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Experience pays

Posted May 25, 2010

First-round pick Davis would not be an exception to the rule if his career took an upswing during his fourth NFL season.

SAN DIEGO – Buster Davis became a popular guy after practice last week.

He fielded multiple interviews, the byproduct of being the only veteran receiver at last week’s Organized Team Activities (OTAs).

Now entering his fourth year, the Chargers’ 2007 first-round selection explained how he approaches his job differently.

“Coming in and learning what I know now, if I’d have known then, it would’ve made a big difference,” Davis said of his rookie season.

Wide receiver is one of the more difficult positions to transition to the NFL. Add some nagging injuries and a team with a multitude of pass-catching talents and more than one factor contributed to a lack of playing time during the first couple of years for Davis.

A groin problem forced him to the Reserve-Injured list during the 2008 season.

When healthy, he’s shown the potential to produce. He caught 20 passes for 188 yards his rookie season. In 2008, his three first-quarter receptions for 43 yards helped the Chargers to a 10-7 lead against the Jets.

Then, in the last regular-season game last year against Washington, he caught six passes for 52 yards.

Fast forward to this May. With Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd unsigned and Legedu Naanee still working his way back from offseason foot surgery, it’s Davis that’s grabbing reps, and passes, with the first offense.

It’s a talking point as the rest of the roster sorts itself out but one that could hold merit into the season.

Davis feels that he’s progressed as a route-runner and can better read defenses. Rehabbing also has taught him the value of maintenance, visiting the training room regularly as a preemptive strike.

Most important, he’s gotten the opportunity to develop timing and comfort with Philip Rivers with all the pitch and catch in practice, a trend that should continue as Mini Camp begins Wednesday.

“Maybe there’s a play that Philip sees that he likes in June or July that he might look back during the season and have some input and get it in the game plan,” Davis said.

A surge in production several years into the NFL is not without precedent. Many receivers make vast improvements by their third or fourth season even if they stay healthy and play in every game.

Here’s a list of the top 10 receivers in the NFL during last year’s regular season. Most experienced significant gains during the portion of their career Davis is entering this year.

 Top 10 NFL Receivers, Second Through Fourth Seasons

 Player

 Year Two

 Year Three

 Year Four

 A. Johnson, HOU 79 rec., 1,142 yds., 6 TDs  63-688, 2 TDs  103-1,147, 5 TDs
 Wes Welker, NE  29-434, 0 TDs  67-687, 1 TD  102-1,175, 8 TDs
 Miles Austin, DAL  5-76, 0 TDs   13-278, 3 TDs  81-1,320, 11 TDs 
 Sidney Rice, MIN*  15-141, 4 TDs  83-1,312, 8 TDs  N/A
 Randy Moss, NE  80-1,413, 11 TDs 77-1,437, 15 TDs  82-1,233, 10 TDs
 Reggie Wayne, IND  49-716, 4 TDs  68-838, 7 TDs  77-1,210, 12 TDs
Santonio Holmes, PIT  52-942, 8 TDs  55-821, 5 TDs  79-1,248, 5 TDs
 Steve Smith, NYG*  57-574, 1 TD 107-1,220, 7 TDs  N/A
 Vincent Jackson, SD  27-453, 6 TDs   41-623, 3 TDs   59-1,098, 7 TDs 
 Hines Ward, PIT  61-638, 7 TDs   48-672, 4 TDs   94-1,003, 4 TDs 
       
  *Indicates player hasn't completed his fourth NFL season

Davis realizes he is not only competing against himself, but against one of the more talented pass-receiving units in the NFL, including the league’s best tight end/running back receiving duo in Antonio Gates and Darren Sproles.

But it’s plausible fans could witness a few more catches from No. 84 this season, and Davis would not represent an aberration if he made a notable increase in production.

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