49ers tight end in 2017: George Kittle vs Vance McDonald

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Vance McDonald at 49ers mini-camp.
Vance McDonald could end up on the outside looking in for a roster spot at tight end with the 49ers.

With all the transition that comes with major front office changes, the San Francisco 49ers roster is due for a significant makeover that was initiated in free agency and the draft. Training camp is just around the corner and there are several offensive starting jobs up for grabs. Today we will analyze the position battle at tight end: George Kittle versus Vance McDonald.

New head coach Kyle Shanahan may have only had three tight ends on the active roster but still had three different tight ends get over 300 snaps last year for the Falcons, suggesting that there will be a lot of movement for the 49ers at the tight end position in 2017. As of now there are five tight ends on the roster: three veterans who are signed through 2018 and two promising rookies in George Kittle and Cole Hikutini.

Last year’s starter Vance McDonald was extended by Trent Baalke and the previous front office to a three year, $20 million contract. However, McDonald may not be in the current coaching staff’s long-term plan. Rumors were buzzing during this year’s draft about the front office trying to trade Vance away, but the draft came and went and he is still on the roster.

All of that said, Vance still finished the 2017 season ranked as the number 24 overall tight end by Pro Football Focus. Vance was a 2nd round pick in 2013 and has always displayed a high level of athleticism but has also been plagued by dropped passes. He ended the 2016 season with a 53.3 percent catch rate which put him as the number 84 tight end in the league.


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George Kittle was drafted out of Iowa in the 5th round this year and was fellow draftee C.J. Beathard’s roommate in college. He is much more of a Swiss army knife type of player that is the same height as Vance but is 20 pounds lighter and considerably faster. Reports from mini-camp are saying he is already pushing for the starting spot. Kittle ran a 4.52 40 yard dash which was third best among drafted tight ends. Kittle is a very capable blocker and that was his primary role in college for the run heavy Hawkeyes.


George Kittle is likely the only lock for the 49ers roster out of the tight end group, and if he beats out Vance McDonald in training camp then Vance could be on his way out. Undrafted priority free agent Cole Hikutini has a lot of potential but is coming off a knee injury from the Citus Bowl. Cole’s roster spot could be tied to George Kittle beating out Vance McDonald for the starting job. The other two veteran tight ends are former quarterback Blake Bell and Garett Celek, both of whom are on the outside looking in and will have to wow the new staff if they want to make the roster.

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