Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald certainly didn’t have a great first season with his new team as he only managed to catch 14 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown during the regular season that included him missing six full contest and parts of a few others due to injuries. It’s worth noting, however, that McDonald’s first season in Pittsburgh at least ended on a high note as the former San Francisco 49ers tight end caught 10 passes for 122 yards in the Steelers Divisional Round playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
So, with McDonald now fully healthy in addition to having the opportunity of having a full offseason with the Steelers under his belt, how will the offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner use him during the 2018 season and will it result in the Rice producing a career year for himself? In an attempt to answer both of those questions, let’s start by looking back at how McDonald was used last season.
For starters, while the Steelers did use 11 personnel quite frequently last year during the regular season, you might be interested to know that McDonald only played 87 total offensive snaps in which he was the lone tight end on the field along with three wide receivers and a running back. As far as my charting research from last season goes, those 87 offensive plays resulted in 518 yards gained for a per play average of 5.95 yards. By my count, 45.9% of those plays were successful plays and there was a 37.8% successful play rate on the 36 plays that were run on 3rd downs.
Inside those stats I found that Landry Jones was the quarterback on 8 of the plays and by the way, 5 of those were unsuccessful.. Additionally, on only 62 of those plays were both wide receiver Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell both on the field along with McDonald and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
McDonald’s very low usage last year during the regular season in 11 personnel was more than likely a result of him missing so much time due to injury in addition to him failing to have an offseason with the team. However, if you look at how he was used in the playoff loss to the Jaguars, perhaps we were given a glimpse of he’ll he be used during the 2018 regular season.
Of the 78 total offensive plays that Steelers ran in their playoff loss to the Jaguars, McDonald was on the field as part of an 11 personnel grouping on 51 of them. The offense gained 318 yards on those plays for a per play average of 6.23 yards. 4 of the Steelers 6 touchdowns were scored within those 51 plays as well. With those stats noted, do keep in mind that the Steelers were down 21-0 to the Jaguars with 11:31 left in the 2nd quarter.
In summation, we have every reason to believe that McDonald will overtake Jesse James as the team’s primary tight end in 2018 and especially when 11 personnel groupings are used. Should McDonald actually remain healthy for a full season in 2018, there’s no reason to think he won’t register career highs in receptions, receiving yardage and receiving touchdowns.