The 49ers invested a second-round pick a year ago on a college slot receiver who projected as an in-line blocker.
And that is certainly the role tight end Vance McDonald -- a 6-foot-4, 267-pounder -- played during his rookie season. He was the backup to Vernon Davis and played extensively as part of the 49ers' favored two-tight-end formations.
McDonald played 479 snaps as a rookie (48.3 percent of the 49ers’ offensive plays) and saw just 18 passes thrown his way of the 195 pass routes he ran, according to Pro Football Focus. He had just eight receptions for 119 yards in the regular season, with one catch for 13 yards in three playoff games.
In four college seasons at Rice, McDonald caught 119 passes for 1,504 yards and 15 touchdowns.
But his change of roles with the 49ers certainly did not come as a surprise. After all, it’s not as if the man he was replacing, Delanie Walker, was a huge threat as a receiver. Walker caught just 21 passes in his final 49ers season.
“I definitely kind of got the vibe of what we wanted to establish as an offense,” McDonald said. “We wanted to be a definite run team. We wanted to establish the line of scrimmage. And we had the players to do it and the offensive line to do it. We had the running backs to do it. It was a big focus. So I definitely wasn’t surprised.”
McDonald showed improvement throughout the regular season, finishing the season with an even grade as a blocker, according to PFF.
“It’s a completely different game,” McDonald said. “You really had to make sure your shoulders are over your toes and you’re balanced, technique-wise, going up against guys.
“It’s game experience, week to week, and you get more comfortable in the offense.”