We’re continuing our offseason look at the San Francisco 49ers’ depth with the tight ends, a position that either is one of San Francisco’s strengths or a critical area of weakness, depending on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.
If your glass is half-full, you see the team being led by one of the top five tight ends in football in Vernon Davis, though at the end of the prime of his career. Behind him, you have a highly touted second-round pick from 2013 in Vance McDonald, complete with a season under his belt. It’s your standard star and eventual replacement as an understudy—a perfect situation.
If your glass is half-empty, you see Davis holding out, despite being the third-highest-paid tight end in the league, according to Spotrac, with no sign he plans to report anytime soon. Behind him, McDonald had a poor enough rookie season that Pro Football Focus rated him as poor when breaking down San Francisco’s lineup.
The truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle. It seems likely that Davis will report at some point during training camp, and McDonald will be better after a year in the system. How much better? That of course remains to be seen.
The result of the holdout and the poor rookie season from McDonald means tight end possibly has the widest range of possible results in the 2014 season in San Francisco. They may have a corps that’s the envy of the rest of the league, or they could be forced to three- and four-wide as their tight ends fail to live up to expectations.
The 49ers used “22” personnel—or two running backs, two tight ends—more than any other team, using it on 26 percent of their offensive plays in 2013, per Football Outsiders.
They also used “12” personnel on an additional 15 percent of plays, meaning they were running two tight ends more than twice out of every five snaps. Part of that is due to the injury to Michael Crabtree requiring them to scramble, but it’s also simply part of their offensive philosophy.
How will the 49ers fill those slots, especially if Davis does end up holding out? Will they continue to use as many two-tight end sets, even with the influx of new talent at the receiver position? Can McDonald take a step forward in his second NFL season? Who will fill out the bottom of the depth chart?
Let’s break down the current depth chart at tight end, as we eagerly await the beginning of the 2014 season.