Bust? Nah, Davis among 49ers’ best offensive players

Are the 49ers getting from Vernon Davis what they expected when they selected him with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2006 draft?

No. They surely expected him to be an immediate sensation as a pass-catcher, unleashing his freakish size and speed to become a big-play threat from anywhere on the field.


Does that mean Davis is a bust? No.


Bust has many connotations. One is that a player — such as Davis who received a guaranteed $9.36 million option bonus and a $1.885 roster bonus as a rookie – got the money and then stopped working.


Davis does not fit that description. He is a hard worker. In fact, the craft he has mastered (blocking) requires a lot more hard work and attitude than running down the field and catching passes. Blocking is a thankless job for tight ends, yet Davis is very good at it.


Davis was asked yesterday, facetiously, about putting on 50 pounds and becoming a left tackle. (At least, I think it was facetious; I wasn’t there yesterday, so I didn’t hear the tone of the question.)


“If I put on 50 pounds and be a tackle, I’d probably be the best tackle that every lived,” Davis laughed.


And, you know what? He’s probably right.


Davis has just five catches on the season. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz keeps saying Davis is close to becoming a big factor in the passing game. Maybe he already is. After all, he is a monster in pass protection. He is capable of handling opposing defensive ends one on one. He might even be better than tackles Joe Staley and Barry Sims in that regard.


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By my count, he was on the field for 51 pass plays the past two weeks (Davis comes out in four-receiver sets, replaced by Josh Morgan). Davis remained in to block 24 times and went out on a pass route 27 times. Roughly half the time, the 49ers called a pass play with Davis on the field he was used as a sixth pass-protector.


He was the target of only two passes in those games. On both of those, he started out as a blocker, then released into the flat. He caught one of those passes and turned it into a 19-yard gain; he dropped the other pass several yards behind the line of scrimmage.


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Martz also cited one of the early plays in last week’s game in which Delanie Walker was wide open on a shallow right-to-left crossing route. On that play, two defenders were on Davis on the right side of the field.


“They were running like crazy trying to catch (Vernon), and so, even though he may not be getting the ball, he’s a huge factor in what we do,” Martz said. “If somebody goes to sleep on him, he’s going to make a big play.”


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Davis probably won’t approach the numbers he put up last season in Jim Hostler’s offense.


Davis caught 52 passes for 509 yards and four touchdowns. The 49ers would like to get the ball deep to Davis. But in order for them to get the ball deep, quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan needs the pass protection that only Davis can give him.


I’ve mentioned in the past that Davis‘ offensive production is a major disappointment. But here’s a thought: Behind Frank Gore, Davis might be the 49ers’ best offensive player, as far as fulfilling his assignments.


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Here are the statistics for the top pass-catching tight ends in Mike Martz’s offenses with the Rams and Lions:


1999, Rams: Roland Williams 25 catches, 226 yards, 6 TDs

2000, Rams: Williams 11-102-3

2001, Rams: Ernie Conwell 38-431-4

2002, Rams: Conwell 34-419-2

2003, Rams: Brandon Manumaleuna 29-238-2

2004, Rams: Manumaleuna 15-174-1

2005, Rams: Manumaleuna 13-129-1

2006, Lions: Dan Campbell 21-308-4

2007, Lions: Sean McHugh 17-252-0

2008, 49ers: Currently on pace for – Vernon Davis 16-278-0, Delanie Walker 16-234-3.

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Catching up: Former 49ers fullback Moran Norris signed with the Lions yesterday. He was among the 49ers’ final cuts before the start of the regular season.


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