Two days after Ryan Van Bibber ranked out the league's offensive lines, he moved down to the tight ends. The 49ers ranked 19th among offensive line, but climb to a much more respectable third for tight ends. Naturally the New England Patriots were number one with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The New Orleans Saints ranked second thanks to the presence of Jimmy Graham.
In ranking the 49ers tight ends after last season, it is just as valuable looking at their potential and what the coming season might bring, as opposed to what we saw last year. The 49ers tight ends were heavily involved in the offense, but the regular season production was relatively limited, considering what many of us were expecting. Of course, then we hit the postseason, and Vernon Davis blew up to the tune of 10 catches, 292 yards and four touchdowns.
The question now is what a full offseason can do for the tight ends, most notable Vernon Davis. He admitted late in the season to having some frustration in learning the offense, but seemed to be growing comfortable late. Before the playoffs, he wrapped up the final three weeks of the season with 18 catches for 244 yards and a touchdown. Now he has had a full offseason to learn the offense, and one has to imagine the late season momentum is a positive sign heading into 2012. He might not put up numbers consistent with what he did in the two postseason games, but I'd like to think we'll see a big season from VD.
Delanie Walker will get mixed into the offense plenty, but the more interesting question in my mind heading into training camp is what they will do with the third tight end role. Nate Byham was looking to secure the job last year before a season-ending injury in camp. Byham is battling Konrad Reuland this year, but the battle has gotten all the more interesting with defensive end Demarcus Dobbs getting work at tight end in OTAs.
The 49ers ran 2+ tight ends or 6+ offensive linemen 60% of the time last season, which was good for second in the NFL, so extra beef on the line is a key part of their game. If Dobbs can prove sufficiently strong at the tight end position, do they actually consider keeping him as their third tight end? Or is that getting a little too cute?