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San Francisco 49ers positional review: Tight ends

While generally under-performing in 2012, the 49ers are in good shape at the tight end position, thanks to Vernon Davis.


Previously, we took a look at the wide receiver and running back positions, and both are areas I felt the team excelled in. Now we come to the other big piece of the offense: the tight ends.

More: QB | WR | RB | TE | OL | DL | OLB | ILB | CB | S | ST

As fans of the 49ers, we've actually been a little spoiled when it comes to the tight end position. When Mike Singletary was in town, I truly feel that we almost lost Vernon Davis, and his career would have been done right there. He was bad, and there's no other word for it. I wanted him released.

But one of the few things Singletary was able to do positively was change Davis, and nothing anybody could ever say will make me believe it was someone other than Singletary's doing. It was a massive turn around, and Davis has become one of the best tight ends in the NFL.

We've also had Delanie Walker for awhile, so yes, we've been a little spoiled. But the position could be changing in 2013, whether we like it or not. Let's do a quick review of the players last season and take a look ahead after that, shall we?

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 41 548 34.3 13.4 53 5 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Davis entered the 2012 season as the most reliable receiver on the team, but that all went out the window when Michael Crabtree finally decided to come into his own and start lighting up the NFL.

While he was doing that, Davis was ... doing nothing. More accurately, he was blocking. Davis didn't go out to pass as much as he has in recent years, and didn't really come into his own until the second half of the season.

That's not because he couldn't, or anything like that, the 49ers just kept him in to block an awful lot. Pro Football Focus rated him as their No. 9 tight end in the NFL, and that's with Davis only having been targeted 56 times. For reference, Jimmy Graham, who came in at No. 10, was targeted 131 times.

In all, Davis caught 41 of those 56 targets, which is pretty darn good. Unfortunately, some of those misses were due to his reluctance when it comes to laying out for big throws. He won't dive for a pass and there's times when he doesn't even extend fully.

However, we're at that point where we take the bad with the good. Nearing the end of the season, Davis made several very clutch catches and had some big games. I'd be shocked if he didn't put up huge numbers next year.

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
16 21 344 21.5 16.4 45 3 4 28 7.0 18 0 0 0 0 0 0

I hate to say it, but Walker was just ... not great last year. He's always been that guy who creates odd mismatches, and he's always been able to produce at a pretty consistent level. But his problems with drops have gotten worse and worse.

It's a weird anomaly too, because he catches some very tough balls. He makes some pretty great sideline grabs and can make things happen when he's covered by two different guys. And yet, he'll go out there and drop wide open passes, one right after another.

It wouldn't be as big a deal if it didn't happen in just about every game. It's getting worse, and I'm not sure what the problem is.

For a positive ,Walker has really, seriously matured as a blocker. He's become insanely effective as a run blocker, and that's not just using the measuring stick of how bad he used to be at it. He's right up there with the best run blocking tight ends in the NFL, especially when he gets to pick up speed.

Pro Football Focus gave him a 10.7 rating for his run blocking, which was among the highest of all tight ends, just below Matt Spaeth in Chicago. They gave him a 2.1 for his pass blocking, which is respectable. But he earned a NEGATIVE for his pass-catching at -5.7.

Garrett Celek

Receiving Kickoff Returns Punt Returns
G Rec Yds Y/G AVG Lng TD KR YDS AVG Lng TD PR Yds Avg Lng TD
4 4 51 12.8 12.8 35 0 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

I honestly don't know how to feel about Garrett Celek. Is he a blocking tight end, or is he a receiving tight end? Does he do anything remarkably or is he average? Do the 49ers have him on the roster because Jim Harbaugh sees some big play potential or did they just need another body?

He didn't do much last season, other than a flash or two here or there. There's really not much to go on from this guy but who knows going forward?

Looking Forward

No, I didn't include Demarcus Dobbs on this list because no, he's not really a tight end. The 49ers can do that kind of thing all they want and he'll never make it onto a position review like this (unless he catches a bunch of passes or something). He had defensive stats last season, but not offensive stats.

Anyway, I really expect Davis to go back to putting up top tier numbers. The 49ers can only use him as a blocker for so long, especially with Colin Kaepernick progressing into a legitimate offensive weapon. You show me a more useful weapon on play action in the red zone and I'll be amazed. Davis is the guy.

I can't help but wonder if what Walker brings is enough to keep him in San Francisco going forward. I've long felt he can be a starter elsewhere and I legitimately believe he'll get that opportunity in 2013 and I believe he'll flourish. But his issues are jut too much for what this team does right now.

I would not be surprised if the 49ers elected to draft a tight end relatively early come April. There aren't any free agents I could see them seriously pursuing, unless they got a real good deal on one of those high potential guys like Jared Cook.