Which Vernon Davis will fantasy owners get in 2013?
Will they get the San Francisco 49ers tight end that seemingly disappeared for a sizable portion of the 2012 season? Or will they get the stud who still remains one of the most dominant offensive tight ends in the NFL?
It is a surefire bet that the latter will be the case in 2013.
Davis needs to be one of your targets in any upcoming fantasy football draft. Davis is poised for an incredible season for a number of reasons, which will be discussed here.
Thankfully, Davis may not be a target sought after early come draft day, which means you should be able to pick him up at a bargain price.
I base my argument on a number of key attributes and variables. Since he likely will not be an early-round pick this season, you may be able to sleep on him and use your higher picks for other talent. In addition, last year's offensive woes will likely not be repeated in 2013 for reasons that will be described.
Davis' projected performance will also be described along with the importance of having a tight end with his versatility and abilities.
Why Is Davis Relatively Low on Fantasy Rankings?
There is a simple answer for this question.
Last year, Davis came nowhere close to the nearly 1,000 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns he had in 2009—production that earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl. In fact, his production dwindled each year afterward, which has certainly been a cause for concern among fantasy owners.
In 2012, there was a period of time when it seemed Davis was all but absent from fantasy statistics.
From Week 11 through 16, Davis had a total of only six receptions for only 61 yards and zero touchdowns. For owners hoping that Davis could be a linchpin in their fantasy plans, the production obviously begged for more.
As such, Davis finds himself as the No. 3 ranked tight end according to NFL.com's fantasy football page behind New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski. Davis is also ranked as 65th overall on NFL.com's fantasy site.
Another projection, made by CBS Los Angeles fantasy analyst Tony Meale, has Davis as the fifth-overall tight end in the draft.
Davis' physical attributes and potential should make him a top-two tight end, especially in the blossoming "hybrid" offense the San Francisco 49ers are utilizing, yet curious owners are cautious about which Davis they will get.
Will 2013 be a year similar to his 2009 campaign, or will we see a continued drop-off in production that has been trending over the past three years?
Thankfully, that speculation may be a blessing in disguise and may allow owners to sleep on him for a little bit.
Why Should We Expect Big Things Out of Vernon Davis in 2013?
This is another question that begs an answer.
Last season, Davis and quarterback Colin Kaepernick failed to generate the same sort of chemistry that Davis once enjoyed with Kaepernick's predecessor Alex Smith.
2013 figures to be very different and not just because of a blossoming repertoire with Kaepernick.
As reported by 49ers insider Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, Davis is developing a tremendous connection with San Francisco's young quarterback.
Kaepernick and tight end Davis had an exceptional showing against the 49ers' first-team and reserve defenses. Kaepernick found Davis three times on deep seam routes, beating the coverages of Travis Johnson/Michael Thomas, Carlos Rogers/Craig Dahl and Michael Wilhoite/Donte Whitner. The pair also hooked up on two other intermediate passes. The only blemish was one Davis dropped pass during an 11-on-11 session. Davis lined up solely at tight end during the practice.
Maiocco points out elements that may add value to Davis this upcoming season, in turn benefiting potential Davis owners.
Another Maiocco article continues to praise the budding relationship between Kaepernick and Davis.
Fans of the 49ers know that the team is short-staffed at wide receiver. Despite the addition of Anquan Boldin during the offseason, San Francisco has lost the services of incumbent top receiver Michael Crabtree.
To help alleviate the loss, the 49ers coaching staff has experimented with lining Davis up as a wide receiver during training camp.
This is good news for fantasy owners.
Davis described the transition via a recent article by Dan Hanzus of NFL.com:
I'm willing to step up and do whatever they ask me to do. They've been having me line up at wide receiver, pretty much all over the place. It's a good thing that I get the opportunity to work with those guys because it not only helps me at the wide receiver position, it also helps me at the tight end position. My feet get quicker, my route-running is better.
Davis' flexibility and versatility can only benefit him and San Francisco's offense in this scenario. While Davis may still line up along the line, his ability to play on the outside opens the door for increased mismatches against the defense.
With much of opponents' defenses likely to be concentrated on Boldin as well as the 49ers running game, the chances that Davis puts in a blockbuster year are likely.
