Not only has Vernon Davis been a strong passing game asset to the Redskins this season, the veteran tight end is a big reason why the running game is getting opportunities to run outside effectively.
More than three weeks after free agency opened in March, the Redskins made a rather quiet signing when they decided to pick up Vernon Davis after flirting with the idea of bringing in the veteran tight end.
Davis, of course, was well known in the Washington, D.C., area for his contributions to the Maryland football program. He'd be drafted No. 6-overall in the 2006 NFL Draft and go on to have some fantastic years for the San Francisco 49ers. He recorded at least 500 receiving yards six times for the 49ers and hauled in 13 touchdown receptions two different seasons.
But it appeared time was catching up with the athletic tight end, as his numbers significantly dipped during his age 30 season in 2014.
Matters only got worse for him in 2015 when he struggled after a midseason trade to the Denver Broncos, managing just 201 receiving yards in nine regular season games.
The dip in production may have scared a few teams away, but not the Redskins who already had quite a bit of tight end depth with start Jordan Reed and backups Niles Paul, Derek Carrier and Logan Paulsen.
Once officially signed, Davis vowed to keep a positive mindset even if it meant sparingly appear, perhaps exclusively as a blocker.
"Before I signed here I always told myself, 'I'll do whatever they need me to do,'" Davis said. "I'll be wherever I need to be for these guys because it's a team effort. Whether it's blocking or catching passes, I'll do it. I won't complain."
Davis didn't complain and he didn't take issue with his new role. In fact, being the No. 2 tight end in an offense that utilizes two tight ends quite a bit has restarted his career.
The Washington Redskins announced on Thursday, March 31, 2016, the signing of free agent tight end Vernon Davis. Here's a gallery of photos from his career.
Through nine games, Davis has hauled in 26 catches for 382 yards and two touchdowns.
The 11-year veteran has caught 89 percent of passes thrown his way, tops in the league for receivers with at least 17 targets. He's also in the top 25 among tight ends in receptions, first down receptions (13) and receiving yards despite Reed gobbling up a majority of the tight end targets.
Furthermore, Davis already has five games with at least 50 receiving yards, the most he's had in a season since 2013 when he was named a second-team All-Pro.
"It has been surprising quite frankly," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said of Davis' production. "I wasn't sure what we were going to get with Vernon. I wasn't sure how fast he still was or how much he was really into football anymore. You know, sometimes these veteran guys you just don't know what you're going to get, but he's been unbelievable as far as his work ethic, his desire to get better and then of course his natural speed is still there. I mean, he hasn't lost a step. He can fly."
Davis' influence goes beyond the passing game, though. Gruden believes that a big part of the Redskins averaging more than four yards per carry this season is thanks to Davis' blocking on the outside.
"I think that's where he has helped the most," Gruden said. "You know, these 4.6 yards a carry that I think we are averaging right now, a lot of it is because of our tight end – blocking in the core, cut off on the backside or what have you – and he's a big part of that. Love the kid, man. He brings a lot to this football team as far as leadership goes and then ability-wise he has done a great job."