Sometimes a quarterback just seems to have a natural rapport with one of his targets and, in turn, that player benefits from increased looks, production, etc. This seemed to be the case for San Francisco 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert and TE Vance McDonald.
When Gabbert took over as the starter in Week 9 of last season, the once invisible McDonald finally started to show some of the talent that made him a second-round draft pick in 2013. In seven games, McDonald was targeted 35 times and caught 23 passes (65.7 percent), gaining 281 yards and scoring three touchdowns in the process. Over a 16 game season, that’s a pace of 52/642/7. The production was significant, considering McDonald had only managed 17 catches for 194 yards in his previous 30 contests with QB Colin Kaepernick under center.
The connection continued to look strong this summer in limited preseason action, and most thought McDonald was in for a true breakout year. While McDonald has produced early on, his overall lack of involvement in the passing game has been a bit of a surprise. McDonald has been targeted a mere five times over the first two weeks, despite being productive when getting a chance. He’s hauled in three of those targets for 89 yards and two scores (although to be fair, he did have a big drop mixed in there as well).
Vance McDonald only has five targets in 2 games but has caught three of them for 89 yds and 2 TDs. Think he’s more involved in Week 3 #49ers
— Al Sacco (@AlSacco49) September 20, 2016
With the 49ers passing game scuffling (they are currently 31st in the NFL in yards per attempt at 5.8) and Gabbert struggling to find a rhythm, it will be imperative for HC Chip Kelly to get McDonald more involved in Week 3 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Gabbert has been inaccurate in the early going, so looking for his security blanket could help to right the ship. The two have had success at CenturyLink Field before, as McDonald caught all four of his targets from Gabbert for 65 yards and a touchdown in Week 11 of 2015. Moreover, while the vaunted Seahawk defense is traditionally tough on receivers, tight ends have had some success against them. Most recently Los Angeles Rams TE Lance Kendrick caught four balls for 66 yards in Week 2, and Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen pulled in six passes for 77 yards and a score in the 2015 Divisional Round of the playoffs.
While the 49ers are averaging 27.5 points per game in the early going, they’re 31st in the league in yards per offensive play at 4.4. Eventually, this will catch up to them, causing a dip in points. San Francisco has to look to get the ball in the hands on it’s best weapons, and McDonald is near the top of that list. McDonald has shown he can make an impact, he just needs a chance.