Further adding credence to this argument is how well 2013 draft pick and fellow tight end Vance McDonald has been playing thus far. McDonald is expected to fill the void left by the departed Delanie Walker, yet the 49ers are hoping that McDonald's pass-catching abilities will surpass those of Walker.
If that is the case, McDonald will also have to be a threat recognized by other teams' defenses, which, in turn, may open up more opportunities for Davis over the course of the season.
It is a good sign of things to come.
What may likely happen is that Kaepernick continues to develop in his second year of starting. Last season, Kaepernick's favorite target was Crabtree. With Crabtree gone, and San Francisco's offense needing to spread the ball around more, Davis will unquestionably play a much bigger role.
When Should I Consider Drafting Vernon Davis?
The nice thing about examining a player like Davis, or like most tight ends for that matter, is that fantasy owners can typically sit on the tight end position for the first few rounds of the draft.
We all know the story of how most drafts go.
The first three or four rounds are usually spent drafting high profile position players. Top-tier quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs will go in the first few rounds. Tight ends, for the most part, are not a part of the discussion until the middle-to-late rounds.
If we take NFL.com's ranking of Davis as the No. 65 overall fantasy prospect at face value, that means that Davis should be around in the sixth round of a traditional 10-team format. That leaves five or six picks for owners to bolster the rest of their teams in other necessary areas.
The nature of tight ends also has to be examined to a certain extent.
Tight ends do not typically garner the same statistical attention as wide receivers do. After the first four or five ends are off the board, there is a good amount of drop-off. This is where eyeballing Davis as a sleeper pick may come in handy.
Naturally, if an owner's league starts having a run on tight ends and suddenly the top ends like Graham and Gronkowski are gone, an owner may not want to sit on a player like Davis for much longer.
Still, this aspect is not likely to happen until the middle rounds of a fantasy draft.
Thus, if an owner's league is entering the sixth round of the draft, and there has not yet been a run on tight ends, sleeping on Davis may be afforded until some of the higher-ranked ends are gone.
What Return Can I Expect on My Investment?
As with any fantasy prospect, there is risk associated with an investment.
I remember drafting quarterback Tom Brady with my first pick in 2008. One game into the regular season and BAM—Brady was out for the year with a broken leg.
So much for that investment.
Naturally, injuries can thwart even the best fantasy draft. Fortunately, Davis is not a player who is injury-prone. He has started all but two games he played in over the course of his seven-year career. Therefore, it is safe to assume that he will at least be on the field for all of 2013.
Yet most importantly, owners want to know what type of production Davis will give them in the upcoming season.
They do not want the Davis of the last three years, and they especially do not want the Davis that closed out the final six weeks of the 2013 regular season.
Thankfully, Davis appears poised to have another breakout campaign this year. This point, thanks in measure to him being lined up as a wide receiver, is further described by Ben Thaler of NFL Soup, who writes:
With Crabtree suffering a torn Achilles during OTAs, and Boldin lining up in the slot during team drills, the 49ers may look to use Vernon Davis—who ran a 4.38 forty coming out of Maryland in 2006—to stretch the field. In fact, there have been serious rumblings that the Niners may use Davis as more of a WR than a TE this upcoming season, which would boost his fantasy value exponentially. He should definitely see a boost in his 2012 numbers and enjoy a bit of a bounce back season.
The possibility of Davis being used as a wide receiver must be tempting to fantasy owners.
If Davis does produce as projected, owners may get wide receiver-like numbers out of a tight end. If those same owners do not use an early pick on him, instead choosing to bolster their teams via other fantasy studs, Davis in a late-round pick could be a steal.
As far as the numbers are concerned, it is not at all impossible that Davis emulates the season he had in 2009—nearly 80 receptions for almost 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns.
In short, Davis would be a wise addition for any fantasy team heading into the 2013 season.
The fact that his stock has slipped a bit over recent years means that owners can grab him later on during the draft without having to risk a high pick on his talents. The absence of injury history also makes him a safe bet.
That, combined with the possibility of Davis' bolstered potential this year, makes Davis a very credible option during your fantasy draft.
At the end of the fantasy season, when you look at your fantasy team and decide who your MVP was, Davis could very well fit into the discussion.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.