With the sixth pick in the first round of the 2006 draft, the San Francisco 49ers select...TE Vernon Davis. What?! NFL tight ends usually aren't drafted this early. So Davis better be damn good, right?
In three seasons, Davis has only averaged 34 catches, 377 yards and three TDs per year. For a guy that measures in at 6'3", 250lbs, and runs a 4.38 40-yard dash, this guy should be putting up Antonio Gates-type numbers. So what gives?
For starters, Davis has been saddled by erratic play at QB. Alex Smith never turned into the franchise QB that could make all the necessary throws...Including the ones that should go to his top receivers. Watching Smith play was agonizing for the most part. Outside of 2006 where Norv Turner was the offensive coordinator. Smith was mainly injured or flat out unproductive. Inconsistency at QB never allowed Davis to develop rapport with the person throwing him the ball.
Secondly, the 49ers offensive line never played well enough for downfield receiving option to develop forcing many underneath throws. Ironically, some of Davis' more impressive plays consisted of underneath crossing routes. But the idea of having an athlete like Davis is to stretch the field.
Thirdly, Davis has been plagued with the case of the dropsies. Now, I don't know what the official statline is, but I do know that Davis dropped balls in key situations more than once this year. Solid coaching can turn this around. But if Davis caught the balls he was supposed to catch, then I wouldn't be writing this article right now.
Now, the fourth and main point of this article is that Davis has spent a great deal of time as a blocker. As mentioned above, the offensive line never played up to par. The line play steadily improved this season, but early on, Davis was being utilized as an extra blocker for Mike Martz's high-octane offense (an offense that never really took off). Also, Martz's offense was never known to utilize the TE.
Now this fourth and final point really stands out to me. It begs the question: Is Vernon Davis really a bust? Singletary has tabbed Davis as one of the best blockers he has ever seen. It is under this capacity that I had to rethink what would justify Davis as a bust. Davis receives many compliments about his blocking.
Davis himself admits that he is a capable blocker and once stated that if the coaches asked him to gain 50 lbs and play OT, then he would do it. So how is this different than an offensive lineman drafted sixth overall?
We draft offensive tackles in the top 10 to protect our QB. I have yet to see Davis miss a blocking assignment. He consistently shuts down the opposing teams' pass rushers. Back in week 15, Joey Porter didn't have one sack against Davis. Porter's lone sack came against RT Barry Sims when Davis was off the field. So if we view Davis as a blocker, then he's done well for himself.
Everybody wants to tag Davis as a bust because his measurable stats don't add up. But Davis' greatest contributions is not listed on the stat sheet. Given Davis' skills as a blocker and his flexibility to run patterns and catch passes, I would say that Davis is quite an asset. He may very well be the most valuable sixth lineman on the team.
So there you have it. Vernon Davis...the sixth lineman.