TE Vance McDonald, Rice
Drafted: Second Round, No. 55
Another draft pick, another need filled. Before the draft the 49ers had Garrett Celek and Cameron Morrah as the only true tight ends on the roster backing up Vernon Davis. Between the two, they have seven combined career starts. So the selection of McDonald was a good move for the roster, but was it necessary for the team to trade up to select him? San Francisco likely would have been able to select him had they stayed put at pick No. 61. The 49ers gave up a sixth round pick to the Green Bay Packers to trade up to draft McDonald.
McDonald had 36 catches Rice in 2012, with 28 going for first downs. In 2011, he mostly was a wide receiver and last season he alternated between receiver and tight end. He brings versatility to the 49ers offense, which includes a great ability to run block. Much like Delaine Walker when he was with the team, the Niners offense will rely on McDonald more for his blocking than his receiving skills. But at 265 pounds, it will give Colin Kaepernick another good option to throw to if need be.
STRENGTHS – He has a wide, thick build with very good arm length and big hands to consider for the position at the NFL level. McDonald is a good overall athlete with solid agility, body control and balance in his play. At Rice, he was a highly productive receiver in the underneath to middle area of the field, showing a big wing-span and making for a big target for his quarterback. He aligned in multiple positions within his college scheme, but mainly out of the slot. He does a nice job of creating separation out of his breaks with good, sudden movements to gain separation from his defender. When he gets a free release, he eats up the cushion immediately and gets on top of the defense quickly. He has not been used as an in-line blocker but more out of the slot, but he is a very willing blocker who does a very nice job of blocking out in space. He is a tough competitor with a big body and he plays an aggressive brand of football. He has great functional strength as shown by the 31 repetitions he benched at the combine. McDonald was also the team’s long snapper and gives added value on special teams.
WEAKNESSES – He has above average height with only average long speed and explosiveness in his movements. He is not a player with great lateral agility and isn’t overly quick in short areas. While he looks comfortable catching the ball, there are times when his hands look out of sorts and he fights the ball through the catch, and this shows up almost every game. He doesn’t catch the ball at its highest point and doesn’t make full use of his long arms because of it. McDonald’s size is his greatest route running strength as he isn’t quick out of his breaks, but the combination of size and quickness he does have is enough to get the job done. He is not a vertical threat and lacks elusiveness in his run-after-catch ability. He is an inconsistent in-line blocker, but he was rarely used this way in the Rice offense and he does a nice job of blocking out in space.
SUMMARY – Rice’s Vance McDonald is a big tight end with very good athletic traits with an intriguing NFL future. McDonald is a one-speed player who is fast, but not quick to change directions or out of his breaks as a route runner. He needs a step or two to get up to full speed and can surprise cornerbacks by eating up cushion quickly to run past them. McDonald is a very good route runner as he finds a way to get open, but he lacks short area quickness to separate from defenders and does it using his big body. He is a very smart route runner who understands the system he plays in, and exploits defenses with his understanding of soft areas in zone coverage. McDonald tends to fight the ball at times and can have inconsistent hands that cause him to drop the ball. While McDonald is fast, he possesses one speed and if defenses can disrupt his momentum, he will struggle to finish the route. He isn’t elusive and won’t hit the homerun, but he will move the chains because of his ability to put his head down and run through contact. At Rice, he wasn’t used as an in-line blocker but he was good out in space, bullying the smaller players he went against. He looks to be a very willing blocker but teams will have to develop him from an in-line perspective. McDonald was used in a variety of ways at Rice, and he could be seen lining up out wide, or taking a hand-off and running a tight end reverse. However, he was lined up in a majority of the time out of the slot and that’s where he is best suited in the NFL. He has been a very productive tight end in college because of his mismatch ability and his size/speed combination. He also can contribute early on special teams and it gives added value to his selection. McDonald warrants consideration starting in the middle-to-late part of the second-round.