The San Francisco 49ers made a big statement by not taking a tight end in the 2014 NFL Draft. They felt good about Vernon Davis and they felt good about Vance McDonald. Unfortunately, the team's faith was misplaced, as McDonald has done nothing of value in two seasons with the team and Davis had himself a season very reminiscent of the pre-Singletary era.
It's kind of crazy to think about the Mike Singletary era as one to separate poor play and good play but hey, the guy had to do at least one good thing with San Francisco, right? Turning Davis around was that one thing, to be reductive.
Anyway, back to the tight ends. Davis managed to put up 26 receptions for 245 yards and two touchdowns, while McDonald had two receptions for 30 yards in eight games played. McDonald did deal with some injuries and will be 25 when the 2015 season gets underway, so it's worth noting that he still has some upside.
But one thing I did expect -- that did not actually happen -- was the 49ers taking a tight end relatively early this year. After Davis' weird holdout (something I don't hold against him, as I have no issues with players trying to earn more money) coupled with the total lack of production, I expected the 49ers to go for a starter this offseason. They didn't do that.
That's not to say they didn't address the position, they just did so later than I expected. The tight end position is a weird one in today's NFL. We know what kind of tight ends teams like for catching passes -- really athletic big dudes who can jump -- but the process for discovering which of these guys will be successful and which of these guys have no real future in the NFL is less of an exact science than other positions.
San Francisco wound up using a fourth-round pick on Oklahoma tight end Blake Bell and a seventh-round pick on South Carolina tight end Rory Anderson. I'll be the first to admit that I really don't know much about Anderson, but I am somewhat familiar with Bell.
Bell, as you probably know, is a converted quarterback. As a quarterback, he was basically a big wrecking ball -- his nickname is the Belldozer -- and as a tight end he was ... lackluster. He caught just 16 passes for 214 yards and four touchdowns in his lone season as a tight end. He got drafted a lot higher than most players with those numbers, but it has a lot to do with his potential. If given another year at the position, will he be something special?
Maybe. If I had to guess, I'd think the 49ers won't be using him much at all early in the 2015 season. I think, in a lesser way, the 49ers once again made a statement about the position by not doing anything until the fourth round. I think they're giving Davis a huge vote of confidence (less so for McDonald) because Bell, like most of the players the 49ers pick, is someone who will need time to develop.
Anderson is very athletic, but has an injury history and while he was more productive than Bell as a tight end, that was with more time. He's more like Davis than not in a lot of ways, but I can't imagine he's going to factor much into the picture as a rookie. He'll need to shine in training camp and on the practice field to earn a spot on the active roster.
Going forward, I think the 49ers are content to give three wide receivers a look, or two running backs a look, more often than going with two tight ends. I think Davis is the guy and McDonald will get even less playing time than you might think. To be honest, I actually expect Davis to bounce back -- just don't expect to see much of the rookies.