Posted: 5:00 p.m. Saturday, July 27, 2013
By DuckNeck Merton
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)
The award for the tight end with the most sleeper hype goes to (insert drum roll followed by pyrotechnics) Dennis Pitta. It's easy to see why so many fantasy fans are on the Pitta bandwagon. He pulled in 61 receptions and 7 TDs in 2012 and with Boldin out of the picture he should fill in as Flacco's go to guy. There isn't much separating Davis and Pitta from a fantasy perspective. What makes Pitta a slightly more attractive option is that he is being drafted a full round and a half after Davis. Drafting is all about finding value and I'd rather take Pitta in the 7th than Davis in the 5th. You won't be disappointed with either guy this year, but tight end is deep and even once you get past the Graham. Use those one or two picks in between on a wide receiver like Antonio Brown or snag a QB like Matt Stafford or some dude named Kaepernick. Vernon will have a slightly better fantasy year, but Pitta should be in the same neighborhood of production and he will come cheaper.
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)
4. Tony Gonzalez ( 70 receptions, 525 yards, 7 TD)
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?