That 20 of Vance McDonald’s 28 starts at Rice came at wide receiver gives you an idea of his unique athleticism. Much like James Casey, the Eagles hybrid tight end who preceded him at Rice, McDonald was used at multiple positions in college including wide receiver, tight end, and H-back. But McDonald is more physically imposing than you might expect from a “tweener”. He catches and runs routes like a wide receiver, but he’s not just a finesse guy; he showed well in blocking drills at the Senior Bowl and threw up an impressive 31 reps at 225 pounds at the Combine.
Though he ran a relatively limited route tree in college McDonald does have experience with most of the routes required of an NFL tight end. He has the burst to threaten the seam, and his impressive athleticism creates mismatches: he’s too big for defensive backs to handle and too fast for linebackers to keep up with.
The expectation is that McDonald will step into the role vacated by the departure of Delanie Walker in San Francisco—a role that could see more looks with Michael Crabtree sidelined for the first two-plus months of the season. He was impressive in rookie minicamps, a good first step to carving out an immediate role for himself. He’ll need to be tutored in blocking, but he has the frame and strength to be effective in that role. And with pass-catching skills that have been compared to solid receiving tight ends like Greg Olsen and Todd Heap, McDonald should be popping up on fantasy radars sooner rather than later.