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Very Deep Sleeper: Vance McDonald (49ers)

Aug 24, 2016

Vance McDonald

Vance McDonald has built a solid rapport with QB Blaine Gabbert

R.C. Fischer discusses deep sleeper candidate Vance McDonald of the 49ers.

This piece is part of our article program that features quality content from experts exclusively at FantasyPros. For more insight from R.C. head to Fantasy Football Metrics.

So you’re going to take the ‘any ole tight end will do’ approach in the middle/later rounds of your upcoming redraft, eh?

There’s a little problem with that theory this year – there are not as many ‘any ole tight end will do’ guys out there as there used to be. We’ve got an economics problem on our hands with fantasy tight ends in 2016…not enough supply of ‘any ole tight ends’ to meet the demand (the demand being — I demand that I have a high-scoring tight end for my fantasy football team).

Injury has caused a scarcity issue for fantasy tight ends to start this season:

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  • Tyler Eifert was great last year. If he were healthy he’d be a clear top 3-to-5 fantasy tight end, but no one knows if/when he’ll be available. The injury mystery has dropped him down the fantasy rankings.
  • A few years ago, we all debated whether Jimmy Graham was better than Rob Gronkowski, as Graham was breaking down the barrier of a tight ends being selected in the first round of redrafts. Not anymore. None of us knows if Graham will even be able to play this season after his horrific injury last year.
  • Many of us (like me) thought this would be the year that Ladarius Green would break out with a new team, a team that paid him nice free agent money to come over and be a star…a fantasy star. Now, he’s giving us all a headache.

Things have gotten so bad at tight end you’re actually excited about Coby Fleener.

If you wake up in the middle of your redraft to discover that Jason Witten or Dwayne Allen, etc. is your starting TE1, or if you drafted one of the walking wounded big names that might not/likely will not be available Week 1 – then you are likely, desperately, in the market for a fantasy TE2 that could save the day. A TE2 that might be your TE1 opening day, and for most of the season. Enter 49ers’ starting tight end Vance McDonald.

There are three key reasons why McDonald may be the TE1 savior who ‘any ole tight end will do’ redrafters are going to need.

1) Vance McDonald is a physical talent.

McDonald is 6′4″/265+ pounds…he’s a block of granite. I know this because I have fully-functioning eyes, and because he benched 31 reps at the 2013 NFL Combine – more than most offensive line prospects. He’s also a block of granite with ‘wheels’ – with a 4.69 40-time and 7.08 three-cone agility, he’s got above-average speed and agility for the tight end position in the NFL. With his size-speed combo, he’s a runaway freight train with the ball. One of the most difficult players to tackle in the NFL for linebackers and defensive backs. There’s a reason why McDonald was a second-round draft pick in 2013. There’s a reason why he was used in college as a running back a few times (seven carries for 52 yards for Rice). McDonald is a gifted athlete for his size.

2) Vance McDonald is the clear-cut starter for the 49ers now.

This was a question mark to begin the season. McDonald finished last year as the starter, but he only got there due to injury to Garrett Celek and the trade of Vernon Davis. McDonald was establishing himself with the 2015 coaching staff, but that staff was canned, so there was debate on what Chip Kelly might do. Kelly, smartly, has decided to roll with McDonald.

3) Vance McDonald is Blaine Gabbert’s guy.

Once both were elevated to starters last season, it took a few games, but eventually a chemistry began forming. McDonald averaged 3.5 catches for 43.7 yards and 0.50 TDs per game over his final six games in 2015 with Gabbert – 7.4 fantasy PPG/10.9 PPR PPG. Those are fringe top 12 fantasy numbers per game.

McDonald is arguably the best pass-game weapon the 49ers have because of his ability to take a short pass and turn it into magic by mowing over would-be tacklers. In addition, the 49ers’ wide receiver group is ‘challenged’ at best – not very good. Gabbert has made the wise move to lean on McDonald…and I think that relationship is growing even more this preseason.

The FantasyPros expert consensus has McDonald outside the top 20 tight ends for this draft. We have been moving McDonald up our rankings for weeks, and recently moved him among our top 10 tight ends for 2016 in our 2016 Draft Guide Projections. McDonald is a potential TE2 savior that will cost you next to nothing – because he normally goes undrafted in 12-team/15-round redrafts (as of this publishing). He’s also a bargain for dynasty stashes.

Who doesn’t want to see more of this type of work from their fantasy tight end?

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