49ers select TE Vance McDonald at 55.
The 49ers select TE Vance McDonald out of Rice with the 55 pick. They traded up with the Packers and gave up the 174th pick in the draft. A 6th rounder.
McDonald, the son of a former Texas Longhorns linebacker, did not receive the attention of large collegiate programs out of high school. One reason could be his hometown of Winnie, Texas, which has a population of less than 3,500 people. Even though he comes from a small town, McDonald has big-time talent and displayed plenty of that during Senior Bowl week.
Despite his size and NFL projection, McDonald was mostly used as a slot receiver throughout his career, creating a size and physical mismatch in both the passing and running games. In his first season, McDonald caught 12 passes but missed two games due to an injury. He quickly turned into Rice’s top receiving option in 2010, amassing 396 yards and eight touchdowns on 28 receptions. In that same year, McDonald was named the Owls’ top receiver after earning the George R. Brown Award. In 2011, McDonald continued his consistent production, catching 43 passes for 452 yards and five touchdowns. His numbers dipped a bit as a senior, collecting 36 catches for 458 yards and two touchdowns. McDonald also finished the season as the team’s long snapper.
Strengths: Used all over the formation but mainly as a slot receiver. Smooth athlete, comfortable in space for someone his size. Engages with good hand placement when blocking, uses body to shield off running lane. Very long arms, flashes using them to his advantage when run blocking. Sticks to the latch even if jolted on first contact. Flashes driving smaller defenders to the ground. Fluid mover after the catch, natural with the ball in his hands, reads upfield blocks and cuts off of them. Plenty of receiver screens, shows patience and strength to finish off runs. Snap-to-whistle player, known to make multiple blocks on the same play. Comfortable with bucket catches. Quickly turns upfield and makes the most of each play. Can make contested catches. Hands catcher away from his body.
Weaknesses: Lacks strength on first contact. Majority of blocking took place in space, no inline, which could show in NFL. At least one drop or bobble per game, occurred even more often at the Senior Bowl. Most occur when he has to adjust or move off his stationary spot. Other times when the ball gets there quickly, unexpected targets. Would like to see him high point more frequently.
NFL Comparison: Todd Heap
Bottom Line: Despite being built like an inline tight end, the majority of McDonald’s experience is in the slot. This certainly helps his comfort blocking on the edge and as a receiver who picks up yards after the catch. In fact, McDonald is still learning how to use his frame effectively. Teams could view the Rice product as an inline prospect or as a Joker mismatch, but either way McDonald should be selected on the second day.
McDonald is an all-around athlete who played defensive end and tight end in high school while also playing center on the basketball team and qualifying for regionals three times while competing in the long jump, triple jump and relay teams in high school.
As a freshman at Rice, McDonald caught 12 passes to earn All Freshman honors in the conference. He was named the Owls’ top receiver the following season, catching 14 passes for 223 yards and eight touchdowns.
McDonald’s production soared in 2011 as he set new career highs with 44 catches for 541 yards while adding five more touchdowns in 12 games. He caught 36 more passes for 458 yards as a senior, earning consensus All-Conference USA honors.
McDonald finished his career with 120 receptions for 1,513 yards and 15 touchdowns, tying Kenneth Roy for fifth place on the school’s career touchdown reception list.
McDonald could be a diamond in the rough to watch if he can build upon a strong effort at the Senior Bowl. A wide receiver/tight end at Rice, he has the makeup to be successful in today’s NFL offenses increasingly relying on tight ends able to work the seam and underneath routes.
Strengths: Broad shoulders, long arms (34.5 inches) and big hands (10 inches) to extend and pluck the ball out of the air. Aggressive during blocking drills at the Senior Bowl, staying balanced through contact and flashing a finishing attitude. Typically catches the ball cleanly and shows impressive fluidity for his size. Often lined up split wide in the Owls’ offense and is an experienced route-runner.
Weaknesses: While he shows the effort as a blocker, questions remain about his ability to hold up in-line. Will drop catchable balls when trying to run before securing the catch.