Vernon Davis had a national coming-out party of sorts in his spectacular playoff performance last season against the New Orleans Saints.
The 49ers’ tight end not only had what he called “The Grab” – his late game-winning touchdown catch in San Francisco’s 36-32 victory – but caught seven passes overall for 180 yards and two touchdowns, including a 49-yard catch-and-run completion from Alex Smith.
Of course, it wasn’t as if Davis hadn’t been any good before that game. The Pro Bowler has been terrific since coming out of Maryland in 2006 and – counting 2011 – has had four seasons of 50 or more catches.
But Davis’ starring role in his first playoff performance seems to have launched him into a new stratosphere, a level where he’s now being noticed by the rest of the league.
Davis, three games into his 2012 season, already has 13 catches for 169 yards and four touchdowns, a total that ties him with the Steelers’ Heath Miller for most TDs by a tight end this season.
And, as the 49ers prepare to face the Jets this Sunday in New Jersey – and rebound from their first loss of the season, this past Sunday in Minnesota – Jets coach Rex Ryan is pumping up Davis as the best tight end in the NFL.
“If you’re not looking at Vernon Davis, what, are you kidding me?” Ryan told the New York Post Wednesday. “The guy runs a 4.3 (40-yard dash), the best tight end, the No. 1 tight end in football, in my opinion. You got that Gronkowski kid (Rob, with the Patriots), but this guy is a 4.3 speed guy.”
Davis has long had a good rapport with his quarterback, Alex Smith, and the two are clicking again this season. Davis is No. 2 on the team in catches (13, behind Michael Crabtree’s 19) and receiving yards (169 to Crabtree’s 183) and is No. 1 in TDs and yards-per catch (13.0) for players with more than one reception.
Davis opened the season with a TD vs. the Packers, added two more against the Lions and scored last week against the Vikings.
As the 49ers practice in Ohio this week, Davis told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group that he’s just trying to keep his approach simple.
“I just let it come, and I try to envision myself scoring,” he said.
Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh acknowledges his tight end is one of the best in the game not only for his receiving talents, but his blocking ability. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder is an exceptional, every-play run blocker who also has the speed to get open and deep.
“The proof is there,” said Harbaugh Wednesday, pointing to Davis’ long history of success.
With additional firepower added to the wide receiver position this offseason – Randy Moss and Mario Manningham – defenses haven’t had the luxury of just focusing on shutting down Davis.
Still, the former Maryland star continues to do what he’s been doing since he came into the league: make catches and score touchdowns.
Now he’s just getting a bit more credit for it.