Mike Singletary was never much of a Vernon Davis adherent. He went as far as to bench the polarizing tight end mid-contest in 2008 because of Davis’ indifferent demeanor.
Singletary’s postgame rant concerning his disdain for selfish play resonated far beyond the final tally on the scoreboard.
“I would rather play with 10 people and get penalized all the way until we've got to do something else. Rather than play with 11 when I know that right now that person is not sold out to be a part of this team. It is more about them than it is about the team. Cannot play with them. Cannot win with them.”
“Them” was of course “him”, one Vernon Davis. At the time, Davis’ potential-laden career was dissipating before the eyes of the Golden Gate faithful. A trade was discussed. The team finished another mediocre season at 7-9. Davis’ statistics backtracked in what should have been a breakout third season. Fans began to wonder if the first round pick that landed him would have been better spent elsewhere.
Pick up the story in 2013, where football life in San Francisco is markedly more optimistic. The summer sun shines bright (alright, it probably shines the same way it did in 2008). Children laugh in the streets (probably for reasons completely unrelated to football). Most importantly, the Niners are primed for a return trip to the Super Bowl, where they fell just short last season.
To collect their first Lombardi since 1995, they’ll need a large amount of help from Vernon Davis, or “them” as some know him. They, the 49ers that is, possess an immensely talented roster with one fatal flaw: the wide receivers. Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are both doubtful for the start of the season with injury, leaving Anquan Boldin as the only active wideout on the roster with more than 1,000 career yards to his name.
Colin Kaepernick is unlikely to regress entering his third season, and so that leaves Davis as the main receiving beneficiary in one of the league’s most dynamic offenses. For all his trouble, Davis is holistically healthy as ever in 2013. He’ll need to stay sharp to reach his full potential and join the select group of tight ends to break the four digit receiving plateau.
Kaepernick’s arrival, though favorable in many respects, spelled doom when it came to Davis’ statline. In what was his seventh year, Davis stumbled to the finish line with 61 yards and zero touchdowns after week 12, which starkly contrasted with his 487 yards and five scores through the first 10 contests. Alex Smith had been the maestro for nine of those initial games - it seemed as if the new read-option-heavy era left no room for a downfield tight end.
Kaepernick and Davis managed to flip the switch in the postseason, to the tune of 254 yards and a trip to the end zone, including a 104 yard Super Bowl performance against the staunch Ravens' defense. Davis finally developed chemistry with his new quarterback in the waning moments of last season, in terms of sporting clichè.
With fellow tight end Delanie Walker lost to Tennessee and Crabtree shelved for the time being, the added familiarity will pay invaluable dividends going forward. Kaepernick was on pace to accrue roughly 3,600 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air had he been allowed a full season of play. Even if those numbers stay static, that’s a gargantuan heap of yardage to disperse to a group of unproven youngsters and career backups.
An aging Anquan Boldin will take his cut of the total, and Crabtree should return for the latter half of the season, but Davis is likely to consume the lion’s share of Kaepernick’s fastballs. The Niners’ coaching staff has been preparing for such an occurrence, working Davis with the receivers during minicamp.
Kaepernick’s propensity for running in the red zone may make Davis’ career high of 13 touchdowns an unattainable figure, but his career mark of 965 yards is well within reach. If he can deliver 1,000 yards with TDs next season (which is very possible), it would still present a formidable challenge as Davis’ best to date.
Jimmy Graham is the clear lead dog in fantasy land, and the masses are still holding hope for the return of Rob Gronkowski, but after that point owners are presented with an interesting package of Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez and Davis at their disposal between rounds 5 and 7 (standard ten team settings, of course)
Vernon Davis heads into next season with the best supporting cast and most raw upside of the trio. He’s well worth considering as the third tight end off the board, and perhaps the second if Gronkowski’s health concerns endure.