Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it's worked so far. Who am I to argue?
You kind of have to feel sorry for the San Francisco 49ers tight ends given the way things wound up going last season, right? Vernon Davis dealt with ankle, knee and back injuries, Vance McDonald had knee, hip and back injuries, Garrett Celek wound up on injured reserve, as did Derek Carrier. That's about as much bad luck as you can have at the position.
Obviously, Davis is the big deal there and he was certainly limited by his injuries. He's also getting up there in years and teams have figured out his seam attack, so the 49ers got very little production out of the position last season. But what's going to happen next season? Well, the 49ers have several tight ends vying for what will presumably be three-four roster spots at the position.
Of those roster spots, I imagine two of them are going to go to Davis and McDonald, and its the latter we're going to talk about more today.
San Francisco spent a second-round pick on McDonald in 2013 and as a rookie, he played in 15 games and caught eight passes for 119 yards. McDonald did have a handful of drops, and even had some last season as well. He played in just eight games and caught two passes for 30 yards last season, and has not recorded an NFL touchdown.
As a blocker, McDonald is capable. I've noticed him missing assignments more than I've noticed him outright getting beat by defenders, and I think he's more than capable in the running game. But McDonald wasn't drafted to be a blocker, he was drafted because he looked like he could do everything. To this point, he's had a bad case of the dropsies but to be fair, he hasn't had a ton of opportunities.
Going forward, I think he gets more opportunities and I think he gets another shot at being the second guy on the field after Davis, but I think this is a make-or-break year for him, for certain. With two promising rookie tight ends, McDonald will have to show something special to expect to be safe after 2015.
Why he might improve:
This is obvious, isn't it? If McDonald is healthy, he will get his opportunities and he has the potential to take advantage of them. There's nothing about this offense that will limit McDonald's chances at getting passes thrown his way. He'll also likely have plenty of time to show what he can do as a blocker, which will still be valuable to the 49ers under Jim Tomsula.
Why he might regress:
He played in 15 games as a rookie and eight games last season. He's dropped passes. He's missed assignments. There's not a lot of room for him to regress at this stage, but he could always miss more games, drop more passes and miss more assignments, I suppose. Perhaps the offense simply doesn't suit his play style, or someone like Blake Bell takes a huge step in training camp and McDonald doesn't get as many chances as I think he will. McDonald has shown more bad than good to this point and nothing would be particularly surprising.
Odds of making the roster:
This is a tough call, but I'm definitely going with something like 80 percent. McDonald was a second-round pick, Garrett Celek leaves a lot to be desired and the rookies are very raw. Bell likely won't be contributing much as a rookie and I think McDonald is basically a lock behind Davis. Aliens wouldn't be required for him to miss the cut, of course, but it's still very likely he makes it.