Here at Niners Nation, we're presenting a series called "90-in-90". We'll be looking at every player on the 49ers offseason roster, one player per post, from now until the start of training camp.
While Eric Reid is the rookie many expect to make the biggest impact, a close second could come in the form of tight end Vance McDonald. The 49ers second-round pick is expected to get a significant opportunity to replace Delanie Walker as the 49ers number two tight end. Given how frequently the 49ers include two or more tight ends, that opens the door for a lot of playing time for McDonald.
The 49ers moved up six spots in the second round to select McDonald, marking their third trade in as many picks this past April. McDonald was a tight end at Rice University, but he had extensive experience working outside the tackle box. He has the size of a big tight end at 6'4, 267 pounds, but his 4.6 40 makes it easy to see him galloping down the field from all over the place.
Nick put together a scouting report on McDonald, and it emphasizes his size/speed combination. The question mark facing McDonald is his blocking. He will also need to work on getting off the break from the traditional tight end spot, but really we'll be keeping a close eye on his blocking this preseason. The good news is he gets to work with one of the best blocking tight ends in Vernon Davis. Additionally, the 49ers offense as a whole does a good job at blocking, so the examples are there for him.
What to expect in 2013
McDonald will likely settle in to the No. 2 tight end role. While we wouldn't expect McDonald to get past Vernon Davis on the depth chart, he should be able to get past Garrett Celek. We have some Celek fans in the crowd, but I'm just not sure I see Celek having the right combination of size and athleticism to upset McDonald in the tight end position battle.
Assuming McDonald is in that number two tight end role, I actually think we could see greater statistical production from him than we saw from Delanie Walker last year. Walker had 21 receptions for 344 yards and three touchdowns. With Michael Crabtree out for much of the year and Anquan Boldin not quite the young buck he once was, the 49ers tight ends will prove extremely important to developing their offense.
The Davis/McDonald duo has a chance to become the top pair of receiving tight ends in the league. That's saying a lot considering Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are out there, but injuries aside, I think the talent is there. For McDonald though, his chance to do that will require he show some skills as a blocker.
Odds of making the roster
There's no way he doesn't make the roster, so this is more about odds of him surpassing Garrett Celek on the depth chart. Celek stands 6'4, 250 pounds, and ran a 4.72-second 40. He's got solid size and speed, but he's never been a pass catcher. At Michigan State, his career totals over four years were 14 receptions for 135 yards and three touchdowns. I suppose he could figure something out, but at this point, he is looking like the third tight end for jumbo packages.