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Tight End: Long look back, brief look forward

The tight end position took a rather giant step forward in 2009, thanks in no small part to the Pro Bowl performance of Vernon Davis. Davis had a record-breaking career year and will look to build on that in 2010. The 49ers also received some big catches from backup TE Delanie Walker. The 49ers get excellent blocking from Davis, but as the team's offense spread out more and more, the focus on the tight ends came in the receiving game.

Vernon Davis

Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
16 78 965 60.3 12.4 73 13 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

I'm really not sure how much else there is to say about Vernon Davis' 2009 season. An abbreviated rookie season was followed by a fairly solid sophomore campaign with 52 catches for 509 yards. However, in 2008 Davis was used quite a bit more as a blocker thanks to the prolific (for sacks) offense of Mike Martz. Some folks were ready to write off Davis, but he finally showed what he's capable of in the right situation. He set the franchise record for receiving yards and receiving touchdowns by a tight end. He did continue to take a lot of penalties (12 - second in the NFC West), but they weren't quite the stupid penalties like what got him thrown off the field by Mike Singletary. He received a mix of false starts and holdings for the most part. Maybe not the best penalties in the world, but I'd say false starts are more bad penalties as opposed to idiot penalties.

There are two issues with Vernon Davis. The first is if he can put together a similar or better season next year. I think he can, but I suppose we'll just have to wait and see. The bigger issue that has me a little concerned is what will happen with his contract situation. Davis is signed through next season, but then will be a free agent. The 49ers have been locking up young guys to extensions but Davis has yet to sign one. If he was offered one before last season and turned it down, well that's a pretty smart decision on his part. If he can put up a second season similar to this one, his negotiating power will go through the roof. Given that Brent Celek signed a 6 year extension worth $33 million, it's safe to say Vernon Davis will be getting more than that. Now it's just a question of who will be giving him that money. Let's hope it's the 49ers.

After the jump we look at Delanie Walker's season and take a look at free agency and the draft...

Delanie Walker

Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
15 21 233 15.5 11.1 39 0 5 85 17.0 25 0 0 0 0 0 0

Delanie Walker has always been a fan favorite even without even remotely big numbers. I think part of it is the athleticism he brings to the table. When you've got a wide receiver converted to tight end who can return kicks, it makes for an entertaining spectacle. Walker has basically had a bit of a cult following among 49ers fans.

This season Walker actually seemed to start taking a step in the right direction. He didn't put up big numbers, but he seemed to work his way into the offense more than he had in the past. Walker signed a 6-year contract extension prior to the 2008 season, so I'd hope the team will want to continue mixing him into the lineup. As much as we love the mismatches Vernon Davis provides, Walker is big enough to create similar mismatches when you spread him out wide. He started off this season fairly quietly, but finished with a bit of a flourish. Again, nothing spectacular, but still something to build on in 2010. With the 49ers clearing out some of their wide receivers this offseason, Walker might find himself further in the mix.

Looking Forward
The 49ers drafted Bear Pascoe last season, but in a slightly surprising move they unloaded him in their final roster cuts before week 1. Pascoe was drafted as a blocking specialist, but couldn't quite make the roster, ending up with the Giants as a free agent. At this point, the 49ers don't have a pressing need for a tight end. I suppose they could use a blocking tight end, but I think the 49ers can be successful without filling such a role. Either way, we'll throw out some TE options.

Free Agency (Scroll down for TEs)
The 49ers will not be signing an Owen Daniels, Bo Scaife, Tony Scheffler, or Ben Watson. I think we can all agree on that. Here's the rest of the list of free agents. Some are more receiving tight ends, but I figured I'd just list all the options here after the first level

Anthony Fasano, Miami Dolphins
Daniel Fells, St. Louis Rams
Jeff King, Carolina Panthers
Brandon Manumaleuna, San Diego Chargers
David Martin, Miami Dolphins
Randy McMichael, St. Louis Rams
Billy Miller, New Orleans Saints
Leonard Pope, St. Louis Rams
Derek Schouman, Buffalo Bills
Alex Smith, New England Patriots
L.J. Smith, Baltimore Ravens
Matt Spaeth, Pittsburgh Steelers

2010 NFL Draft
I don't know enough about draft-able tight ends at this point to distinguish between pure blocking tight ends and receiving tight ends. I've attached the list of all tight ends in the top 250 of Draft Tek's big board. Including compensatory picks you get somewhere in the neighborhood of 250+ picks. If the 49ers go with a late round tight end for blocking purposes, one of those later names might prove useful to know.

Overall Rank Tight Ends School
Jermaine Gresham Oklahoma
Anthony McCoy USC
Ed Dickson Oregon
Tony Moeaki Iowa
Dennis Pitta BYU
*Aaron Hernandez Florida
*Lance Kendricks Wisconsin
Nathan Overbay Eastern Washington
*Luke Stocker Tennessee
Jimmy Graham Miami
Jeron Mastrud Kansas State
*Charlie Gantt Michigan State
Nate Byham Pittsburgh