Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio shares its pre-draft scouting report on Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald
3. Vance McDonald, Rice (6-4, 267)
I don’t talk much about college all-star games because I like to emphasize the importance of studying on-field performance. However, there are things you can glean from these weigh-ins, practices, and interviews that can help an evaluator piece together a quality analysis of a player.
At Rice, McDonald was used most often as a wide receiver and H-back. That might make some think of James Casey – who has been a promising player without a true position thus far in this NFL career. Casey is an impressive athlete, but physically he was truly a ‘tweener.
In contrast, McDonald was by far the most physically impressive-looking tight end prospect that I saw at the Senior Bowl and rivals any prospect at the top of the board. Only two pounds lighter than Alabama road grader Michael Williams despite being two inches shorter, all of McDonald’s weight is muscle.
And remember, I just mentioned Rice used him mostly as a wide receiver often split wide from the formation against cornerbacks. He’s a fluid athlete. McDonald has a good burst for his size and he can threaten the seam, getting separation on linebackers and safeties. He catches the ball well with his hands and can make plays with his back to the football.
When working the perimeter, McDonald has a feel for the sideline and he almost always extends his arms from his body to catch the ball. On underneath routes, he does a good job of working back to his quarterback and using his body to shield the downfield defender from the football.
These aspects of his play, plus the fact that he can take a hit and maintain possession of the ball puts him among the upper tier of prosepcts in this class. Because of his athleticism, McDonald does a good job on swing passes. He keeps his hips angled down-field at the point of the reception and he works off his blocks while displaying patience to let them develop.
He also has enough short-area quickness to get outside a block or avoid pursuit in tight spots for extra yards. He has a good first move in the open field and can make the first defender miss. What I like about McDonald as a ball carrier is that heh as patience and decent feet as a runner. Good feet for his size. He can stutter, juke and get his legs over defender’s reaching for him.
But McDonald isn’t just a finesse player. He can lower the shoulder and bounce off hits for yards after contact and he protects the ball under his outside arm. He has good balance – extending plays after contatct with some agility to plant the hand in the ground or keep his feet moving while stumbling forward.
McDonald knows when to duck under contact or lower his pads to attack in a collision. He also displays good ball security. He keeps the ball tight ot his body and carries it under the sideline arm.
While he does a good job flattening routes on speed breaks and he will work back to the quarterback, I think he’s a better zone route runner than a man-to-man guy at this point. However, the potential for him to execute sharp breaks and set up defenders is there.
His best run blocking comes as an H-back on defensive backs in the flat, but he has some skill to punch, turn, and drive linebackers off the line of scrimmage and he can hold his own with some defensive ends. McDonald does a good job of getting his pads inside or outside the defender on open field blocks so he can get the angle he needs to push the defender away from the ball carrier.
Where I think he demonstrate promise as an inline blocker is the quality of his hands. He sustains his hands well with his size, strength, and agility, he should only get better at the line of scrimmage.
In contrast to Kelce and Eifert, McDonald is good at a lot of things but not great at any single thing beyond the occasional flash of playmaking on a football down field. I don’t think he’ll start right away in the NFL, but I think he has the talent to develop into a productive starter and flashes big-play ability to grow into a better pro than collegian.
Vance McDonald Highlights