As the Washington Redskins head into free agency after nearly clinching a playoff spot for the second-straight year, we will look at some of Washington’s key players and grade their 2016 performance.
Player: Vernon Davis
Position: Tight end
Contract status: $2.4 million/1 year, ends in 2017
Preseason buzz: One of the best veteran players on the 2016 free agent market, Davis was signed to a one-year deal to add tight end depth behind Jordan Reed. Reed has missed at least two games due to injury in each of his four seasons with the Redskins, but with Davis, the Redskins had the luxury of having two top tier tight ends. Entering the 2016 season, Davis was, and still is, third among active tight ends in career receiving yards (6,424).
Ended 2016 like: Despite starting behind Jordan Reed, Davis had one of the most productive seasons of his career. His 74.6 catch percentage and 13.3 yards per reception were the first and tied for second-best marks in the 11-year man’s career. Davis’ 583 reception yards were his fifth-highest in a season. Additionally, Davis was one of only two players in 2016 that had 11 or more receptions of 20-plus yards and less than 50 receptions. The other was Rob Gronkowski, who missed most of the season due to injury.
Similar to the New England Patriots, who have used numerous two-tight end sets over the years, Davis and the Redskins’ aerial attack was at their best when two tight ends were on the field. They averaged 10.4 yards per pass attempt in two tight end sets. In no other formations did the Redskins average over 9.0 yards per pass attempt.
Season high: A week after posting a season-high 93 reception yards against the Cincinnati Bengals, Davis followed with a 66-yard, one touchdown performance against the Minnesota Vikings, who finished the season as the third-best pass defense (208 yards per game). Davis had 66 reception yards to power a 91-yard Redskins drive that put them up 14-0 in the first half. It was one of just two touchdowns the Redskins offense managed that day. Washington’s 26 points were the most any team had scored against the Vikings up to that point all season.
Season low: With their playoff destiny still in their hands Week 15, the Washington offense stalled in the first half against the Carolina Panthers, who had nothing to play for, as Carolina was all but out of the playoff race. Trailing at halftime 13-9, Washington received the ball to start the second half, but it wouldn’t matter. On the first play of the half, Cousins dropped back to pass, but because Davis missed a block on Cousins’ blindside, he fumbled and the Panthers recovered on the fringe of the Washington goal line. Davis has been regarded as a solid blocking tight end for most of his career, but missed a key block in a key moment there.
Team award: The offensive X-factor
Davis benefitted from being one of many weapons on the Redskins offense, but was not a product of the Redskins’ system by any means. When opposing defenses were too caught up in containing DeSean Jackson deep down the field, or prioritized Jordan Reed instead of Davis on the other end of the line, Davis made them pay. Davis forced opponents to be accountable for all 11 players on the field. Some NFL teams lack a clear-cut starting tight end, but the Davis-Reed combination was a deadly one. Before Reed was injured in Dallas on Thanksgiving, the Redskins were 5-2-1 with both Davis and Reed in the lineup.
While Davis was not perfect as a blocker, he was nearly perfect as a target for Kirk Cousins. Davis had 11 drops from 2013-15, but just two this season. Davis was a sure-handed target Kirk Cousins could throw to anywhere on the field.
2017 expectations: Another player whose expectations may change based on who the Redskins retain (assuming he stays in D.C. himself) Davis showed he has plenty of downs left in him, and said he wants to play at least a few more years. If Davis does stay and wideouts Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson leave in free agency, Davis will be the only Redskins starter age 30 or older. Leadership is something some of the young players may look for from Davis even more so. A 600-yard, three-touchdown season is almost certain to come from Davis.
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