Here at Niners Nation, we're presenting a series called "90-in-90". We'll be looking at every player on the 49ers offseason roster, one player per post, from now until the start of training camp.
This week has focused on which wide receivers will replace Michael Crabtree's production, but one guy that has not been mentioned too frequently is tight end Vernon Davis. I think everybody gets that he needs to step up even more, but it is easy to overlook him nonetheless.
The 49ers passing offense took a step forward with the big arm of Colin Kaepernick, but Vernon Davis struggled with consistency playing with the young quarterback. He had a big game against the Bears in Kap's starting debut, hauling in six receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown. This led to him proclaiming his joy and mentioning how he felt like the handcuffs had been removed.
Of course, after that big performance, Davis finished the regular season with an additional six receptions for 61 yards in six games. Davis remained a strong blocker, but he could not seem to get going and was a little bit frustrated. He remained a good team player, but the frustration was there.
Davis opened the playoffs with one reception for 44 yards against the Packers, and it seemed like more of the same. Then things took a turn. In the NFC Championship Game against the Falcons, Davis had five receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown. He followed that up with six receptions for 104 yards in the Super Bowl. Against the Falcons, Crabtree had six receptions for 57 yards. Against the Ravens, Crabtree had five receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown. The 49ers did not mix up their passing attack too much in the Super Bowl, but it was quite effective at times.
Why he could improve in 2013
Davis was the team's leading receiver in 2009 and 2010, before slipping behind Michael Crabtree each of the last two seasons. I honestly expected bigger numbers from him given Jim Harbaugh's use of tight ends at Stanford, but this is showing us that you can't label the Harbaugh/Roman offense as one particular brand of offense. Davis remained an effective blocker, but only had 41 receptions for 548 yards on the season.
Even if Crabtree had remained healthy, I think Davis would have had an improve 2013. With Crabtree out, Davis becomes the team's most dynamic weapon. The 49ers have quite a few weapons, but I don't think any combine the size and speed of Vernon Davis. LaMichael James is wildly athletic, but when Davis is in the zone, he can be pretty close to unstoppable.
I think a full offseason working with Colin Kaepernick, knowing what he knows after ten games with Kap at the helm, will allow for improvement. Obviously there is no guarantee, but I think Davis has a chance to become a big weapon for Kap.
Why he could regress in 2013
The 49ers have a lot of unknowns on offense now that Crabtree is a scratch. If Davis is not able to break back through in 2013, I honestly think the only reason is because one of the other receivers has stepped up in a big way. I find it hard to think Davis doesn't show improvement in his second season with Kap. Does anybody think I'm missing anything?
Odds of making the roster
For this section of Vernon Davis' 90-in-90, let's focus a little more on Vance McDonald. The 49ers rookie tight end is dynamic in his own right, but plenty rough around the edges. The 49ers used a lot of two and three tight end sets last season. If they continue with that, McDonald could see a lot of time on the field. It will be interesting to see if and how he emerges opposite Vernon Davis. I don't think it drastically impacts Davis, but maybe he takes a big step forward.