Under Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman, the San Francisco 49ers have always liked to use two tight ends. Two offseasons ago, they lost their Swiss army knife, Delanie Walker, to free agency and needed to draft another tight end to work behind veteran Vernon Davis. The 49ers ended up drafting Vance McDonald out of Rice University. Not many people saw that coming and wondered if it would work.
McDonald certainly had his ups and downs throughout his first season, just like most rookies. Overall, I would say his rookie season had more positives than negatives, but for the 49ers’ offense to take the next step they will need McDonald to improve. At 6-foot-4, 267 pounds, the tight end has incredible potential for mismatches, something Roman is surely excited to exploit.
McDonald unfortunately suffered some untimely drops in 2013. His hands are definitely an aspect of his game that need improving, but that’s not even his biggest weakness. His biggest weakness is his run blocking. The 49ers are a run-first team at heart that like to use two tight end sets. McDonald is usually lined up against defensive ends or outside linebackers, who are typically the quicker players on the defensive line.
If McDonald can improve his first step and make it more explosive, he would be able to get inside on his blocks. Often times last season he would find himself getting beat because the guy he was supposed to block would shoot across his face before he could get a block on him.
His first step on blocking and his drops are two things that are very correctable going into the 2014 season. The 49ers plan to open up their offense more and McDonald is primed to have a much better season. With his size and the added weapons the 49ers have on offense, making sure McDonald is in single coverage, his size and ability will allow him to be a serious threat to opposing defenses. Not only that, having a whole year and another offseason under his belt understanding the blocking schemes, his run blocking will surely improve as well. McDonald will make the necessary improvements and be a very good second tight end behind Davis.