49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

June 23, 2012
In defense of Vernon Davis ....

Poor Vernon Davis. The 49ers tight end on Friday made the mistake of saying something mildly interesting at the end of June, a period so devoid of NFL news that any nugget that comes along gets picked over like the last can of beans at Donner Summit.

Davis had the audacity - the sheer gall - to tell a group of high school kids in his native Washington, D.C. that he has lofty ambitions. "I will be the best tight end to ever play this game," Davis said to wild applause, according to WUSA9. "I have a vision." The nerve of the guy.

Of course, this isn't the first - and it won't be the last - time Davis has said something with conviction. Earlier this month, he had the audacity - there sheer gall - to say he thought the 49ers should be considered favorites for the Super Bowl. And he's long said that his goal is to be the best tight end in the history of the NFL, last saying so in January 2010 following a season in which he tied a NFL then-record for tight ends with 13 touchdown catches.

After his recent comment, however, Davis has been pounced upon like a bus monitor in upstate New York. How can Davis aspire to be the best tight end ever, the masses shout, when he's not even the best tight end in 2012?

Indeed, the Saints' Jimmy Graham had 1,310 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last year and the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski had 1,327 receiving yards and a boggling 17 touchdowns. Davis never has reached 1,000 receiving yards and has had double-digit touchdowns only once. He had 792 receiving yards last year, ranking ninth among tight ends.

One difference is that Davis has been part of some bad -- I'm talking truly horrific offenses; remember 2007? -- since entering the league in 2006 while Graham's Saints offense has been part of the one of the league's most prolific ever and Gronkowski's quarterback is a shoe-in for the hall of fame. Last year, the Saints attempted 662 passes while the Patriots attempted 612. The 49ers? They attempted 451 passes, the 31st most in the league

The bigger difference is that Davis is actually a tight end. He plays primarily on the end of the offensive line and is an excellent pass and run blocker. On most of the 49ers' plays last year he was a sixth offensive lineman. No matter if the situation is 3rd and 17 or 3rd and half an inch, he does not come off the field.

His competition for best tight end in the game, meanwhile, mostly are glorified wide receivers and are moved all over the field - at wideout, in the slot, as an h-back - in an effort to create favorable coverages.

No, Davis is not the best of all time and he's not the most prolific pass-catching tight end in the game today. But best all-around tight end right now? He'd make a very strong argument.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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