2017 certainly didn’t go well for Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald, who the team traded for just prior to the start of the regular season. McDonald, who was originally drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the second-round of the 2013 NFL Draft out of Rice, missed six full games and parts of a few others last season due to injuries. If McDonald can rebound and remain healthy in 2018, he could wind up having a career year and that’s something head coach Mike Tomlin is expecting to happen.
“Without question, if he’s healthy, he’s a significant contributor,” Tomlin said this past weekend during an interview with Roto Experts while in Virginia for the annual Hampton Roads Youth Foundation event. “I think he’s proven that and you know, he’s just gotta stay healthy. Some of it you have control over, some of it you don’t and I think that’s just the nature of our game and business. But I’ve been pleased with what Vance has done to this point in the offseason and I’m not going to be surprised when he plays really well.”
Last year during the regular season McDonald only caught 14 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown. However, in the Steelers Divisional Round Playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, a seemingly fully healthy McDonald wound up catching 10 passes for 112 yards. That game was a glimpse at what McDonald can bring to the Steelers offense and likely why the organization traded for him.
Unlike last year, McDonald was able to spend the entire offseason working on getting more comfortable with the intricacies of the Steelers offense in addition to practicing some with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He did, however, reportedly miss some offseason practice time due to an undisclosed injury.
With training camp getting underway next week, McDonald needs to make sure his first trip to Latrobe doesn’t begin with him being placed on the team’s Active/PUP list. Should he accomplish that feat, hopefully he can remain fully healthy from there on out.
McDonald’s future with the Steelers past the 2018 season depends entirely on what happens the remainder of this year. If he ultimately becomes a significant contributor week in and week out like Tomlin expects him to be, he’ll be retained. If he doesn’t, however, you can probably count on him being jettisoned by the start of the 2019 league year in March.