NFC West: Tony Scheffler

The St. Louis Rams have allowed the 10th-most yards to opposing tight ends through Week 9 this season.

No big deal, right?

Well, it is if you're @timstantonx and you're wondering whether this is the week Vernon Davis gets back on track as a receiver for the San Francisco 49ers.

Davis will be facing a Rams defense that gave up eight catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns to New England tight end Rob Gronkowski in St. Louis' most recent game.

The 49ers, like the Rams, are coming off a bye. I suspect the 49ers will want to reintroduce Davis to their stat sheet after spending the last few games explaining how much they value him as blocker. Davis has five catches for 71 yards over the 49ers' last three games. His 58-game streak with at least one reception ended during that time.

The chart from ESPN Stats & Information shows receiving stats for tight ends against the Rams this season. There's a row showing totals for this season and for the Rams' first eight games last season. Tight ends have been piling up more yards against the Rams to this point in 2012 than last season.

The final row shows Davis' stats this season.

The 49ers completed 13 of 16 passes for 150 yards when targeting Davis against the Rams last season. The Rams' other opponents completed 41 of 74 passes for 384 yards to tight ends over the full season.

710ESPN Seattle audio: 49ers WR rotation

September, 7, 2012
So, you're killing time before NFC West teams open their seasons Sunday and figure you might as well make another trip to the pregame media buffet table.

You survey the offerings and figure, hey, why not listen to see what Sando and these 710ESPN Seattle guys had to say about the upcoming games? You click on this audio link and the conversation leads, eventually, to a discussion of the San Francisco 49ers' reconfigured receiving corps heading into a Week 1 game at Green Bay.

You wonder how opposing receivers fared at Lambeau Field last season, but you're not interested in stats accumulated during garbage time. So, you ask to see a chart from ESPN Stats & Information showing 2011 opposing yardage leaders at Lambeau when scores were within, say, a 10-point margin.

You then realize that chart appears below. You see that three of the five leaders played during that wild Week 17 shootout with Detroit, the one that meant very little. But you also notice that four of the five leaders were tight ends, and then it dawns on you: While the 49ers' possibilities at wide receiver remain undefined, tight end Vernon Davis could be primed to pick up where he left off in the playoffs last season.

You then headed over to the NFC West Gridiron Challenge page and made sure Davis was in your lineup.
The New England Patriots' Aaron Hernandez and the San Francisco 49ers' Delanie Walker top an unusual list of NFL tight ends.

Both have played more than half their teams' offensive snaps, but neither is the featured tight end on his team. The Patriots and 49ers are the only NFL teams with one tight end playing at least 90 percent of the snaps and another playing at least half of them (thank you, Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information, for digging up the numbers).

The point is not to go overboard in stressing how much the 49ers might miss Walker while he recovers from a broken jaw suffered in Week 16. We have covered that ground. The 49ers do not have a player similar to Walker on their roster, so they will have to adjust. That is life in the NFL.

The New England comparison interested me for how much the Patriots rely on Rob Gronkowski (96.2 percent of snaps) and Hernandez (73.1) in the passing game. With those two combining for 154 receptions and 1,991 yards this season, the totals for Vernon Davis and Walker (78 catches for 872 yards) reflect a different approach and, to a degree, untapped potential.

The 49ers do not feature their tight ends the same way, obviously, and coach Jim Harbaugh wants to be more run-oriented by design. There is only one Tom Brady, anyway, and the Patriots lack the strong defense that allows the 49ers to win playing the 49ers' way. But with Davis (95.9 percent of snaps) and Walker (56.1) spending so much time on the field, one might reasonably expect them to combine for more production than Davis managed by himself only two seasons ago (78 catches, 965 yards).

Receiving numbers aren't everything, of course. Davis and Walker have contributed in other ways. Their presence on the field forces teams to account for the running game while still having to worry about a speedy tight end getting open as a receiver. Walker's replacement, veteran Justin Peelle, has averaged a modest 8.2 yards per catch for his career. Blocking is his strength.

The chart ranks second tight ends by most playing time for the teams whose primary tight ends have played at least 90 percent of the snaps. The five primary tight ends: Dallas' Jason Witten (99.2 percent), Gronkowski (96.2), Davis (95.9), Pittsburgh's Heath Miller (95.3) and Detroit's Brandon Pettigrew (94.1).


Will Rams throw much to tight ends?

March, 29, 2011
The item on NFC West tight ends not named Vernon Davis pointed to the St. Louis Rams' Mike Hoomanawanui and Fendi Onobun as prospects to watch.

One question: To what extent will the Rams utilize tight ends in the passing game under new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels?

As the chart shows, McDaniels' teams haven't featured tight ends as receivers much. I've focused on McDaniels' teams since 2005, the year he began calling plays for New England. None has caught more than 49 passes for 643 yards during a season.

"That position doesn’t catch passes in that offense," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "The guy who is strange for them is Fendi Onobun. He has some athletic upside and might be intriguing, but he will get short end of the stick with McDaniels onboard."

McDaniels inherited most of the Rams' offensive staff. He could wind up adapting his approach some. But coordinators tend to stay within their comfort zones. Hoomanawanui and Onobun, while promising, are not established enough for the Rams to change their system significantly.

Hoomanawanui appears versatile enough to fit in just about any offense, but he might catch more passes in another system. The Rams completed 133 passes to tight ends in two seasons with Pat Shurmur as offensive coordinator. That figure was 86 for the Bronco, counting the final four games of the 2010 season, after Denver had fired McDaniels.

The Rams could place greater value on blocking tight ends. One potential candidate, Daniel Graham, played for McDaniels in New England and Denver. He's without a contract for 2011 and could make sense as a blocking tight end for the Rams and Seattle Seahawks. Seattle's new assistant head coach/offensive line, Tom Cable, was at Colorado when Graham played there.



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