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Moving Forward: Tight Ends for 49ers hinges on Vance McDonald's development

Vance McDonald hopes to develop into what the 49ers envisioned him as a second tight end
Vance McDonald hopes to develop into what the 49ers envisioned him as a second tight end
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

After losing Delanie Walker in the offseason via free agency, the 49ers drafted Vance McDonald in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft to have him as a supporting tight end behind Vernon Davis.

All three tight ends are locked up for the 2014 season with Davis and McDonald being under contract through 2015. Here is a breakdown of each tight end as we continue the 49ers position series:

Vernon Davis:

Davis, who turned 30 years old today, tied a career-high 13 touchdowns in the regular season. He is the only tight end in NFL history to have two seasons with at least 12 touchdown receptions. While opposing defenses were forced to double-team him for much of the time, he still had a great season. When Michael Crabtree was out for the first 11 game, Davis and Anquan Boldin were the only targets that caught a touchdown from Colin Kaepernick in 2013. Entering his 10th season in the NFL, the tight end will remain a premier target for the 49ers for the next two seasons at minimum as he is under contract through 2015.

Vance McDonald:

The 49ers traded up six spots using a pick they picked up in exchange for Colt McCoy to draft Vance McDonald at 55th overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. In his rookie season, the tight end was used primarily in a blocking role with minimal plays in the passing game. The 49ers have also utilized him in the jumbo package as an extra blocker. In 18 games including the postseason, he had nine receptions for 132 receiving yards. He is most remembered for a 20-yard reception against the Tennessee Titans in Week 7. Compare that to Delanie Walker in 2012, where he had 19 receptions for 340 receiving yards and two touchdowns in 10 games (including playoffs) when Colin Kaepernick became the starting quarterback.

While McDonald struggled in the first half of the season as a run blocker, he showed strides in the second half. When Bruce Miller went down with a fractured scapula in Week 15, McDonald spent time in the full-house backfield formation to lead the way for Frank Gore or Kendall Hunter. McDonald is also remembered for dropping a deep pass against the Carolina Panthers. Entering his second year, the tight end will need to work on his catching and show the versatility that general manager Trent Baalke envisioned him with.

Garrett Celek:

Celek was an undrafted free agent in 2012 who made the 53-man roster in that season. He has been used as an extra blocker but mostly a special teams player throughout the last two seasons. In two seasons, he has six receptions for 89 yards.

Derek Carrier:

Carrier was signed to the practice squad and later promoted to the active roster when Celek was hurt. Like Celek, Carrier has been utilized as an extra blocker who has also spent time on kickoffs.

An undrafted free agent?

The 49ers should bring in an undrafted free agent who is versatile and could have the mold of a tight end. Demarcus Dobbs was the fourth TE in 2012, but spent the 2013 season mostly on the defensive line. Last offseason, the 49ers brought in MarQueis Gray who was a quarterback in college, but also spent time at wide receiver. It would not be surprising if they sign another athletic undrafted free agent or draft someone in the seventh round who could play more than one position.

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