With the NFL Scouting Combine in the books and the NFL Draft on its way, the fantasy buzz around NFL prospects and upcoming rookie drafts is reaching its annual high. As good dynasty owners (which you probably are since you are reading articles in the offseason) we should be looking to identify value opportunities. It’s at this time of the year many veteran players are being overlooked and forgotten by owners in pursuit of shiny, young, new toys.
This series will identify some of those undervalued veterans who can be acquired cheaply and may prove invaluable to a contending team’s roster. Philip Rivers, Larry Fitzgerald, and Jason Witten were all offseason steals, who may have been on championship rosters last season. Hopefully, you can get ahead of the curve and identify some of those players early.
A LOOK AT VERNON DAVIS
The first player I’ll be examining as veteran value is Washington Redskins’ Tight End, Vernon Davis. I’m aware that going out and acquiring a 34-year-old tight end isn’t the most exciting piece of dynasty advice you’ll read this offseason. But hear me out, and hopefully, you will be as excited as I am for Grandpa Vern this season.
Over the last two seasons, Vernon Davis has enjoyed a bit of a career renaissance. There was a brief downturn in production during his stint in Denver following a trade in 2015 from the Niners. While it was one of the least productive seasons in his long career, it did result in a Superbowl ring. So that was a lovely parting gift for Gramps.
As a free agent, Davis signed a 1-year “prove it” deal. And boy did he prove it. Despite playing second fiddle to Jordan Reed for most of the season, he stepped up when Reed inevitably went down with an injury (more on that later). Weeks 6 through 8, Davis scored as the TE4 in points-per-reception (PPR) scoring per FantasyPros. On the season, Davis racked up 583 yards on 44 catches- plus a couple of touchdowns, which was enough to get himself a 3-year contract extension in Washington.
In 2017, the aforementioned Jordan Reed managed to suit up for just 6 regular season games, and in 1 of those contests, he only pulled in a single catch before leaving after re-aggravating an injury. Davis stepped in and finished the season with 648 yards on 43 receptions with 3 touchdowns. That was good for TE16 overall on the season, but from week 8 onwards when Reed was a non-factor, Davis was the TE11.
THE DAVIS-SMITH CONNECTION
So now you’re probably thinking “Davis did fine, but he didn’t set the world on fire. Now that he’s a year older, why should I go out and get him?” Here’s why- Alex Smith. Smith and Davis have a connection from their time in San Francisco. Let’s take a look at their game splits courtesy of RotoViz between 2006 (the year Davis was drafted) and 2012 (Smith’s last season in San Francisco).
Smith and Davis played in 62 games together for the 49ers. If you were to average Davis’ production over a 16 game stretch with Smith as his quarterback, it would equate to 187 PPR points. That would have ranked Davis as the TE4 in 2017, the TE6 in 2016, and the TE9 in 2015. While this is a theoretical 16 game stretch, it highlights that Smith and Davis have a history of production when playing together.
This past performance is all well and good, but what does it mean for 2018? Am I predicting a top 10 TE season from Davis this year? Probably not. But for a position that doesn’t depend on the athleticism of youth for production (Jason Witten and Ben Watson were both top 11 fantasy tight ends last season), Davis still has plenty to offer and might find Alex Smith looking his way as he learns a new system in Washington. It also helps that Alex Smith is arguably playing the best football of his career, and was in the early season MVP discussion last season.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT JORDAN REED
I know you’re thinking, “What about Jordan Reed?” It’s almost inevitable that Davis will have a feature role at some point this season, given Reed’s inability to stay healthy. He is yet to play a full 16 game season in the NFL and has suffered at least 5 concussions over his football career. While it’s never pleasant to think about players suffering through significant injuries, it’s a reality, and unfortunately for Reed, it is more likely than not he will miss time at some point. You can see a laundry list of his career injuries here. It’s worrisome reading, and any additional significant injuries may leave Reed contemplating his future in football. Sports Injury Predictor visualizes the number and location of the injuries Reed has suffered:
In a position where the drop off from the elite tier is steep, Davis could realistically find himself as a TE1 at the end of this season, or at least a regular TE2 in 2-Tight End leagues. Following the failed Terrelle Pryor experiment, Josh Doctson’s slow development, Reed’s health, and Jamison Crowder’s touchdown regression following his 2016 breakout season, Washington isn’t exactly flush with receiving options. The addition of Paul Richardson should help their offense, but with over 100 targets up for grabs following the departures of Ryan Grant and Pryor, I don’t expect Richardson’s arrival to impact TE volume.
Even if Reed stays healthy – and that is a big if – there is also the opportunity for Davis and Reed to both be on the field at the same time. Over the past two seasons, Washington has run ‘12’ personnel the 11th most out of all NFL teams and has done so with a measure of success. Thanks to the team over at Sharp Football Stats we can see the breakdown of Washington’s 2TE sets.
Why take a chance on Davis if you’re a contender? He’s cheap. In DFF’s February ADP mock drafts, he’s been going undrafted. Davis probably on your on your waiver wire just waiting to find a home. I was recently able to trade for him in a TE premium league (start 2, 1.5PPR) for Danny Amendola after his playoff heroics. Danny, I love ya, but you barely have any dynasty value.
As the adage goes, Father Time is undefeated. But Vernon Davis is putting up one hell of a fight in the championship rounds.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Veteran Values. In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter at @FF_DownUnder.