At Rice University, Vance McDonald wore many hats.
The 6'5", 260-pound rookie was a pass-catcher primarily out of the slot, a wide receiver that lined up outside of the numbers and he occasionally carried the ball out of the backfield as an H-back.
Now as a projected starter alongside Vernon Davis, the San Francisco 49ers will hope to utilize McDonald’s many talents.
CSNBayArea.com’s Mindi Bach wrote this morning that McDonald aims to split his duties as a blocker and a receiver evenly during the season:
“I was known to be more of a receiving tight end [in college], but here, I’m looking to play about fifty-fifty,” McDonald said. “It’s a different game, different animal here at the NFL. You’re blocking better guys on the end and in the center, so getting techniques down as far as blocking goes is a big part of what I’m trying to do.”
McDonald was drafted in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft to replace the equally versatile Delanie Walker, who excelled on special teams in addition to fulfilling his usual tight end duties.
It would appear from McDonald’s combine statistics alone that the physically imposing first-year player has the ability to make the 49ers’ transition from Walker to McDonald a seamless one.
According to NFL.com, he was the highest-rated tight end in the bench press (31 reps), tied for second place in the broad jump (119.0"), tied for third place in the three-cone drill (7.08 seconds) and placed third in the 60-yard shuttle (11.73 seconds).
If those numbers translate to the playing field, the 49ers will have acquired another large tight end with speed and strength that will pose matchup problems for opposing defenses.
What McDonald brings to the table is especially important given the question marks raised by Michael Crabtree’s injury. The 49ers have a bevy of young receivers who are chomping at the bit for a chance to shine, but only a few of those players—namely Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham and possibly Kyle Williams—are proven commodities.
McDonald, on the other hand, could be the X-factor the 49ers are looking for.
After all, it is a role he has played before.