Replacing Michael Crabtree will not be easy, as he was clearly the San Francisco 49ers’ best receiving option last year. Not only was he productive throughout the regular season, but he stepped up for his team in the playoffs. With Crabtree slated to miss a majority of the upcoming season, Vernon Davis must develop into a go-to weapon.
Newly acquired Anquan Boldin automatically becomes the top receiving target. He’s a veteran who routinely comes up with his share of big plays, but after him there are question marks at the position.
Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham are recovering from severe knee injuries, A.J. Jenkins has yet to record a regular-season reception and Quinton Patton is just a rookie. Undrafted free agent Ricardo Lockette signed with the 49ers’ practice squad last year, but he lacks experience. He has looked impressive throughout offseason workouts, however, and could develop into a pleasant surprise with his down field speed.
The uncertainties surrounding the passing attack leaves Davis as the next best option for the 49ers. While he had a “down” receiving year in 2012, the 29-year-old tight end is capable of shouldering the load. In 2009, Davis recorded 78 catches for 965 yards and 13 touchdowns. He accumulated those numbers as Alex Smith’s No. 1 target.
Fast-forward four years later and Davis finds himself in a high-powered offense led by dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Unlike the ’09 version of the 49ers, Davis is surrounded by a host of talent which should open up more opportunities for him to produce.
Although Davis was not a major factor in the passing game when Kaepernick took over during the regular season, he put up a strong showing in the playoffs. In the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, Davis caught 11 passes for 210 yards and one touchdown. He and Kaepernick have to build on that chemistry throughout the offseason to maintain that kind of production.
Despite not being a featured receiver last year, Davis’ blocking was vital to the 49ers’ run game. His contributions were still present even if his play did not always appear in the box score.
But without Crabtree, Davis needs to take on a greater receiving role; he has a proven track record. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman tailored his offense to Smith when he was under center and quickly adapted to Kaepernick’s strengths once he claimed the starting job. The coaching staff knows how to adjust its personnel.
Ultimately, the 49ers will reap the rewards of utilizing their star tight end in their aerial attack.