When University of Maryland TE Vernon Davis decided to forego his senior year, hire an agent and enter the 2006 National Football League Draft, he became the consensus No. 1 at his position. The 2005 Associated Press first-team All-America led the Atlantic Coast Conference (and was second in the nation among tight ends) in receiving yards with 871 during the regular season. He also finished fourth in the conference with 17.1 yards per catch, tied for third with six receiving touchdowns and tied for fourth with 51 receptions.
In 2002 and 2003 Davis was a highly regarded recruit out of Washington, D.C.'s Dunbar High School, where he was a 6-3, 220-pounder who had run the 40 in the low 4.5s. Several schools recruited him, but not all of them wanted to use him as a pass-catcher; some colleges wanted to put his size and skills at use at defensive end or linebacker. Davis obviously wanted to play on the offensive side of the ball. Scouting services considered him the top D.C.-area prospect as well as a top-five player at tight end and an overall top-100 recruit.
Davis ended up at Maryland, where he played more than any other true freshman in '03, playing in all 13 contests, mostly on special teams, and catching five passes for 59 yards. In '04 he played in 11 of the Terrapins' 12 games, including six starts, when he filled the role of H-back and had what coaches saw as his breakout campaign. He had 27 receptions, led the team in receiving yards (441) and touchdown catches (three). All of his scores came in one game, the team's fourth of the season, in which he notched his first career 100-yard effort; he achieved that feat once more and finished one yard short of doing so a third time.
Already a gifted athlete, he was now learning to develop his understanding of the game and the offense. He entered '05 with the second highest strength index on the squad and even higher expectations. Davis didn't disappoint, rolling up 100 yards or more in four games and snagging four passes or more in all but two contests. In Game 2 he hauled in six passes for 140 yards and a score; he followed that with five catches, 158 yards with a touchdown. In Maryland's 10th game, he grabbed seven balls for 139 yards and a score. He punctuated his college career with eight catches for 108 yards and a touchdown in Maryland's final game of the season. That put the finishing touches on a spectacular coming-out party of a season in which he was a John Mackey award (nation's top tight end) finalist after a career marked by athletic leaps, grabs and feats like hurdling and splitting defenders.
The 22-year-old is currently working out in Arizona in preparation for the NFL combine and his March 17 Pro Day.
Working most in Davis' favor is that he carries the "athlete" tag, usually hearing words like "amazing," "incredible" and "unbelievable" precede it. Scouts note that he has exceptional hands. His speed (officially a 4.58 in the 40, although in an '05 spring practice he reportedly ran it in 4.41 seconds) allows him to escape from defenders, get downfield, make big plays and run after the catch. He's also extremely strong (he holds virtually all of the strength records for Terrapins tight ends) and a great leaper (40-inch vertical jump). He gets off the line of scrimmage very well. Davis' combination of raw physical abilities makes him a match-up nightmare, but he also knows how to get open and, because he occasionally lined up at fullback as well as wide receiver, he's very versatile. He has a reputation as a hard worker and showed improvement in each season; scouts believe he still has loads of untapped potential.
At 6-3, 253 pounds, Davis doesn't possess what scouts deem ideal height for his position (he's one of the shortest tight ends in the draft). Although he has improved, the Maryland product is not very accomplished as a blocker.
He sometimes plays as more of a wide receiver than a tight end. He's not quite as comfortable running the short-to-intermediate routes. Many view him as a raw player who needs to better grasp the subtle aspects of the game.
Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen has historically endorsed the decisions of underclassmen who receive very encouraging feedback from NFL officials, and Davis was no exception. Much of the reason that Davis decided to leave school was that the league draft advisory board informed him that he'd likely be a first-round selection. All indications are that this will be the case.
Many are in agreement that Davis is one of the best tight end prospects to come along in quite some time. One service stated that he could achieve a grade similar to those of Tony Gonzalez and Kellen Winslow Jr. when they were entering the draft; another said that Davis reminded folks of Kellen Winslow Sr. He's unquestionably the top option at his position, and many consider him at least in the top 15, if not top 10, overall. Need may win out over ability for some teams, although some believe that he could go to the Oakland Raiders or San Francisco 49ers at No. 6 or No. 7 (depending on who wins the coin flip). Other possible teams include the Arizona Cardinals (No. 10) St. Louis Rams (No. 11) and Minnesota Vikings (No. 17), with Davis not likely to last past the Denver Broncos (No. 22) or Cincinnati Bengals (No. 24).
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About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.
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