A top tight end: A ratings bonanza for Alex (and others)

(We interrupt this regularly scheduled lockout to offer numbers from on the field. In other words, there will be no mention of 9 billion here) …

Alex Smith isn’t often mentioned in the same breath as Peyton Manning or Philip Rivers.

But when it comes to throwing to his favorite target – tight end Vernon Davis – Smith is at least in the neighborhood of the NFL’s elite.

Last week’s blog on the passer rating of 49ers quarterbacks when targeting specific pass-catchers, I’m afraid, has become something of a blog-ject.

As our regulars here know, Smith had a 124.0 rating when targeting Davis in 2010. That, to me, was surprisingly good. I wondered what Smith’s rating was when he targeted Davis in 2009 (107.3). Then I wondered how Smith’s combined rating when targeting Davis since 2009 (114.3) compared to some of the NFL’s top quarterback-tight end duos (at some point I also wondered if I might have a chemical imbalance).

In my mind, the top quarterback-tight end duos are: Manning-Dallas Clark; Rivers-Antonio Gates and Tony Romo-Jason Witten.

So how does the Alex-Vernon connection stack up since 2009? The details are below, but they are a few ticks away from Manning-Clark, but – oh my goodness – they aren’t close to Rivers-Gates, which is evidently an impossible-to-stop combo. Romo and Witten came in a surprisingly distant fourth (maybe I should have tackled Matt Ryan-Tony Gonzalez?)

The numbers below are a reminder of how the tight end position has evolved in recent years. New-wave tight ends such as Gates, Davis and Clark present matchup migraines for defensive coordinators – too physical for cornerbacks and too elusive for many linebackers and safeties. As the numbers below suggest, they are also a ratings bonanza for their quarterbacks.

At least one tight end has been taken in the first round of the past 11 drafts (2000-2010). In the previous 11 drafts (1989-1999), a tight end wasn’t taken in the first round on five occasions.

The results:

1. Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates, 131.5 quarterback rating
2010 (10 games): 50 of 65, 782 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT (143.1)
2009 (16 games): 79 of 114, 1,157 yards, 8 TD, 2 INT (118.2)
Total (26 games): 129 of 179, 1,939 yards, 18 TD, 4 INT (131.5)
Rivers’ overall QB rating since 2009: 103.0
Rivers’ rating when not targeting Gates since 2009: 97.0
Notable: Wow. Just wow … Gates was hobbled by turf toe this past season and missed six games.

2. Peyton Manning to Dallas Clark, 114.8
2010 (6 games): 37 of 53, 346 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT (106.3)
2009 (16 games): 100 of 133, 1,106 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT (118.2)
Total (22 games): 137 of 186, 1,452 yards, 13 TD, 2 INT (114.8)
Manning’s overall QB rating since 2009: 95.6
Manning’s rating when not targeting Clark since 2009: 96.7
Notable: Clark missed 10 games in 2010 with a wrist injury.

3. Alex Smith to Vernon Davis, 114.3
2010 (11 games): 40 of 64, 588 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT (124.0)
2009 (11 games): 55 of 87, 697 yards, 10 TD, 4 INT (107.3)
Total (22 games): 95 of 151, 1,285 yards, 16 TD, 4 INT (114.3)
Smith’s overall QB rating since 2009: 81.8
Smith’s rating when not targeting Davis since 2009: 73.1
Notable: Shaun Hill’s quarterback rating when targeting Davis in his six starts in 2009: 87.2.

4. Tony Romo to Jason Witten, 88.8
2010 (6 games): 25 of 40, 283 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT (69.1)
2009 (16 games): 94 of 124, 1,030 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT (95.2)
Total (22 games): 119 of 164, 1,313 yards, 4 TD, 6 INT (88.8)
Romo’s overall QB rating since 2009: 96.8
Romo’s rating when not targeting Witten since 2009: 99.0
Notable: Romo missed 10 games in 2010 with a shoulder injury.

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