After losing backup tight end Delanie Walker via free agency, the San Francisco 49ers were in search for a capable replacement this offseason. They may have found one when they spent a second-round pick on Vance McDonald.
With McDonald now in the fold, the Rice product will team with Pro Bowler Vernon Davis to form easily one of the most athletic tight end duos in the NFL. Even though Walker enjoyed a “breakout” year in 2012, McDonald has the potential to put the underwhelming veteran to shame in terms of production and efficiency.
What McDonald brings to the mix is rare athleticism and fluidity. With above average blocking ability and the speed to stretch the seam, the rookie has a chance to become an electrifying part of the 49ers offense. Whether or not that happens this year is still to be decided, though.
While it was only in t-shirts and shorts, McDonald was among the most impressive participants during the 49ers’ rookie minicamp. He hauled in one highlight catch after another and made a mockery of the defense almost every time the ball came his way. Questions arose during the pre-draft process about McDonald’s hands, but they were far from a problem during rookie minicamp.
Little has been said about McDonald’s showing during OTAs. The real test lies ahead during training camp, anyways.
The injury to Michael Crabtree could also mean more snaps for McDonald. With their top receiver out for some time, the 49ers could turn their attention to two-tight end sets in hopes of giving their passing attack a boost. With Davis on one side and McDonald on the other, Colin Kaepernick will have plenty of weapons to work with.
It’s assumed that McDonald will win the No. 2 tight end, but it’s not a lock yet. He’ll face some competition from Cameron Morrah and the rest of the depth chart for snaps, but shouldn’t have too much trouble putting his name in ink before training camp is over.
The 49ers made a big investment to bring McDonald aboard. We’ll see during training camp if he can pay them back with production.