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 you get the idea.
The close of the 2016 NFL Draft means we begin the final lengthy haul toward the start of the new season. We are approximately 90 days from the training camp reporting date for San Francisco 49ers veterans. The team has OTAs and minicamp, and then the dead period in late June and early July, but next thing you know, it will be training camp!
We've started up the 90-in-90 series, and this far it's been a relatively quiet start with Shaun Draughn, Nick Bellore, and Brandon Thomas. Today, we get to our first particularly controversial player, tight end Vance McDonald. I suppose he's not really controversial, since not many people have been fans of his work thus far. Some of us are holding out hope (myself included), but his first three seasons have not been particularly good.
The 49ers selected McDonald with a second round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He played in 15 games as a rookie, catching eight passes for 119 yards. His second season, he played in eight games, dealing with a variety of injuries, and only catching two passes for 30 yards. He played 14 games last season, catching 30 passes for 326 yards. Injuries were an issue, but not as big as in 2014. He finished the 2015 season No. 23 in drop percentage among all pass catchers.
The 49ers jettisoned Vernon Davis last season, and McDonald moved into the No. 1 tight end spot. He enters 2016 looking to lead a group that includes Garrett Celek, Blake Bell, Busta Anderson, Je'Ron Hamm, and Bruce Miller to a certain extent.
He is entering the final season of his rookie contract. He will be paid $795,797 in base salary, and has a $100,000 workout bonus. His cap hit for this season will be $1,145,193.
Why he might improve
Last season, we actually saw some measure of production from McDonald. What is most interesting is that his numbers actually showed some improvement once Blaine Gabbert took over as quarterback. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but now he has a full offseason to work with Gabbert while Colin Kaepernick continues his recovery. We don't know how much of a role McDonald is assured of, but with Vernon Davis out of the picture, he has a chance to earn a sizable role in Chip Kelly's offense. And it is a contract year, so maybe we see some improvement. Well, if he can improve on....
Why he might regress
Oh, those drops. It is frustrating, but it is also not shocking. It has been a consistent issue, and we're just not seeing improvement. Regression would come in the form of the drops continuing, and McDonald showing no real improvement in that area. His counting stats could go up to some degree, and we could still view the season as not an improvement on 2015.
Odds of making the roster
The 49ers signed Garrett Celek to a four-year extension, and drafted Blake Bell last year. They also drafted Busta Anderson, who is talented but wildly injury prone. Add in Bruce Miller getting work at tight end, and the 49ers could at least have some options. Amidst all that, Vance McDonald is making the roster. I know there are some who think the 49ers will cut him, but I think he's pretty much a lock to make the roster this year. I suppose maybe there is a 1 percent chance he doesn't make the roster, but I would be stunned if he did not make the roster. That thought obviously could change between now and the end of August, but that's what I think right now.