After catching 44 passes for 583 yards and two touchdowns across 16 games in 2016, Davis signed a three-year deal to remain with the Redskins. He will still play second fiddle to undisputed starter Jordan Reed, but Reed has missed at least two games in each of his four seasons in the league, which may continue as he's kicked off training camp on the PUP list due to a sprained toe. If so, the potential exists for Davis to hold more value than initially expected come Week 1. While Davis clearly isn't the same player he was in his prime -- he averaged just 36 yards per game and brought in only two touchdowns last season -- he was still a serviceable player in his age-33 campaign and could provide relief for owners if Reed does indeed miss time again. Davis caught 14 passes for 189 yards and a score in the four games Reed sat out last year.
A two-time Pro-Bowler at tight end, Davis was traded from the 49ers to the Broncos during November of last season, when he finished with a combined 38 catches for 395 yards in 15 games played. Although 32-year-old signed with his hometown Redskins this offseason, Davis has recorded more than 50 catches just once since 2011 and is clearly on the decline. He will compete for the second tight end role with Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen and Derek Carrier.
Davis' 2014 started well enough — he scored twice in the first quarter of Week 1. That was the extent of his highlights, though, as he never found the end zone again, averaging a mere 17.5 yards per game. He had 34 fewer targets than in his Pro Bowl season the year before, averaged a career-low 9.4 YPC and went without a catch in two games. And despite being the team's fastest receiver, he was held to 4.9 YPT, by far a career low. Ankle, knee and back injuries played a role early as he missed two games, but even when healthy he was a non-factor. He often helped block on a depleted offensive line, and Colin Kaepernick's regression in an already sparse passing attack (29th in attempts) didn't help. The oddest part of his miserable season was his non-use in the red zone. After a career-high 19 red-zone targets in 2013, Davis had one last year (in Week 1) — 59 tight ends had more. Entering his 10th season, Davis, 31, finally has a deep threat to aid his cause as the 49ers signed speedster Torrey Smith. That should give him more space underneath without a safety lurking and single coverage up the seam where he can can use his speed as still one of the league's most athletic tight ends. However, new offensive coordinator Geep Chryst was the quarterbacks coach the last four years under Jim Harbaugh, so it remains to be seen if the offense will change.
Davis rebounded from his head-scratching underuse in 2012 to tie his career high in touchdowns last season and total his most receiving yards in four years. The increased production was in part a result of the absence to Michael Crabtree, who missed 11 games to injury and was limited when he returned. Davis' 84 targets accounted for 23.6 percent of the team's, third most among tight ends. A career-high 21.4 percent of his targets (18) came beyond 20 yards, as he led the position with 16.3 yards per reception and 10.1 yards per target, finishing second to Jimmy Graham (13) with 10 catches of 25-plus yards. He also saw a career-high 19 red-zone targets (10 inside the 10-yard line) where he scored eight touchdowns (second to Graham's 11). But the Crabtree situation was a double-edged sword as Davis also became the No. 1 focus of defenses. He was held to less than 35 receiving yards in six games, totaling 12 catches for 94 yards and three scores. Add a missed Week 3 due to a hamstring injury and Davis delivered next to nothing for nearly half the season. Even if Davis loses a few touchdown opportunities this year, perhaps a healthy Crabtree will attract enough defensive attention to allow Davis more consistent weekly production. A more robust passing game from Colin Kaepernick will help too -- the 49ers were last in attempts in 2013, and Kaepernick's 58.4 completion percentage ranked 31st. The eight-year veteran has probably lost a step since posting a 4.38 40 at the NFL Combine, but Davis is still plenty fast to blow by linebackers. And at 6-3, 250, he's still a matchup problem for most defensive backs. One of the league's most athletic players and one of its most durable tight ends, Davis is still a plus option.
Davis is not only one of the league's most athletic tight ends – he's one of its most athletic players. Davis has the speed (4.38 40) of an elite wide receiver, yet he's as big and strong as a linebacker. The size and speed combination makes him an almost impossible matchup – Davis averaged 9.0 YPT, second highest among starting tight ends.
Coach Jim Harbaugh's explanation for Davis' criminal underuse during the last two regular seasons is that Davis is the primary focus for opponents. That will especially be the case this year after Michael Crabtree suffered what could be a season-ending Achilles' tendon injury in minicamp. Without Crabtree, Davis likely will see more targets, but unless defenses sell out to stop Colin Kaepernick’s read-option, Davis figures to be blanketed most games. Keep in mind, however, that Kaepernick has the arm strength to get the ball to Davis further down the field and in tighter spaces than the more conservative Alex Smith ever did.
