SEA||W 19-17||4||8||54||0|
|2011||17||@ STL||W 34-27||8||9||118||0|
|2012||1||@ GNB||W 30-22||3||5||43||1|
|2012||3||@ MIN||L 13-24||5||8||53||1|
|2012||13||@ STL||L 13-16||2||3||15||0|
|2012||15||@ NWE||W 41-34||1||3||10||0|
|2012||NFC||@ ATL||W 28-24||5||6||106||1|
So that's an average of 4.3 catches on 6.1 targets for 63 yards and 0.57 TD per game. Those are fantasy TE3 numbers per our 2013 projections. His FP/T in these 28 games was an eye-popping 1.59.
Is expecting him to see 6.1 T/G a reasonable assumption? I expect it is. He averaged 5.8 T/G in 2010 and 2011 and that was with a healthy Crabtree. Before Crabtree, he averaged 8.1 T/G. And while Boldin is still a very good receiver, he's no Crabtree at this point in his career.
Do I feel certain in recommending him as a Top 2-3 TE? Hell no. There is still the matter of the 49ers' curious usage of Davis, but the gamble here is that they no longer have any choice. Vernon Davis is not a weapon to be unleashed in the playoffs -- the 49ers are going to need his playmaking to win games in the regular season as well.