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49ers Tight Ends: Long Look Back, Brief Look Forward

Beast mode incarnate. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Beast mode incarnate. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Getty Images

There's been a lot of buzz and news this offseason, what with the head coaching search, and then the coaching staff assembly following that crucial piece of the puzzle. Because of it, we're starting a little bit late in regards to our season-in-review posts, but in lieu of more ways to include Jim Harbaugh in a post, I'm getting right into it, starting with the tight end position.

It is perhaps the most complete position on the 49ers roster, one without many question marks and immediate need for starters or backups. It wasn't that long ago that the team had a definite bust with limitless potential that would surely never be realized as their starter - until something happened and he turned out to be a beast and a half. He's followed by solid depth, and we'll take a look at 'em all, starting with Mr. For-Sure-Bust himself ...

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 56 914 57.1 16.3 66 7 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

There's really few things to be happy about in regards to Mike Singletary's tenure in San Francisco, but one of the biggest (up there with the development of one Willis, Patrick) things to be grateful for has to be Vernon's development into one of the league's premier tight ends. Much has been said recently regarding the way Singletary handled practice and player interactions, and it was Vernon himself who said that players were playing scared under the man.

Davis' progression into a top tight end certainly began with getting the immaturity scared right out of him. He was thrown in the locker room and then followed that up with some better play in 2008. In 2009, he had a monster season, tying an NFL record for touchdowns for thirteen and coming just short of 1,000 yards. Following the season, Fooch had some words regarding the situation ...

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.

Vernon proved Fooch had little to worry about, signing an extension with the 49ers and putting together another solid season. It was more impressive in some ways and less in others. He fell short of the touchdown mark as you can see, grabbing only seven receptions of that regard and his yardage numbers are slightly down, but his average yards per reception is definitely up, and that's what you want out of your tight end. The fact that he's a big play guy is important, because how many of those extra number of receptions in 2009 went for little yardage? With 22 more receptions in 2009, he only picked up another 49 yards. Vernon is the unquestioned starter going forward and deserves to be in on every offensive play for his receiving ability, let alone the fact that he's one of the best blockers on the team. He should have, in my opinion, made the Pro Bowl over Atlanta's Tony Gonzales.

After the jump, we take a look at the other two tight ends on the roster, 2011 free agents for the position and of course, the 2011 NFL 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
13 29 331 25.5 11.4 38 0 5 70 14.0 20 0 0 0 0 0 0

When you have a Pro Bowl tight end in front of you, your production doesn't need to be the most stunning thing on the planet. Delanie is a fan-favorite and a matchup nightmare for any defense, and he continued to demonstrate just why he's viewed as such in 2010. He's got eight more receptions and one hundred more yards than he had in 2009, while playing in two less games. If you take his average yards per game, and add in the three games he didn't play in, you have a 400 yard receiver as your backup tight end, and I'd say that's pretty good, personally.

He doesn't put up huge numbers, and had some untimely drops this past season, but going forward I see no reason for him to play any less than he has. He's given up a little bit of time to Byham, but that's to be expected. In my opinion, he can be a starter on another team and is only a backup to the fact that he's got Vernon Davis in front of him. The only way he sees less action come his way in 2011 is if the 49ers bring in a veteran wide receiver, otherwise he will remain a primary receiving target behind Davis.

Nate Byham

Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
6 5 27 4.5 5.4 9 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Byham was drafted as a blocker, and was highly regarded as such in the build-up to the draft. He was the second tight end drafted in as many years for the 49ers, who got rid of Bear Pascoe after taking him in the sixth round the previous year. Byham lit things up in the preseason and surprised everybody with surprisingly dependable hands and decent route running. His blocking was there, and his promise of loving contact was definitely fulfilled.

Problem was, all of this didn't translate into the regular season, and if you're not producing immediately, and there is someone who can potentially do a better job, you're riding the bench. The 49ers just couldn't find ways to give Byham some snaps with two dynamic weapons in front of him. His numbers aren't big at all, but the 49ers have their blocking tight end if they need to use him.

Looking Ahead

As mentioned in the beginning, this is perhaps the most complete position for the 49ers. They're probably not looking for anybody at the position unless someone who is an upgrade literally says "I want to go to San Francisco, also - for the veteran's minimum." As far as the draft, someone would need to fall significantly for the 49ers to consider taking them with a BPA (best player available) approach. In short, I don't see any new bodies short of a practice squad fill-in.

As far as free agents go, there are some big names out there. Zach Miller, Owen Daniels and the like will not be coming to San Francisco. The only scenario I see where the 49ers make any significant changes at the position would be Jim Harbaugh having a completely different idea for what he's looking for in a tight end. Still, I can't see a first year coach throwing away the opportunity to utilize a pro bowl talent like Vernon Davis and a dynamic mismatch like Delanie Walker. Here's a list of potential free agents at this link, regardless.

2011 NFL Draft

I haven't yet looked into tight ends very extensively, because everyone seems to be focused on quarterback and cornerback. DraftTek has their big board for tight ends and I'll go ahead and list them below, though I know next to nothing regarding blocking vs receiving with these guys, and either way - I don't see the 49ers even drafting one at any point in the draft. The first number is their ranking among tight ends, the parenthesis indicated DraftTek's ranking of them on their overall big board.

1(16) Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame
2(44) D.J. Williams, Arkansas
3(51) Luke Stocker, Tennessee
4(62) Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
5(68) Mike McNeil, Nebraska
6(81) Charlie Gantt, Michigan State
7(93) Virgil Green, Nevada
8(149) Rob Housler, Florida Atlantic
9(160) Jordan Cameron, USC
10(176) Julius Thomas, Portland St
11(186) Kyle Adams, Purdue
12(206) Andre Smith, Virginia Tech
13(216) Lee Smith, Marshall
14(228) Cameron Graham, Louisville
15(240) Allen Reisner, Iowa
16(253) Schuylar Oordt, Northern Iowa
17(262) Konrad Rueland, Stanford
18(271) Preston Dial, Alabama
19(279) Zach Pianalto, North Carolina
20(292) Stephen Skelton, Fordham
21(305) Ben Thayer, Eastern Michigan
22(317) Greg Smith, Texas
23(340) Martell Webb, Michigan
24(348) Collin Franklin, Iowa State
25(379) Jeffrey Anderson, UAB
26(384) Weslye Saunders, South Carolina
27(395) Evan Frosch, TCU