Amongst the San Francisco 49ers players whom had a standout game in the team’s 33-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 15, Vernon Davis was one of them. In the win, Davis had five receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown reception which went for 52 yards. Aside from having been a reliable player at the tight end position for those who own him on their respective fantasy football teams, the play of Davis this season has been the best of any tight end in the NFC.
Some of you reading this article–I know–will jump up and say that there is no way that Davis can be the best tight end in the NFC this season with the likes of Martellus Bennett of the Chicago Bears and Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints. I am sure I will be told to look at their numbers so far through 14 games this season. Both Bennett and Graham have some statistics which indicate they are having a better season than Davis. Graham has 76 receptions for 1,071 yards and 14 touchdown catches, while Bennett has 59 receptions for 659 yards and five touchdowns.
Vernon Davis’ stats: 49 receptions for 805 yards and 12 touchdowns. One stat where Davis is better than both Bennett and Graham is in yards per reception, as Davis is averaging 16.4 yards per reception, while Bennett is averaging 11.2 and Graham is averaging 14.1. While the statistics would lead anyone to say that Davis has been the second or third best tight end in the NFC this season, the numbers do not tell the whole story as to why Davis has been the best tight end in the conference so far this season.
Unlike Bennett and Graham, who play in offenses who are more geared to being open in terms of passing–they are amongst several reliable pass catching options on their respective teams–Davis has played in an offense where–because of injury–he was one of two reliable pass catchers. Because opposition defenses knew this was the case, Davis would regularly face double teams from opposition defenses. He and Anquan Boldin were the only legitimate pass catching threats on the outside for Colin Kaepernick to throw to until the return of Michael Crabtree.
Another advantage that Bennett and Graham have over Davis is that both play in offenses that are pass first offenses, while Davis plays in an offense that first and foremost is a run based offense. Because of this difference in philosophies, Davis is liable to get fewer pass targets in a game just because the 49ers are not a team that likes to or necessarily want to throw 30-35 passes per game. In addition, Davis is playing with a quarterback who is in his first full year as a starter and as a result, has at times had some growing pains, while Bennett and Graham are playing with established starting quarterbacks.
All this leads me back to stating why Davis has been the best tight end in the NFC. Davis has had the cards stacked against him. He has delivered each and every time that he has been called upon to make a play downfield for the 49ers, which he has done several times, as his 12 touchdowns can attest to. In addition, being a tight end still calls for Davis to playing with his hand on the ground in the trenches and this is an area where Davis is better than both Bennett and Graham, as he helps the 49ers’ rushing attack with his blocking ability. That cannot be understated.