Just last week, everything was looking up for 49ers tight end Vance McDonald.
In his fourth season, McDonald was finally living up to expectations. The second-round pick from Rice in 2013 had just been signed to a five-year contract extension, and he’d become a big part of the 49ers offense – or what there is of it this season.
Wrote McDonald on Twitter after agreeing to the extension: “I cannot express my gratitude enough to the 49ers owners, coaches and staff for believing in me and for the opportunity to play for this organization for five more years. Today is a dream come true for me and my family and we are proud to call the Bay Area our home.”
Just days later, however, all those good vibrations vanished, when McDonald suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets.
The team placed McDonald on injured reserve Monday, meaning his season is done.
Despite missing two games earlier this season with a hip problem, McDonald was having his best season. He had 24 catches in 11 games, and had set career bests for yards (391), yards per catch (16.3) and touchdowns (4). His yards-per-catch average ranks No. 2 in the NFL this season among tight ends (20 minimum catches) behind only the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski.
McDonald also had TD receptions of 65 and 75 yards to become the first tight end in the NFL since 1997 to have two TD plays of 65 or more yards in a single season.
First-year head coach Chip Kelly said McDonald “fit in very nicely with what we’re trying to do,” and said he was happy the team had extended his deal.
Kelly said the 6-foot-4, 267-pounder is a big target and fast and athletic, making him a great option downfield.
“He’s a mismatch in the pass game for some people,” Kelly told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “His speed is probably better than any linebacker that is going to cover him. He has a size matchup when you want to put a defensive back on him. We’ve exploited some teams with those matchups. The speed he has as the tight end spot is kind of rare and unique.”
Garrett Celek will be the team’s No. 1 tight end target heading into the final three games of the season, beginning with this Sunday’s matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. Celek has 22 catches for 280 yards and a TD.
Kickoff for the game in Atlanta between the 1-12 49ers and the 8-5 Falcons is set for 1:05 p.m. in the Bay Area.