Football is as much a team sport as any other. While we can assess each player individually in certain respects, their success or failure can often be impacted by one or more other players. The offensive line, and offensive tackles in particular, is one area where individual and team success both play huge roles. Offensive tackles are often considered "out on an island" when they are dealing with defensive ends or outside linebackers coming off the edge. At the same time, they often rely on the neighboring guard and have to trust the guard will be in a position that is needed.
Which brings us to 49ers offensive tackle Anthony Davis. The 49ers moved up to grab Davis in the 2010 NFL Draft, with many folks looking at the pick as a "Singletary pick." Whatever the case, Davis has now spent two years as the 49ers right tackle. Grading his 2011 is just as much about comparing it to 2010 as it is looking at the season in a vacuum.
Anthony Davis has had plenty of ups and downs throughout his two seasons with the 49ers. After a rookie season that seemed to have more downs than ups, Davis seemed to take a solid step forward in year two. He has plenty of work in front of him, but he he is much less of a liability at this point and it showing signs of developing into a solid book end opposite Joe Staley.
My favorite part about Anthony Davis might be the personality he brings to the team. We don't hear much about him in the media, but on the field he has shown an aggressive nature that I think is a good thing. Although he sometimes seems on the verge of getting out of control, he actually seems to generally avoid excessive stupid penalties for roughing, taunting or other things like that. Again, he's not perfect with that, but he's developing his "skills" in that regard. He strikes me as a guy that gets under the skin of opponents and leads to them making the stupid mistake after the whistle has been blown.
It goes beyond just getting under opponents' skin. One of my favorite pictures of Davis from 2011 was when he grabbed Jim Schwartz by the shoulder as Schwartz was flipping out on Coach Harbaugh. Davis is one of the first guys to jump into the fray to protect his teammates. And it seems like we often see him with a little smirk as he goes to defend his guys. He knows he is always going to be one of the biggest guys on the field and I think he finds amusement in that.
Beyond just the entertainment value, a bit of a nasty streak can be key for an offensive lineman dealing with the repeated battles in the trenches. He is willing to get as physical as needed, but now it is a matter of developing consistency. One has to wonder if he can develop that with a single right guard in 2012. Chilo Rachal began the year at right guard but was quickly replaced by Adam Snyder. Although Snyder too had ups and downs, he and Davis seemed to operate better than Rachal and Davis.
Davis will also get a full offseason with Coach Harbaugh and company. I don't know how much the lockout impacted Davis, but it couldn't have helped. If the 49ers elect to bring back Adam Snyder as their starting right guard, that would be the entire starting line back for a full offseason. Count me as rather intrigued by what that could mean for the entire unit, and Davis in particular.