On Wednesday, the San Francisco 49ers announced tight end Vernon Davis was cleared for non-contact work. The news gives Davis a higher probability of playing on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Although, he will need to be cleared by an independent neurologist before he can suit up again.
Another player cleared for non-contact work was safety Eric Reid who, like Davis, suffered a concussion against the Panthers. Not having either player for the Saints game will be a blow to the 49ers. But the bigger loss for San Francisco would be Davis because of limited options backing him up at tight end.
Davis is Colin Kaepernick’s favorite target and having him out for all of the second-half last week severely affected the passing offense. Davis is a player that changes the way defenses approach stopping the 49ers and if he is not on the field, it makes a huge difference and a little easier stopping the offense.
It also didn’t help that the No. 2 tight end on the depth chart, Garrett Celek, also missed the second-half with a hamstring injury. Even if Celek is able to play in Week 11, he is not a great option to replace Davis in the passing game. This season he has one reception for 30 yards. After Davis and Celek were out for the game, Jim Harbaugh inserted rookie Vance McDonald into the lineup. But he finished with zero catches.
Should Davis and Celek not be available on Sunday, the 49ers will likely activate Derek Carrier from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. Carrier has never played in a regular season game.
Davis’ Importance to Kaepernick
In the loss to the Panthers, offensive coordinator Greg Roman had to abandon formations that featured multiple tight ends with McDonald the only player available at the position. The Niners ground attack is at its best and more potent when it features multiple tight ends. But with a rookie as your featured tight end and tackle Adam Snyder filling in at the position for run plays, the 49ers offense was punch less in the second-half scoring only three points.
The 49ers could add a tight end through free agency should Davis or Celek be out for multiple games. The top-two tight ends available are David Thomas (last played w/ Saints) and Kevin Boss (last played w/ Chiefs). But that would be a last resort because the free agents available would not even come close to duplicating Davis’ production.
When Kaepernick does not have Davis on the field, he is a different quarterback. This season, Kaepernick has completed 61 percent of his passes with Davis in the game. However when VD is out of the game Kaepernick’s completion rate drops to 43 percent.
How important is Davis to Kaepernick? Davis has caught seven of Kaepernick’s nine touchdown passes this season. That translates to 78 percent.