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Vernon Davis: How Much Should San Francisco 49ers Really Expect from Him in '14?

Will 49ers tight end Vernon Davis satisfy fans with his on-field production?
Will 49ers tight end Vernon Davis satisfy fans with his on-field production?Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Joe LevittContributor IIIJuly 10, 2014

San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis registered arguably the most prolific season of his career in 2013.

With Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, he matched personal bests in touchdowns (13) and yards per reception (16.3), and was within range of his top mark for total yards had he not missed Week 3 with a concussion.

The analytical savants at Pro Football Focus (subscription requited) deemed him second-most productive in yards per route run and No. 6 overall among the league’s 64 tight ends.

Davis ranked No. 6 among 64 NFL tight ends.
Davis ranked No. 6 among 64 NFL tight ends.Pro Football Focus

At a sculpted 6’3”, 250-pounds with nary an ounce of body fat on his Greek deity-like frame, he remains fully in his prime. His age, 30, which is often a problematic one for gridiron bruisers, appears to be for Davis nowhere near the sinister realm of father time.

So why would this upcoming 2014 campaign materialize as anything but continued success for the most physically gifted tight end in the NFL? To the point, why would the 49ers expect anything less than similarly dominant numbers from Davis this year?

Or, put a different way, what would prevent him from accruing such head-turning statistics for the Red and Gold? (Hint: It rhymes with sauerkraut and is totally unrelated to the actual game of football.)

Davis torched the Cardinals last year for over 200 yards and three touchdowns. Will he repeat those prolific numbers in 2014?
Davis torched the Cardinals last year for over 200 yards and three touchdowns. Will he repeat those prolific numbers in 2014?USA TODAY Sports

Contract holdout.

Davis has skipped all 49ers-related team activities so far this offseason. He believes his worth extends well beyond his $7.35 million average annual salary over the next two years.

For perspective, that figure already makes him the third-highest-paid player at this position, according to CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco.

Many will call his demands greedy and distracting; others will deem them fiscally prudent. Team president and chief negotiator Paraag Marathe likely falls somewhere in the middle—probably viewing Davis’ actions as contrary to the “49er way.”

Yet whether fans, writers or front-office executives support or disapprove of the Pro Bowler’s obstinate stance is irrelevant. The key idea is that Davis is thinking about everything but the ways in which he can help the 49ers on the field.

Instead of studying the playbook and collaborating with his teammates, he’s delving into brand enhancement and meeting with suits on Wall Street. Instead of focusing his efforts toward relevant on-field challenges like route concepts with his quarterback, he’s immersing himself in life after football.

Okay, perhaps attending an Olympic Curling event is harmless enough. But Davis remains far too committed to non-football-related activities.
Okay, perhaps attending an Olympic Curling event is harmless enough. But Davis remains far too committed to non-football-related activities.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Sure, it’s only July 10 and 49ers training camp doesn’t begin for another two weeks. Offseason work up to this point hasn’t been all that significant when thinking long term.

Heck, Davis himself admitted that merely knowing he held his ground on these contract negotiations would give him ample peace of mind.

“At the end of the day, if I don’t get the deal, at least I tried and I put my foot down,” Davis said via CSN Bay Area. “If I don’t get it at the moment, I’m not going to lose any sleep."

But is that really the case? A man who appears apprehensive when playing against the Seattle Seahawks’ defense away from home might be prone to having difficulties overcoming certain psychological obstacles.

Coming to terms with derisive views held by fans and detractors alike for his non-participation isn’t something he’ll just cast aside. Boos, curse-laden chants or otherwise—he’s simply too introspective not to feel the outside pressure.

And considering that Niners general manager Trent Baalke has added receivers Stevie Johnson, Bruce Ellington, Brandon Lloyd and running back Carlos Hyde to an already-talented roster, there are only so many balls to go around. Davis must come in and establish his presence in this expanded, new-look offense.

Coming back full circle, then, how much should the 49ers expect from Davis in 2014?

On one end of the forecasting spectrum lie the final seven weeks of 2012. After recording six catches for 83 yards and one touchdown in Kaepernick’s first career start, Davis disappeared from NFL existence. He totaled just six catches for 61 yards and zero scores over the next seven games combined.

On the other hand, he and Kap were at times quite an explosive passing tandem in 2013. The duo connected on 26 receptions for 466 yards and six touchdowns before the 49ers’ Week 9 bye. A mere seven scores followed thereafter.

Will the latter continue or former prevail? Will he carve an upward path toward career-high production, or plummet once again into the realm of statistical purgatory?

The answer to those questions begins with Davis’ status for training camp, continues with his contract negotiations and concludes with a two-game-in-three-week stretch versus Seattle near season’s end.

In the absence of some Nate Silver-quality predictive algorithms, a wait-and-see game comes into play. Too much lies in the unknown and what develops from Davis’ introspection.

Yet in the spirit of honoring journalistic predictions for the Red and Gold in 2014, here is how the 49ers offense will produce this season:

Kaepernick will lean on security blankets Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin in the passing game. Johnson will serve as another chain-moving target underneath, while Ellington and sophomore wideout Quinton Patton will contribute as downfield weapons. Frank Gore, for his part, will continue powering the NFL’s top-flight running back corps that also features Hyde, Kendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore. Red-zone scoring will not plague this team like it has in recent seasons.

As for Davis, we project a decline in all categories across the board. He’ll still provide end-zone paydirt at a reasonable rate; just don’t expect consistent receptions, yards and participation within the offensive flow from week to week.

Because he’ll never fully get his head in the game this year, Davis will finish with 40 catches for 600-plus yards and six touchdowns.

Not bad for a top-10 tight end. But a top-one?

Here’s to Davis defying these predictions for said categories across the board.


All team and player statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference unless otherwise noted. Advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Salary information provided by Spotrac.

Joe Levitt is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, waxing academic, colloquial and statistical eloquence on the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him on Twitter @jlevitt16

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