Second-year tight end Vance McDonald is in an intriguing position with the San Francisco 49ers headed into training camp this season. The 49ers’ starting tight end, Vernon Davis, has openly asked the organization for a better contract, and so far management has balked at the request. Part of their reasoning could be financial, or it also could signify the beginning of a new era at tight end in San Francisco.
If Davis prices himself out of relevance in the Bay area, McDonald would be the clear beneficiary. While he is young, he clearly has enough talent to start as dual-threat tight end. After all, he was a second-round draft pick in 2013 due to his ability to catch the ball in traffic while providing a big target for quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The added benefit was McDonald’s ability to provide some push in the run game as well. The former Rice product is surprisingly strong and blocks with solid hand placement and good leverage. Additionally, he put up 31 reps in the bench press at the combine last season. In 2014, he actually looks stronger and somehow more agile.
Plus, he has another ace up his sleeve this season in new position coach Eric Mangini. Many fans may remember Mangini as the defensive-minded head coach of the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns. Yet this season, Mangini has shifted his focus to the offensive side of the ball, taking the job as tight ends coach in San Francisco.
So far, the results have been impressive. The 49ers’ tight end group looked phenomenal throughout OTAs, and their understanding of defensive schemes is sure to improve with the “Man-genius” in the building.
Therefore, it appears McDonald could be entering an early crossroads in his young NFL career. If he steps up big, it could allow the 49ers to not only hold leverage over Davis in contract negotiations, but also could allow them to possibly put him on the trading block if they wish to free up cap space. That’s a lot riding on the shoulders of a second-year pro, but somehow it seems as though McDonald is up for the challenge. It remains to be seen if that is good news or not as it pertains to fellow 49ers tight end Vernon Davis.
Take a look at this training camp profile on McDonald’s former Rice teammate Luke Willson here.