32 Questions: Is Vernon Davis the next great tight end?
Thirty-two teams, 32 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NFL team. Be sure to check out all 32 questions.
The undeniable answer to the preceding question is absolutely, positively and without question, probably. But here's the kicker: For this year, you shouldn't care. I can understand why people are excited about the physical freak that is known as Vernon Davis. In the seven games last season in which he caught a pass, Davis tallied 20 receptions and hauled in three touchdowns. In the "upside, upside, upside" world of fantasy football, we always look for the next difference maker, and many believe that because of his ridiculous physical gifts, Davis will deliver for their fantasy squads. Are these expectations fair? Yes and no.
The key to effective evaluation is the ability to see past the prejudices we develop from the first impression. Most people believe and are so confident in their ability to judge that they never really re-evaluate a situation or person. Instead, they look for instances to back up their first impression rather than looking to see if that impression was actually correct. If you are like most people, you are impressed with Davis' ridiculous physical gifts. Heck, no one gets selected as one of the top picks of the NFL draft without having ridiculous athletic gifts. (Yes, this even includes Ryan Leaf.)
Last preseason, many owners clamored over Benjamin Watson from New England as their sleeper tight end. Why? Because he had all the metrics, and their first impression was of him was during the previous year's playoffs when he sprinted the length of the field, chasing down a defensive back in an effort to prevent a touchdown. What's the old expression? Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.
Unless you are from Maryland or such a big fan of ACC football that you actually watched the Terps play, your first introduction to Davis likely was ESPN's Mel Kiper telling you how ridiculously gifted this young man is; then ESPN's Chris Berman called for some tape, and you saw firsthand how big, fast and athletic he is.
Your first impression was born; this kid is going to be a stud. When Davis finished last season by posting 13 catches for 192 yards and two scores in his last four games, it reinforced that impression. Many are taking those numbers and prorating them to a full season, which results in projecting Davis as a top-three tight end. Why? Why is it fair to prorate those four games and not the other three? If you prorated those games, he'd project to reach only 368 yards and five scores. Can we say mediocre?
So what's a fair expectation? Obviously, using just the good and just the bad isn't fair. Rather, let's use the good as a baseline and then discount it by a percentage to account for all the unknowns. Projecting those good numbers over a complete season returns just fewer than 800 yards and eight touchdowns. Let's reduce that projection by 15 percent, which could also account for San Francisco playing a tougher schedule, the uncertainty surrounding just how good (great?) starting quarterback Alex Smith can be and yet another new offensive coordinator for the Niners. This new projection returns 666 yards and seven celebration dances in the end zone. Using this as a guide, it's reasonable to expect 108 fantasy points from Davis this season.
Last season, Antonio Gates, Alge Crumpler, Tony Gonzalez, Todd Heap and Chris Cooley all scored more than 108 fantasy points. Cooley, currently owns the lowest average draft position of the bunch, sits at 79th overall. Davis currently sits at 80th overall. Who would you rather have? Fantasy drafts are about maximizing the value of your selections. If you select Cooley, you get a reliable veteran who has produced at this level before with no real question marks surrounding him. If you select Davis, you hope to return the value of your pick. To me, it's a no-brainer: I take Cooley.
We need to get past our own prejudices that we developed during our formation of our first impression on Davis and really look at the full picture. Yes, Davis has superb physical ability, but he has many questions around him. Having good metrics -- speed, height, size, hands -- is not enough to ensure a solid season. If it were, you'd see Matt Jones being drafted as one of the top wide receivers. It's all about opportunity and production, neither of which you can be sure to expect from Davis.
Long term, does Davis have the skill set to be the No. 1 tight end in football? Absolutely. Is it possible that he makes a jump this season? Yes. Is it probable? I don't think so. Generally, players grow into production, but a jump to No. 1 would be a major growth spurt into production. In year-to-year redraft leagues, Davis is a viable starter at tight end; just don't expect him to be elite. Yet.
Ken Daube is a senior columnist for TalentedMrRoto.com and a fantasy football expert for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him at KenDaube@TalentedMrRoto.com.
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