San Francisco 49ers

49ers key player No. 2 was a “bust,” then really good for years, then awful in 2014

This is part of an ongoing series where I’ll take a look at 10 players the 49ers hope will play much better than ever before … or at least better than last year. The latter is a better way to describe the second player on my list …

Vernon Davis SF 49ers

Vernon Davis

It’s pretty rare for a guy in his 30s to fall off the way Davis did in 2014 and revitalize his career a year later. And Davis was truly horrible last season. He either couldn’t or wouldn’t block. He had SIX drops on just 47 targets.

Davis caught 26 passes for 245 yards and didn’t reach the end zone after Week 1.

Delanie Walker caught 63 balls for 890 yards, and his quarterbacks were Charlie Whitehurst, Zach Mettenberger and Jake Locker.

To be fair, Davis has suffered two known concussions — a particularly brutal one up in Seattle in 2012, and another in 2013 (which is why it wouldn’t be all that surprising if he decided to follow in the footsteps of Chris Borland, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Anthony Davis). If Captain Torpedo feels well enough to go for 900 yards and double-digit touchdowns, the team will gain an enormous amount of confidence. If he starts blocking again like he used to, all the better. If he’s still a dud, the 49ers will be forced to turn to Vance McDonald, Derek Carrier and/or one of their rookie tight ends — Blake Bell or Busta Anderson. OK, sorry Garrett Celek, you’ll get a mention here too.

Vernon Davis 49ersOne look at the depth chart shows they’re (1) half-expecting the worst for Davis, (2) have no plans to re-sign him next year, or (3) both — which is most likely. It’s almost hard to believe, but the 49ers have EIGHT tight ends going into camp. This, on a roster with seven halfbacks and fullbacks combined.

Trent Baalke may be hoping for a bounce-back year from Davis, but he surely isn’t banking on it. The current roster configuration also isn’t a good sign for McDonald, whose granite-like hands and injury problems have kept him from being anything other than an afterthought heading into 2015. McDonald has shaped himself into a very nice blocking tight end, but that’s not what teams are looking for in the second round.

Even though Davis was a complete zero after Week 1, the 49ers don’t have an offensive player who creates matchup nightmares like he can (or could). Who knows, maybe Baalke was convinced that Davis isn’t done as a field-stretcher with that 63-yard touchdown pass against the Chargers that was nullified due to a chop block penalty on Frank Gore (Anthony Davis was also flagged for illegal formation on the play).

After holding out last year and playing as if he either lost a lot of passion for football or was in a mental fog that lasted most of the season, Davis has said all the right things since Jim Tomsula took over.

On Tomsula:

On Colin Kaepernick:

“When I saw him yesterday, I didn’t even know that was Colin,” Davis said Friday after the final day of the first week of the 49ers’ offseason program. “Seriously, he was working on his drop-back. ‘Who was that?’ You guys are in for a treat. He looks like a totally different guy.”

Davis is a guy who — let’s see, how can I put this delicately — well, he kind of just says stuff. So we’ll see if his actions match his enthusiasm once the season starts. It is a contract year for the 31-year-old, and the 49ers certainly hope Davis is back from his one-year hiatus, because just like the player I wrote about yesterday, if he plays well enough to be considered a top-10 player at his position, the offense suddenly looks a lot better.

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More keys to the 2015 season (10-part series)

Part 1: Carlos Hyde

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