Spin Doctors: Davis-on-Davis action, Vernon vs. Fred

Brad Evans

Smith, Johnson, Bush, Manning — in the NFL many players from the same position also happen to share surnames. Tight End is no different. This year, those not willing to invest top dollar in Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham could be faced with a tough Davis vs. Davis question. With scalpels in hand, gridiron docs Brandon Funston and Brad Evans dissect the dilemma.

Funston wrangles for the West: It's not hard to figure out why Vernon Davis turned in a disappointing fantasy campaign in '11. He struggled early on with new head coach Jim Harbaugh's system. The 49ers' employed the third-worst wide receiving corps, in terms of fantasy points scored, so Davis was the obvious target to eliminate in the passing game. He dealt with a nerve impingement in his arm mid-way through the season … By the time Week 14 concluded, Davis was sitting outside the tight end top 10 in fantasy.

But then things started to click. From Week 15 through two monster playoff game efforts (including an instant classic 7/180/2 line in a stunning victory over the Saints), Davis scored five touchdowns and averaged 107 yards over a five-game span. He again looked every bit the lethal weapon that finished as the No. 1 fantasy tight end in '09 and the No. 3 tight end in '10.

According to Harbaugh, Davis has carried that end-of-season momentum into '12. Says Harbaugh:

"Vernon Davis is having an outstanding offseason. Every day, just getting better at route-running; every facet of the tight end position, he's really excelling in that right now."

No offense to Fred Davis, an unquestionable rising star at the position. But VD is at a ripe time in his career, a perfect blend of athleticism and experience. And the 49ers have gone out of their way in the offseason to bring in more aerial support (Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, A.J. Jenkins, LaMichael James). If defenses want to focus on Davis this year, the 49ers can make them pay.

[Around the NFL: Giants' Brandon Jacobs repays young fan $3.36, takes him to bounce house]

The 49ers have created a fertile environment for Davis in '12. And we know that his upside is that of a top 3 fantasy tight end when things are clicking. As for Washington's Davis, without a top 10 TE finish on his resume, you still have to use the word "potential" to argue his side. In which, case, I'll go with the guy who has already "been there and done that."

Evans stumps for the East:

The general argument here is that overreaching for Gronk or Graham is a harebrained exercise. Because tight ends have become invaluable offensive fixtures in playbooks and schemes throughout the league, it's silly to sink a late-first or second-round pick in the position. It's as deep as it's ever been. Some 50-plus selections later owners can unearth a sure-handed, completely reliable player that will exceed even their wildest expectations.

This season, Fred Davis is that guy.

Overshadowed by the elite, the 'Skin experienced a breakout season of sorts last year. After showing flashes of potential in 2010, Davis elevated his game, developing into one of Rex Grossman's most reliable weapons across the middle.

He may not be as freakish in size/speed as Vernon, but he's a highly intelligent and adept route runner who consistently exploits soft spots in zone coverage. He's also a tough cookie to bring down. His 6.2 yards after catch per reception dwarfed Vernon (5.0) and ranked third among TEs with at least 750 snaps. Most importantly for this exercise, Fred was considerably better on a points per game basis besting his counterpart 7.3 to 5.9 in standard formats.

With the addition of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, the enlarged target definitely has more competition for looks. But as any scout or coach will tell you, a dependable tight end is the ultimate safety valve for any young, inexperienced quarterback. Robert Griffin III should instantly forge an unbreakable bond. And if the Heisman winner's remarkable accuracy translates, Fred could match his jersey number in total receptions. Recall he posted just a 70.2 catch percentage last year. Going from Grossman to Griffin is a night and day difference.  A 80-1000-6 prediction isn't asinine.

Vernon is an incredibly talented tight end, but his situation isn't nearly as ripe. Comparatively, the Niners offense is quite conservative. Plus there are more mouths to feed now with Manningham, Moss and Jenkins in the fold. And let's not forget Alex Smith is no Joe Montana. More discouragingly, Vernon is a bit overpriced at his current 61.1 ADP. Fred, going some 20 picks later (83.1 ADP), is the cheaper, more viable option.

This year, let someone else catch V.D.

Fred will be fab in 2012.

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