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2011 49ers Grades: Vernon Davis

Today we move on to the 49ers biggest playmaker in the playoffs, Vernon Davis. The 49ers tight end struggled early in the season, but stepped up as big as anybody when it mattered most. In his first two playoff games, Davis had the two best performances of his career. Against the Saints he hauled in seven receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns (including the game-winner). Against the Giants, Davis caught three passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

Of course, the season wasn't perfect for Vernon. He got off to a bit of a slow start as it seemed to be a struggle figuring out where he belonged. He did some great work blocking and he did work in some big games throughout the year. However, for much of the regular season, it really felt like something was missing.

When the postseason arrived, Vernon actually admitted that he had early frustrations learning the new offense. The tight end played an important role in the Jim Harbaugh/Greg Roman offense at Stanford and I expected big things from the position. The 49ers went with a base double tight end set, something didn't quite click with the tight ends for much of the regular season.

However, Vernon Davis closed strong with three straight 100-yard games and some game-breaking plays and the future is suddenly looking a little brighter again

Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
16 67 792 49.5 11.8 44 6 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

We've spent a lot of time talking about how the 49ers need a big playmaker at wide receiver, and there is certainly some value to that. However, with a full offseason between Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, I could see the tight end position taking a sizable step forward in 2012.

That is a comment that seems applicable to many aspects of the offense. And yet, given Vernon Davis' comments late in the season and his strong performances in the playoffs, I am particularly intrigued by what we can expect to see from him next year.

If the 49ers find a big threat in the draft or in free agency, that makes for an even more interesting combination of talent with Davis, Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams, Delanie Walker, probably Joshua Morgan and maybe Ted Ginn. The combination of receiver and tight end talent could prove quite dynamic. Vernon Davis has the skills to become a consistent big play threat for this team, as we saw in his break-through 2009 season. Add in another big play threat and I can't help but be at least a little optimistic about the development of the offense.

It's probably a little overly optimistic, but given how Vernon closed the year, I am a bit more optimistic than I was even heading into the playoffs. In figuring out Vernon's grade, it really depends on how you weight his playoff performances. He wasn't exactly facing dominant defenses, but coming up big when it mattered has a certain value.

How do you view Vernon's late performances in light of the rest of his season and looking ahead to 2012?