As our search for fantasy value continues following the draft and we meander through the deepest depths of depth charts, my wandering gaze keeps coming back to the 49ers. Other members of the male species may have more conventional targets for said gaze. Not I.
Oh, those wild and crazy 49ers. When Colin Kaepernick isn’t loving himself tenderly while reminding us that he has a lot of money, he’ll be going all beastmode, especially with new receiver Anquan Boldin. Meanwhile, first-round pick Eric Reid should do just fine in Dashon Goldson’s old hole, and usually when you draft a guy who’s nicknamed Tank (Cornellius Carradine in the second round), that ends pretty well.
But it’s the 49ers’ other second-round pick who could provide sleeper value. Let’s meet Vance McDonald together.
Naturally, it’s difficult to name drop McDonald without also writing Delanie Walker’s name in the same sentence. That’s who he’ll be replacing in San Fran after Walker left for Tennessee, and that fact alone leads to the likelihood of quality — albeit sporadic — production. Here’s what some other smart guy noted earlier this week while looking at the fantasy potential of the 2013 tight end class as a whole:
Vance McDonald could be useful in a deep flex role alongside Vernon Davis, just as Delanie Walker was last year. Davis’ targets were highly scattered once Colin Kaepernick took over, and Walker had three games with 50 or more yards. That’s something far less than spectacular, but still notable given how large Davis’ shadow is, or at least how large it should be.
Wise words, friend, and true words. After he finished only eight yards shy of 800 in 2011, Davis’ receiving yardage declined to 548, while he scored five times. Both that yardage and his touchdowns represent lows since 2008. While that sounds doom filled, it was perhaps a reflection of an offense that was attempting to become more diverse under Kaepernick, and the tight end usage was at the center of that effort.
Which brings us back to Walker. His targets didn’t increase dramatically between 2011 and 2012 (35 in 2011, and 39 this past season), but his yardage certainly did, and consequently so did his chunk yardage. Walker finished with a career high 344 receiving yards in 2012 (146 more than 2011), and nearly half of his 21 receptions went for 20 yards or more (nine, after he had just four in 2011).
Now McDonald is set to be inserted into that offense. You know, an offense where this is a fact…
— Cecil Lammey (@cecillammey) May 1, 2013
The great thing about McDonald and his production potential in an offense that moved Walker around constantly is that he is Walker, or at least the closest thing in this draft to him this side of Tyler Eifert, who came off the board much earlier (first round to the Bengals).
Since he was a receiver in college, Walker was a dynamic option utilized in multiple sets by Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman. He could run deep routes from the slot, while also sliding into the backfield and lead blocking. He was the embodiment of one of the most tired football clichés that lives on: he’s a Swiss Army knife.
Well, please reserve the next four minutes or so of your life to watch this game film of McDonald against Louisiana Tech last year. I know, the standard length of a successful Interweb video is two minutes or less, and with today’s attention spans, four minutes may cause a rash. But I believe in you.
Oh also, ignore the fumble. It happens.
What you see is essentially a large wide receiver who consistently lined up in the slot, while also being sent in motion frequently, and runs came in his direction. In fact, McDonald lined up in the slot so often that his lack of use as a traditional in-line tight end has been a common critique. Fair enough, but Davis has that role.
And it gets better. As Niners Nation noted and as you also see in the video, McDonald’s physicality is often utilized through screens in open space:
McDonald is big. He knows how to use his size to his advantage when the ball is in his hands. At Rice, McDonald was on the receiving end of several bubble screens. Why throw bubble screens to a man of his size? Easy … He doesn’t dance or run sideline to sideline. He squares up and takes on defenders while keeping his legs moving. He’s rarely brought down on the first hit, let alone behind the line of scrimmage.
Between the additions of both Boldin and Quinton Patton, the 49ers now have an abundance of weapons for Kaepernick. But if Davis goes through a prolonged stretch of nothingness again as he did several times last year (most notably between weeks 12 and 17, with just 61 yards over six games), McDonald will have an opportunity to emerge quickly.