Vance McDonald entered the 2013 season as a second-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers and a prolific pass catching tight end. In theory, he was going to take over and replace the departed Delanie Walker. Like fellow offensive rookie in wide receiver Quinton Patton, however, McDonald had a rough first year adjusting to being asked to assume a different primary role, and as a result he showed rookie season growing pains.
While McDonald was known more as a pass catching tight end coming out of Rice University, in his rookie season with the 49ers he was asked to assume the role of being a primary blocking tight end. Making this transition meant that McDonald had to get adjusted to staying in and around the line to block instead of going out on a pass route as his primary objective within the offense.
Throw in that McDonald had to learn all the different intricacies associated with playing in the 49ers offense and it becomes understandable why he only had eight receptions for 119 yards during the regular season and one reception for 13 yards during the postseason. Additionally, McDonald could also have seen the number of targets he was getting reduced at first with the struggles of Colin Kaepernick and then the return of one Michael Crabtree.
While McDonald had his growing pains, he appeared to get better as a blocker later on in the season as he looked more comfortable as a run blocker. This should mean San Francisco has a player who will look much more comfortable in year two in the offense, and we could see better production from McDonald as a result. While he may never be a 50-plus catch tight end in the 49ers’ offense, especially with Vernon Davis as the No. 1 tight end, McDonald could still be what Delanie Walker was which will make his first year growing pains end up just that.