Before the 2006 NFL Combine, there weren’t many that had heard of the athletic tight end of Maryland that would eventually become one of the hottest names in the draft that year. After Vernon Davis’ performance at the Combine, he shot up the draft charts and landed with the 49ers with the sixth overall pick that year.
Davis ran a blazing 4.38 40-yard dash and all of his workouts were a sight to behold. Davis lived up to the hype and has been one of the league’s best and most dynamic tight ends ever since. Since 2009, Davis leads all NFL tight ends with 48 touchdowns. Falcons head coach Mike Smith said Davis’ speed is what separates him from some of the other great young tight ends in the league.
“I think he has a little different skill set in that he is a burner,” Smith said. “He can really run fast. I can remember watching him at the combine run his 40. He turned a lot of heads. It was one of those where you saw everyone taking the watch, turning and going ‘I got this, did you get that?’ so he is a very fast tight end.”
If Falcons fans didn’t know who Vernon Davis was after his first few years in the league, they got to know him last season in the NFC Championship Game. Davis paced the 49ers with big plays and led the team with 106 yards on five catches with one score. The Falcons struggled defending tight ends last season and Davis and the 49ers exploited that weakness. On Monday night, the game plan against the Falcons will likely be very similar.
With wide receiver Michael Crabtree out, the 49ers offense has been a little less productive this year. They’ve continued to win behind the strong run game led by Frank Gore and the outstanding season Davis is putting together. Davis is on pace to break some of his single-season career highs. He’s currently at 12 touchdowns along with 805 yards. Davis is averaging 16.4 yards per catch this season and is a big play waiting to happen.
Against the Falcons last year in the playoffs, Davis accounted for three of the 49ers’ five most explosive plays. Davis caught passes of 31, 27 and 25 yards. He’s scored seven of his touchdowns this season inside the red zone, but he’s a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
“He can do it from everywhere,” Smith said. “He’s got great speed. He is one of the fastest tight ends in the NFL… When we played them last year in the playoff game, he was a guy that had a lot of production. We’ve got to have a plan to try to eliminate his opportunities.”
The 49ers have welcomed back Crabtree and he scored his first touchdown last week. He’s a player the Falcons will have to be on the lookout for, but Davis has been the difference maker this entire season. He’s got 10 of his touchdowns in his past 11 games and against the Falcons, he’ll be looking for his sixth straight game with a score.
With his history against the Falcons, expect the 49ers to get Davis involved early and often and the Falcons, specifically their linebackers, will have to be ready to slow down one of the fastest tight ends in the league.