Attention-commanding rumors swirl around NFL camps this time every summer, inflating perceived player values artificially. Player X gained 20 pounds of muscle training with large boulders and baby elephants during the offseason. Player Y has become the coach's new favorite pet. And Player Z is lighter and leaner after cutting out top-shelf tequila from his diet.
Often the whispers are nothing more than misleading conjecture. But in some instances they prove prophetic.
The noise about Vernon Davis(notes) this preseason could follow the latter. An annual staple on pundit sleeper lists, the post-post-post-hype Rip Van Winkle has always possessed Zeus' body and Spencer Pratt's brain. Since entering the league as the fourth-highest drafted tight end in NFL history (sixth overall in '06), the Niners target has constantly failed to deliver. In his infamous three-year career, he's averaged a pathetic 4.2 fantasy points per game in standard leagues. Unsurprisingly, he's yet to crack the top ten in scoring at his position.
However, this year, Davis, expected to be a key component in San Fran's newly installed conservative, play-action emphasized offense, may finally end his reign of perpetual suckage.
The transition from freewheeler Mike Martz to the more submissive Jimmy Raye is a night-and-day switch, especially for Davis. Although pounding the pigskin with Frank Gore(notes) will be stressed, the tight end's role should expand. Last season, he was pressed repeatedly into box duty, developing into one of the league's finest pass blockers. His meritorious trench achievements earned him Pro Bowl accolades, but at a fantasy production cost. In 16 contests, he totaled just 49 targets (31 rec, 358 yds, 2 TDs), the 27th-best mark among tight ends.
But come February, his offensive, not necessarily his protection, skills may earn him another trip to the Pro Bowl. Raye, who as Chiefs offensive coordinator from 1998-2000 helped propel Tony Gonzalez(notes) into the pantheon of tight end greats, plans to turn the workout warrior into a playmaker:
"The way we play offensively has always been tight end friendly. I think with his speed and athleticism...I see him being a very good fit."
The veteran is freakishly athletic. Blessed with incredible strength and 4.38 40-yard speed, he's always had the talents to be a dominating force. However, his mental immaturity, a flaw he's still having difficulty overcoming, has stymied his ascension. Still, despite being banished to the locker room by Mike Singletary after drawing a personal foul penalty for slapping Seattle safety Brian Russell(notes) in the facemask a season ago, he's won over the Niners tough-loving head coach. Several times this preseason, Singletary has praised Davis for his work ethic and grasp of the offense.
With rookie diva Michael Crabtree(notes) still unsigned, the perennial bust may finally tap into his massive reservoir of potential as Shaun Hill's(notes) primary weapon. Fantasy fans who absorbed the Kyle Orton(notes) pick-fest last Saturday, may have witnessed a sneak preview of Davis' immediate future. In roughly a one-and-a-half quarters of action, he snagged two passes for 47 yards, running crisp, polished routes (Highlights here).
As we first discussed in the TE primer, the position is insanely deep this season. But of all the monolithic targets available in the deep rounds, the chiseled Niner (194.2 ADP, TE19) may finally shed his fool's gold label.
Fearless Forecast: 61 receptions, 720 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns