Each week leading up to the regular season I will examine the 49er's fantasy value at the major positions. Last week, we discussed Gore as an RB2. This week, we take a look at where Vernon Davis stacks up against the competition.
There may not be a more frustrating position in fantasy football than tight end. After you get past Jimmy Graham there are a ton of question marks. Rob Gronkowski is healing from offseason surgeries to his back and forearm, leaving his week 1 availability is in question. Even if he misses a week or two, Gronk is far more consistent than the other tight ends being drafted in later rounds. One of those ends is our very own Vernon Davis.
After an excellent start in 2012, Davis' fantasy value fell off a cliff hitting every branch of the ugly tree on the way down. Niner fans may forgive this considering his efforts in the postseason, but fantasy gamers have a long memory. One bright spot is that the playoffs proved Vernon and Colin Kaepernick can connect consistently and with success. The chemistry between the two undeniably grew in the postseason and that gives me reason to believe Vernon can regain his 2009/2010 form this year.
There are plenty of reasons to expect a much better year from #85. First, there is the obvious increase in targets given Michael Crabtree's injury. Second, the defense is being retooled. If that side of the ball can't get opposing offenses off the field you'll be seeing more vertical attacks from the 49ers. Finally, Kaepernick's ability to throw an accurate long ball gives Vernon more opportunities for TDs and yards by the boatload.
Currently, Davis is usually ranked as the fourth best tight end and has an average draft position (ADP) of 64. That's early in the fifth round for standard 12 team leagues. If you miss out on Gronk or Graham your best choices are Vernon, Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez and Dennis Pitta. Here is how I stack Davis up against this crowd.
Davis (ADP 64) vs. Jason Witten (ADP 59)
Witten didn't give owners much to complain about in 2012, especially in points per reception (PPR) formats. The Cowboy led all tight ends in yardage while he set the single season reception record for his position. The only disappointment was his relatively low 3 TD catches on the season. Out of the tight ends I will discuss Witten has the best chemistry with his QB. However, Dez Bryant has finally arrived, Romo rarely looks for Witten in the end zone and the coaching staff has been vocal about increasing the run. Witten won't duplicate his receptions or yardage, but his consistency make him a better weekly start than Davis this year.
Davis (64) vs. Dennis Pitta (79)
Editor's Note: Pitta went down with a dislocated hip today, and is expected to miss at least the season opener. This obviously lowers his value a good deal.
Duckneck Merton Note: Unfortunately, Pitta is now being reported as missing the entire year with a dislocated hip. This is a tough blow to the Ravens and Ed Dickson enters the fold. Put him on you watch list and be ready to pounce if he show early success.
Davis (64) vs. Tony Gonzalez (68)
In some secret vault deep underneath the earth's surface there is a painting of an old and decrepit Tony Gonzalez. Until he is forced to look at this painting Gonzalez will be immortal. Hyperbole perhaps, but Gonzalez is a solid bet in fantasy even if he has lost a step. Atlanta's tight end still has hands and a nose for the end zone (93 receptions 8 TDs in 2012), but his wheels don't have much tread left to burn (2.8 yards after the catch average). Tony got it done with both Roddy White and Julio Jones getting their share, but can he still get his targets with Steven Jackson catching passes out of the backfield? Perhaps but it won't be to the tune of another 90+ receptions season. Davis and Gonzalez are only separated by 4 picks. If both are available when I need a tight end I'd go with Vernon. #85 should be the number 1 passing option with Crabtree out the first few months. The Falcons have plenty of mouths to feed on offense and I prefer a tight end that can make moves after the catch.
Here is how I rank the four after Jimmy Graham and Gronk are selected. I forecast their 2013 stats in parenthesis:
1. Jason Witten (90 receptions, 920 yards, 4 TD)
2. Vernon Davis (75 receptions, 750 yards, 7 TD)
3. Dennis Pitta (70 receptions, 700 yards, 6 TD)
3. Tony Gonzalez ( 70 receptions, 525 yards, 7 TD)
The news on Dennis Pitta isn't good, as he may miss the entire year. So I now feel obligated to speak about the 3 sleepers behind him:
Kyle Rudolph (88)
You love the 9 TDs, but you should be worried about the 53 receptions. That sort of ratio doesn't spell consistency going into 2013. I'll pick him up after round 7 if I'm still looking for a TE.
Jared Cook (107)
All the tools for success except a QB and a coordinator willing to give him the touches. He reconnects with Jeff Fischer in St. Louis this year and gets a significant QB upgrade. This could be his year, but I'm done being early to this party. Potential is lovely, but it's show me time. I'l draft him only after I've got my WR3 and RB2.
Jermichael Finley (111)
As soon as I saw the Dennis Pitta injury news hit Twitter I looked out my window and saw Jermichael Finley step from behind a tree. He held a boombox above his head as this song played. I've been burned by Jermichael in the past and I can't see myself drafting him this year. He has perhaps the best QB in the league, but that doesn't do you much good when he drops every other pass. Early training camp reports paint a pretty picture and Greg Jennings is no longer a factor. He won't be on my team, but he should return decent value if you draft him round 10 or 11.
With Alex Smith in KC, we should see more deep passes in the San Francisco offense. The two best deep receivers on the roster are Davis and Kyle Williams (welcome back Kyle!). Vernon has everything he needs to be a top 3 fantasy options this year. More targets and more time with Kaepernick will result in one of his best years in the league. A 75 reception, 750 yard 8 TD campaign is a high ceiling but completely achievable.
If you miss out on Graham and Gronk what tight end are you targeting in your draft?