Davis saw two more targets and caught 11 more passes last year than in 2010, yet his yardage dropped by 122, and he had one fewer touchdown. Much of the difference appears to stem from his yards after catch, which dropped from a position-high 457 in 2010 to 346 last season (7th). Perhaps defenses devoted more coverage his way. Or maybe he ran more routes to the sidelines … or maybe it was just a coincidence. It’s a bit perplexing, especially considering his 292-yard performance on 10 catches in the playoffs, which included 119 YAC. Inside the red zone, Davis’ targets dropped to nine (from 13) thanks in part to the 17 targets that went Michael Crabtree’s way. Davis is still arguably the most durable tight end in the league, playing a full 16-game slate each of the last four seasons. And he fits the definition of a “physical freak” with the complete package of size, speed and agility. But despite all his talent, keep in mind he’s never had a 1,000-yard season, which makes his ceiling somewhat limited. The 49ers’ receiving corps also figures to be the deepest Davis has seen since he entered the league, with Crabtree coming off a 72-catch season and the addition of Mario Manningham (and Randy Moss is attempting a comeback too).
It was too much to expect Davis to repeat his 130 targets from his 2009 breakout season, but even though he had 37 fewer looks his production was still impressive, more so considering San Francisco's spotty quarterback play. At 6-3, 250, Davis remains one of the league's most athletic tight ends. In fact, he might be the perfect combination of strength, size and speed for the position. Linebackers are no match for his quickness, and he’s big enough to outmuscle smaller corners and safeties. These advantages resulted in a tight-end-leading 16.3 YPC. Davis did much of the work himself, using his athleticism to make defenders miss for a position-leading 457 YAC – half of his receiving yards. He led all tight ends with 16 receptions of 20-plus yards, showing his ability to stretch the defense and make plays downfield. While Michael Crabtree (100 targets) stole some of Davis' opportunities, Davis received 13 red-zone targets for the third time in four years, helping him score seven touchdowns, fifth among tight ends. Davis is also durable, playing every game the last three seasons. Alex Smith returns at quarterback after signing a one-year deal and Davis will be a top option in the passing game, especially from in close.
Last season was a tale of two quarterbacks
for Davis, who thrived after Alex Smith took
over for Shaun Hill. Through the first five
weeks of the season playing with Hill under
center, Davis saw only one target inside the 10
yard-line and three touchdowns. Over the last
11 games with Smith at the helm, Davis was
targeted eight times inside the 10 and scored
10 touchdowns, including in six of the final
seven games. Another advantage of Smith was
his ability to get Davis the ball down field. After
catching one target of 25-plus yards from Hill,
Davis caught seven 25-plus-yard targets from
Smith, turning three of those into receptions of
40-plus yards. If you extrapolate his averages
with Smith over a 16-week season, Davis would
end up with about 70 more yards and one or
two more scores. His 13 touchdowns last year
tied Antonio Gates’ record for most touchdowns
in a season by a tight end, and his 174.5
fantasy points led all tight ends. He was one of
only three tight ends with at least 130 targets.
Davis’ athleticism is off the charts. The
fastest player on the San Francisco roster,
Davis ran a 4.38 40-yard dash as a rookie at
the NFL scouting combine, yet at 6-3, 253, he’s
still big enough to take on linebackers. Only
26, Davis will have a full offseason to practice
with Smith, which should improve their already
Davis’ production dropped off across the board in 2008 – with two less touchdowns and 21 fewer receptions than the previous season, despite playing in two more games. On a positive note, his offensive coordinator, Jimmy Raye, has publicly stated he expects Davis to be “a major part of what we do.” Davis’ talent has never been in question, as he used his athleticism to record two catches of more than 40 yards last year, the only tight end to do so. He’ll also head into the season with arguably the best quarterback he’s had in San Francisco with Shaun Hill calling the signals.
Davis has suffered through leg and knee injuries,
which limited his production during his
first two seasons. Perhaps more limiting, however,
has been the team's poor quarterback play.
Despite those obstacles, Davis managed to finish
14th with 74.9 fantasy points last season.
Davis has good size and phenomenal speed
for the position, and he should see more opportunities in 2008 as San Francisco brought in
offensive coordinator Mike Martz to invigorate
the passing game. Martz promises to use Davis
creatively – including lining him up in the slot
and out wide at times.
Davis, who missed a big chunk of last season with a broken fibula, likely will become a bigger part of the 49ers offense in 2007, especially with Eric Johnson no longer around. Even though the 49ers added Darrell Jackson to bolster their receiving corps, Davis ran inside and outside routes during May minicamp, suggesting he could line up at wideout this season. His 13.3 yards per catch last season would have been good for third at the position had his 20 catches qualified him among the league leaders. Davis had 42 targets last season, with half of those coming in the last four weeks when he was finally healthy.
Selected sixth overall in the 2006 NFL draft, Davis will compete with Eric Johnson for the starting tight end job, and both likely will have value. At rookie mini-camps, Davis split out wide in some formations and will do so during the regular season. There is little in the way of competition at wideout, so we’re likely to see both Davis and Johnson get extensive opportunities. Davis, who goes 6-3, 254 with blazing 4.38 speed, should be a very difficult matchup for opposing defenses, but the Niners’ offense as a whole needs to improve, or red zone opportunities could be few and far between.