Danny Kelly: Well it's certainly been an eventful week, that's for sure. Where to start? There have been firings, demotions, injuries and a few crazy playoff battles emerging, but the thing I want to start off with is the lone NFL trade at the deadline, which sent tight end Vernon Davis from the 49ers to the Broncos.
I don't think this is necessarily a "blockbuster," but it has the potential to be very interesting from the Broncos' point of view, because pairing a top-echelon athlete like Davis with Peyton Manning has always born fruit in the past. And, because I know what you are thinking -- I think Davis is still somewhere near the top of the tight end position in terms of athleticism, by the way. I saw a tweet from Chris Wesseling the other day that said Davis still the NFL's fastest tight end, reaching top speeds of 21.91 and 20.90 mph this year, ranked first and third among tight ends per Next Gen Stats.
He might not be as explosive as he once was, but he's not washed up. The Niners' pass game has been broken for some time now. Davis has appeared to be the shell of his former All-Pro self, but he could be an upgrade for the Broncos in the slot. His fit is going to be very interesting considering Manning's history of passing to athletic "move" tight ends.
Julius Thomas: 108 catches and 24 touchdowns the last two years
Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme: Combined for 93 catches and seven touchdowns in 2012.
Dallas Clark: 100 catches and 10 touchdowns in 2010.
Manning is not the same Manning that we've seen over the last few years and during his entire career. But after looking pretty good in this last game, a big win over the Packers, it makes you wonder if he's maybe turned a corner in this new Gary Kubiak offense and they're starting to put things together to maximize what Manning can still do. Losing Julius Thomas to the Jags in free agency looks like it's been a big deal. One of Manning's favorite red zone targets is gone. His replacement in Virgil Green has only been targeted eight times in seven games. I would have little doubt that Peyton was consulted in this decision in terms of helping him with what's been missing in the offense thus far.
I'm pretty interested to see what happens. At worst, it gives the Broncos a joker tight end to move around in the red zone based on matchups. With Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the field at the same time, that's a pretty tough proposition for any defense. What do you think of the trade? Will it be a good move, or do you think that Davis' (and obviously Manning's) good days are behind them?
Stephen White: I think the problem with trying to project how Vernon Davis may or may not contribute to the Broncos' offense is that it's so hard to tell if his declining production in San Francisco was due to his own physical tools diminishing (after all he's not exactly a spring chicken anymore), the offense not utilizing his skills well or his former quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, not looking for him enough in the passing game. Maybe it was one of those things, maybe it was all of those things, who knows. What we do know is that his production dropped precipitously. His receptions fell from 2013 to 2014 (exactly half) and his touchdowns went from 13 in the 2013 season to just two in 2014, even though he only played one less game last year.
While the 13 touchdowns in 2013 was some what of an anomaly in Davis' career -- he only reached that plateau one other time in his 10 year career -- he hadn't scored less than five touchdowns in a season prior to last year since 2008. This year his receptions and yards look to be back up ever so slightly, but he still hasn't scored a single touchdown in six games.
So, on the numbers side of things there are definitely reasons to be skeptical that Davis will have any kind of major impact for the Broncos. On the look test/fit side of it I'm even more unsure of how Davis will work in Denver's offense.
Let's think about who Davis has been at his best: a big strong guy at 6'3, 250 pounds who can block any edge defender in the league when he wants to and can run by pretty much any linebacker or safety you put in front of him. As a deep threat not only could he do damage with chunk plays, he also forced opposing defenses to try to keep a safety over the top of him. At least in theory, that opened up the short to intermediate area of the field for other eligible receivers to get open.
Now, let's think about Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and how he and their offense has been dragging ass most of the season until last week's win over the Packers. The one major issue that even Ray Charles could see (I would say Stevie Wonder, but now, thanks to Bomani Jones, I have questions) has been Manning's inability to consistently push the ball down the field accurately this year. For whatever reason he has been overthrowing open guys on deep routes which has hurt the Broncos' ability to put points on the board. Before it gets confusing, the overthrows don't really show that Manning still has good deep ball strength because they have been so scatter shot. Instead, it shows how much he has had to put into every throw just to try to make sure it gets there, which ends up creating a situation where many of them sail on him because he can't just chunk it up there smoothly anymore.
Manning is still pretty damn good on the underneath stuff (when he isn't throwing it to the other team), but he is also a perfectionist when it comes to demanding his receivers run routes exactly like they are supposed to. Because Peyton has lost something on his fastball he seems to rely even more heavily on trying to hit his receivers with anticipation of when they are coming out of their break. If they run a route too short or too deep or not sharp enough, then there is a good chance Manning will be off target and maybe even picked off.
Watching Davis play the last few seasons his shorter routes are hit or miss when it comes to how crisp runs them. He doesn't seem nearly as sudden when coming out of his breaks. His hands also seem to be getting to the point where they're kinda suspect. Maybe some of those issues in San Francisco were because of scheme and maybe some of it was because of his former quarterback throws footballs like a JUGS machine set to ATOMIC. Regardless, he just hasn't looked like a legit playmaker the last season and a half, so there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical on whether that move pays dividends.
I will say he can still get up the seam in a hurry with the best of them, but the question is whether Manning can get the ball to him accurately in those situations so the Broncos can take advantage of what he does best. If he and Davis can get on the same page just on a couple of deep balls or so per game, then I do feel like the trade would be justified.
Big "if," though.
On the positive side, his run blocking should help if the Broncos actually commit to running the ball more. Virgil Green is already a pretty good blocker, so adding Davis could give the Broncos the option of using the 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) without giving away if they are trying to run or pass. We do know that's something Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak has liked to do previously as a head coach and offensive coordinator. And hey, maybe Davis gets back to crushing guys consistently if he knows he will also see a lot more targets in Denver when they do throw the ball.