Tight end Vance McDonald did not have a particularly strong rookie season by my estimation. As a receiver, he managed just eight catches for 119 receiving yards, with two or three pretty erroneous drops. As a blocker, he did improve as the season went on, but he had more bad games than good games. But rather than a wasted pick or a lost cause, he simply looked like a rookie, and that's OK.
McDonald was always a high-ceiling kind of player, and somehow us 49ers fans got it in our heads that he was supposed to be a monster right out of the gate. But McDonald still has a high ceiling, and the fact that the 49ers didn't address the tight end position in the NFL Draft or in free agency (outside of undrafted players) was as close to a ringing endorsement for McDonald's skills as we can get.
We often forget how jarring the transition to the NFL can be for rookies. As McDonald told the team website after a recent OTA session, "It was a blur. There was so much on your plate and on top of that you have to learn the playbook. Not knowing what to expect, going in now, having had that year, I feel like a completely different player."
McDonald goes on to say that he's "more comfortable," and that he knows "what to look for." We certainly saw some progression down the stretch when it comes to his blocking ability. Earlier in the season, McDonald missed blocks and routinely got dominated at the point of attack. Later in the season, he started picking up steam and laid down crushing blocks left and right. He wasn't dominant, but he was effective.
The talk about tight ends coach Eric Mangini in that post is interesting. I don't think anybody here really understood what the 49ers were doing by making Mangini an offensive consultant, and then a position coach on the offensive side of the ball. But it was always foolish to suggest that Mangini, a man with over a decade of coaching experience on the defensive side of the ball, wouldn't have anything to offer an offensive player.
McDonald said that Mangini has helped them a lot. "There are so many little detailed things you can find. Not to say we weren't focusing on it last year," he said, "but he just has so much experience on the defensive side of the ball, he's absolute. It's really nice to have that," as written by Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
Maiocco says that Mangini has coached the tight ends on how to read defenses and how to anticipate what's coming from a coverage standpoint.
It will be interesting to see where McDonald goes this season. Obviously, he's getting plenty of snaps in practice during organized team activities given the absence of Vernon Davis. When it's all said and done, Davis will be here, but it's good to see McDonald getting looks before then. In my opinion, McDonald can be a starter in the future, but he does have a long way to go. I do think that he needs to show notable improvement in his second season, though.