NFC West: Joel Dreessen

Steve from Palisades Park, N.J., used the most recent NFC West chat to say the San Francisco 49ers should add to their receiving corps "a big guy who can go up and get jump balls" -- perhaps someone such as Ramses Barden.

"The 49ers have Vernon Davis," I replied. "He should be able to do those things."

Paul from San Francisco wasn't having it.

"Davis has never been that guy," Paul wrote to the NFC West mailbag. "Have you ever noticed that he's always jumping in the air when he catches a pass? Not the same as the high, contested end zone passes mentioned above.

"It's like he can't stay on his feet, catch a ball, and continue up the field without breaking stride. He needs his body to remain relatively stationary (in the air) while he concentrates on the ball because he can't do too many things at once while focusing on the ball.

"Watch the tape, you'll see!"

I've seen Davis catch touchdowns passes in stride. It's tough to quantify passes caught high in the air, away from the body and the like. With Davis, the big plays probably overshadow the routine ones in our minds. As the chart shows, Davis has averaged 18.9 yards per touchdown reception over the past five seasons, second only to Seattle's Zach Miller among qualifying tight ends.

Davis has 33 touchdown receptions over the past five seasons. Davis was already in the end zone when he caught 19 of them.

I did think there were times last season when Davis should have factored more prominently in the red zone.

Forty NFL tight ends ran at least 20 pass routes in the red zone last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Of those 40 players, Davis ranked 35th in percentage of targets per route (14.8). The average was 24.2 percent for the others and more than 30 percent for Clay Harbor, Heath Miller, Rob Gronkowski, Owen Daniels, Aaron Hernandez, Joel Dreessen, Tony Moeaki, Anthony Fasano and Benjamin Watson.

Davis' average was around 20 percent over the previous four seasons. The 49ers' offense is changing. Michael Crabtree is playing a more prominent role in the receiving game. That has affected Davis. It isn't necessarily bad for the team, either.

Let's count this as an initial look into a subject that could use additional exploration.
A few NFC West notes heading into the weekend:
  • The Arizona Cardinals announced kicker Jay Feely's return to the team on a two-year agreement. Arizona had been the only team without a specialist under contract.
  • Tackle Demetrius Bell and cornerback William Gay remain unsigned. Both visited the Cardinals earlier in free agency. Addressing tackle in particular would give Arizona welcome flexibility heading into the draft.
  • The Seattle Seahawks announced a contract agreement with running back Kregg Lumpkin, who became a free agent when Tampa Bay decided against making a qualifying offer to him. Lumpkin was an undrafted free agent with Green Bay when Seahawks general manager John Schneider worked for the Packers. Lumpkin, 5-foot-11 and 228 pounds, had more receptions (41) than carries (31) last season. I'm not sure to what degree Lumpkin addresses the Seahawks' need for a backup with good size.
  • Visanthe Shiancoe, 31, looks like the most logical choice for Seattle as the team seeks a replacement for tight end John Carlson. The market dried up further Friday when Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen signed with Denver. Tamme and Shiancoe have visited Seattle. Shiancoe and Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell were together in Minnesota. By my count, Shiancoe and Jeremy Shockey are the only remaining unrestricted-free-agent tight ends listed as starters last season.
  • Former St. Louis Rams linebacker Chris Chamberlain will be reunited with Steve Spagnuolo after signing a three-year deal with New Orleans. The Rams have rights to only three linebackers, tied for the lowest figure in the NFL. The team needs help at outside linebacker in particular. The market for linebackers remains soft. Erin Henderson returned to Minnesota on a one-year deal for $2 million.
  • Funny quote from Vernon Davis regarding new San Francisco 49ers teammate Randy Moss, from KNBR radio via "I have been a big fan of Randy since I was a kid. I used to wear his shoes, I remember running up and down the field. 'Mossed, oh, you just got Mossed.' And I remember I used to say, one day they are going to be saying that about me, you just got 'Davised.' " We could say the New Orleans Saints got Davised during the playoffs.

The chart shows roster counts for NFC West teams, counting active players, restricted free agents and franchise players.
Our ongoing discussion on tight ends raised questions about which ones possess the best -- and worst -- hands.

"Any way you can add in 'thrown to' and 'drops' in this stat?" Furfanam asked in one comments section.

Consider it done.

Jason Vida of ESPN Stats & Information produced the information. I've broken it out in four charts. A few notes on the findings:
The first chart ranks NFL tight ends by most receptions. It also shows number of targets, drops and drop percentage. Witten, Jacob Tamme and Gates were the only tight ends with at least 50 receptions and no more than two dropped passes.

The second chart shows lowest drop percentages among tight ends targeted at least 20 times last season. Miller's standing atop the list backs up James Walker's contention that the Pittsburgh Steelers tight end was underrated in our power rankings.

The third chart ranks NFL tight ends with at least 20 targets by the highest percentage of dropped passes.

ESPN Stats & Information's totals on Bajema matched my charting. I had Bajema dropping passes against Tennessee, Denver and Arizona.

The final chart focuses only on NFC West tight ends, ranking them by lowest percentage of dropped passes.