The San Francisco 49ers are a week away from their first set of OTAs, which means the eventual training camp depth chart will start to get a little more clarity. I should say, clarity for the team. Given that OTAs involve no tackling, it's as much about the players learning the playbook, and any adjustments to it for the veterans. This is the kind of stuff we can't really know about, and so we're left to sort of half guess at what exactly is going on.
Nonetheless, this is our second of what should be a series of about 13 posts looking at the various positional depth charts. We completed our look at the offensive backfield, with quarterbacks and running backs and fullbacks. We now move on to the tight end position. We'll continue with the format of offseason changes, what the depth chart might look like, strengths and weaknesses, and wrapping with a look at what it all means.
The 49ers went into the offseason with a fairly full depth chart at tight end, including Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, and Derek Carrier. Technically the team still lists Demarcus Dobbs as a tight end, and he still wears 83, but I doubt we see him on offense again anytime soon. The team followed the draft by signing Miami (FL) tight end Asante Cleveland as an undrafted free agent.
Vernon Davis remains one of the best tight ends in the game. Although his leaping for balls he could catch in stride can be infuriating at times, he does a lot of things really well. He's a great blocker, he can run with just about anybody in the league, and he can do some great things after the catch. He's not a perfect tight end, but for the compilation of skills, I really don't think we can ask for much more.
The 49ers spent a second round pick in last year's draft on Rice tight end Vance McDonald. Rice used a lot of the spread offense, which means he did not get a lot of college opportunities coming off the line. It conceivably should have made him a solid weapon in the slot and moved elsewhere in more of a pass catcher role, but that did not materialize. The 49ers seemed to use Bruce Miller as more of the Delanie Walker-type in some sense. McDonald is only in his second year, so it's too soon to lose our mind on this, but he's going to need to step up his game.
What it all means
The big question mark at this point is what to expect from Vance McDonald. He'll be the guy we're all watching closely when training camp opens and the 49ers get into preseason games. There is an oft-repeated phrase that the offseason after a player's rookie year is the most important in his development. The previous year the player was learning the playbook and what it is like to be a pro. That first full offseason gives him to let it all sink in and start to make adjustments to what he saw in year one. This does not need to be a huge breakout year for McDonald, but we need to see him take some steps forward.