By Jerrell Richardson
Vernon Davis is a victim of the fantasy football craze. The only reason he is not considered one the best tight ends in football is because he does not score enough fantasy points, due in large part to his playing on a team that likes to run the ball. It also doesn’t help that, unlike Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski—the only two players consistently considered the best—Davis hasn’t played for one of the greatest quarterbacks of his time.
The 49ers tight end has spent his entire career catching passes from Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, and has still continued to climb his way up the franchise’s record books. His 50th touchdown as a 49er catch puts him fourth all-time on a very prestigious list. As he now stands, Davis is only nine behind Gene Washington, and seems a lock to eventually move up one more spot. This is as far as he can expect to go though, as it will take several monster statistical seasons for him to chase down Terrell Owens, who has 81, and there is no question he will get anywhere close to the great Jerry Rice’s team record of 176.
Despite a decorated career, Davis has been named to one Pro Bowl since entering the league in 2006. While he figures to break this streak at the end of the year, it’s a shame that it took this long and a milestone catch to finally put his name in the headlines. This season, no matter how you look at it, no tight end has been more valuable to their team then Vernon Davis.
First, take a look at the numbers. This year, Davis has 705 yards, 42 catches and 10 touchdowns. His touchdown total is not third amongst tight ends, it’s third in the NFL. The only two players with more are Calvin Johnson, whose talent puts him on a whole other planet, and Jimmy Graham, and both have 12. The Saints tight end has far more catches than Davis and a higher per game average, but Davis is still third in both among tight ends, and isn’t targeted nearly as much. Gronkowski’s numbers are off due to his only playing five games, but in the case of Graham, the Saints tight end has been targeted 42 more times than Davis, resulting in 26 more catches for Graham. Give Vernon 26 more times to touch ball and his numbers would skyrocket.
Davis does more than catch passes. He is an excellent blocker and a big reason the team’s multiple tight end formations work. It’s his ability to block or run a route equally effectively that causes defenders fits, and the reason he is asked to stay on the field for a majority of the team’s snaps. Last week, for example, against the Rams, out of 67 offensive snaps, Davis was on the field for all but four of them. Gronkowski can boast similar value to his team after playing 63 of the 70 New England snaps against the Broncos, but the same can’t be said in New Orleans. Graham played in 56 of 74 snaps this past Monday, and for the season has played in 65.4 of the teams snaps, compared to 75.5 percent in one less game that Davis has played.
Vernon Davis is the best tight end in the NFL because he does it all. He is a good blocker and spends just as much—if not more—time blocking than running routes, all while putting up offensive numbers comparable to the league’s elite and staying healthy. At 100 percent, Robert Gronkowski is probably the best—although he is not only injury prone, but also has Tom Brady slinging him passes. Graham is impossible to cover, but is only a threat when the team is going to pass and finds himself on the sideline far too often. A tight end is supposed to block and catch passes, and nobody right now is better at both than Vernon Davis. Put him on the Patriots or Saints and the conversation about who is the best tight end would be far different.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.