Before the draft, many NFL observers believed Stanford tight end Zach Ertz would be a perfect fit for the 49ers.
Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh recruited Ertz when he was at Stanford, and Ertz was a productive tight end for the Cardinal who was ranked by many as the first or second best player at his position.
When the 49ers traded out of their No. 2 spot in the second round to move seven spots lower, however, they lost out on their chance to select Ertz, who quickly was grabbed by the Eagles. When San Francisco’s turn came around at the end of Round 2 (after taking defensive lineman Tank Carradine), the Niners chose Rice tight end Vance McDonald, a player most 49ers fans had never heard of.
To former Cowboys executive and current NFL.com anayst Gil Brandt, however, the Niners made a smart move. McDonald is better than Ertz, he says.
“I love Vance McDonald,” Brandt told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “This is an excellent athlete. He’s big and he’s fast and I thought he was the second-best tight end out there.”
With the departure of free-agent Delanie Walker this offseason, the Niners were in need of a tight end to fill his role, which was highly diversified. Walker was used as a blocker, a tight end in two-tight end sets, a backup to starter Vernon Davis, a wide receiver and as an extra back in the backfield.
Brandt believes McDonald will be just as versatile.
“He’ll be able to do all the things Walker did for them,” Brandt told Branch. “I’m excited to watch him develop.”
McDonald is 6-foot-4 and 267 pounds, with long arms (34 3/8 inches, second longest among draft-eligible tight ends) and big hands who caught 43 passes his junior year and had 36 catches as a senior (while missing three games). His pre-draft scouting report labeled him as a smooth receiver, fluid runner and excellent route runner out of the slot, which is where Walker often was used. He’s fast and strong, having done an excellent 31 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at the NFL Combine.
San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke told reporters after Day 2 of the draft that McDonald has the ability “to line up all over the place.”
Yahoo Sports’ Michael Silver reported McDonald was the tight end the 49ers wanted all along, over Ertz, and could give San Francisco even more offensive options.
Silver wrote it’s a move “that could allow San Francisco to feature a Patriots-style, two-tight-end passing circus” in conjunction with Davis.
McDonald had 115 catches at Rice, which ranks No. 6 all time at the school, with 15 TD catches. He was all-Conference USA as a senior.
McDonald told the Houston Chronicle that he was ecstatic to be going to the NFC champion 49ers.
“Champions, you couldn’t imagine going into a better place,” he said. He added that when head coach Jim Harbaugh called him after his selection, Harbaugh told him “you’re the perfect fit here” because of his versatility.