Wide receivers are supposed to be athletic and capable of catching passes, and Vernon Davis certainly fits the bill.
The San Francisco 49ers tight end is extremely fast, and he has been catching passes throughout his career. Davis stepped up in the postseason for the 49ers, and he caught a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.
San Francisco made it to Super Bowl XLVII, and Davis was a big reason why. Receiver Michael Crabtree also played a big role, as he caught three touchdowns and accumulated 285 yards in the playoffs. However, with Crabtree injured, the 49ers need a wide receiver to step up.
Anquan Boldin, who accumulated 380 receiving yards and won the Super Bowl last season with the Baltimore Ravens, was acquired via an offseason trade. He will start at one of the two wide receiver spots, but that doesn’t solve all of the 49ers’ problems. There are lots of unproven options at the second spot.
That’s where Davis comes in.
Raw wideouts A.J. Jenkins, Ricardo Lockette and Quinton Patton have potential, but the three have combined for two NFL catches. All are extremely athletic, but none are likely to transform the offense.
Jenkins will help, and he and quarterback Colin Kaepernick should have good chemistry. However, Lockette is extremely raw and has never been a consistent producer, and Patton hasn’t progressed as the 49ers had hoped.
Neither Patton nor Lockette should make a big impact, and Jenkins won’t transform the offense. Jenkins will play a lot, and while he’ll get a plethora of chances to portray his speed and athleticism and make some catches, he won’t completely solve the 49ers’ problems.
If Patton and Lockette don’t make a big impact, the 49ers will need depth at wide receiver. According to The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Davis could be turned to for depth and experience at the position.
While Davis doesn’t have experience at receiver, he has been in the NFL for seven years. He already is a dominant pass-catcher and vertical threat, and he would be able to put those skills on display if he switched positions.
Davis is 6’3″ and weighs 250 pounds, so he can go over the middle and take hits. When he plays tight end, he goes up against linebackers, which is a complete mismatch. He can muscle his way by strong linebackers, and he can also blow by fast linebackers. Somehow, Davis has a 4.38 40-yard dash to his credit.
There are faster cornerbacks in the league, but it would be extremely hard to find someone who could stay with Davis and handle his physicality for 60 minutes. He’s a matchup nightmare for linebackers, and he has the potential to wreak havoc on corners as well.
However, just because he can get open doesn’t mean he can play wide receiver. Receivers need to have reliable hands, and Davis has reliable hands. According to The SF Gate, his drop rate has been steadily decreasing each year.
In addition, Grant Cohn of The Santa Rosa Press Democrat raved about a catch Davis made in OTAs. Davis went one-on-one with safety Darcel McBath, and he blew by McBath, accelerated on a pass that appeared to be overthrown and ran under it for a touchdown.
As a wide receiver, Davis could do that often. He and Kaepernick have developed good chemistry, as Kaepernick targeted Davis often in the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl. The two hooked up for 11 catches and 210 yards in those two games.
While Davis and Kaepernick could still hook up for completions if Davis stayed at tight end, the 49ers need more help at wide receiver. Despite losing backup tight end Delanie Walker in free agency, the 49ers are fine depth-wise. They added tight end Vance McDonald in the draft.
McDonald has done well so far, and the 267-pound tight end is poised to exceed expectations. The 49ers also have some depth at the position with Garrett Celek, DeMarcus Dobbs and others, so the tight ends could make do without Davis.
Even though the offense could be dangerous with McDonald and Davis doing something similar to what tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are doing in New England, wide receivers are more likely to catch passes than tight ends are. As a wide receiver, Davis would catch more passes.
And that would be great for the 49ers.
Boldin will catch passes as well, but he may not do as well as an outside receiver. Boldin isn’t fast or extremely athletic, and he’s a better fit as a slot receiver. he rarely drops passes, and he would be great going over the middle on underneath routes and acting as a safety valve for Kaepernick.
When Crabtree returns, the 49ers could start Davis and Crabtree outside and put Boldin in the slot with McDonald starting at tight end.
That would allow Crabtree and Boldin to play where they are most comfortable playing, and it would also allow Davis to showcase his speed as an outside receiver.
Darren Sharper and LaDainian Tomlinson of NFL Network think cornerbacks could take away Davis’ routes if he played wide receiver. However, it’s worth noting that when Crabtree returns, he will take on opponents’ top cornerback.
And that would open up a world of opportunities and mismatches for Davis.
Boldin likely won’t be guarded by top corners if Davis is playing receiver, but that doesn’t mean Davis will be shut down. He can go deep and cut into the middle of the field for a reception, and he won’t be easy to slow down on deep routes.
In other words, he can get open in a multitude of ways.
Sure, going up against linebackers and safeties is easier for Davis, but he will have more space to work with in one-on-one matchups on the outside. Davis can get open in multiple different ways, and that would benefit him as a wide receiver.
The 49ers need a replacement for Crabtree, and Davis is a perfect fit. He has the physical tools to be a dominating wideout, and he has training camp and preseason games to adapt to the position change.
McDonald and the tight ends could make do without Davis, but the wide receivers will have more trouble. Kaepernick hasn’t completed a pass in a game to Jenkins, Patton or Lockette, but he has connected with Davis 24 times. Chemistry between the two is solid, and the duo should work well together again.
And if that happens, Davis could become one of the league’s best receivers.