Steelers TE Vance McDonald in the hot seat in 2020

Vance McDonald Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Vance McDonald Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

The Steelers have several players who need to step up their game this season. Here’s why tight end Vance McDonald is in the hot seat in 2020.

2018 was a terrific year for tight end, Vance McDonald. Though his first five seasons in the league, the former second-round pick out of Rice never managed more than 30 receptions or 391 yards in a season. But that quickly changed a year after he joined the Steelers.

Though McDonald couldn’t stay on the field in 2017, he went off for the best season of his career in 2018 with Ben Roethlisberger throwing him the football. In his 6th NFL sesaon, McDonald managed 50 catches for 610 yards and 4 touchdowns – catching nearly 70 percent of passes thrown his direction for 12.2 yards per reception.

However, 2019 was a bad year for McDonald. Without Roethlisberger calling the shots, McDonald earned just 273 yards and 7.2 yards per reception.

Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton recently wrote an article entitled “The Hottest Hot Seat for EVery NFL Team in 2020.” Vance McDonald was the selection for the Steelers. Here’s some of what he had to say:

"Over the last two terms, Vance McDonald saw his role expand, but that trend may turn in the opposite direction… Ebron and McDonald have established track records in the passing game. The Steelers can use two-tight-end sets to keep both of them on the field. Nonetheless, Ebron has racked up at least 537 receiving yards in four of six terms as primarily a pass-catcher at tight end, whereas McDonald eclipsed 400 yards once in seven years. If offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner fields a pass-heavy offensive attack similar to the 2018 unit that led the league in attempts with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger under center, Ebron may become the primary option at tight end."

It’s hard to imagine McDonald having a worse season than he did in 2019 – even with Eric Ebron now in the fold. Last year, Vance graded out dead last among 67 qualifying tight ends with a 45.3 grade, according to Pro Football Focus. This was a far cry from his 76.8 and 69.3 overall grades he earned in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Though McDonald is no stranger to playing second fiddle at tight end, his unreasonably high cap number in 2021 is what makes him the hottest hot seat player on the team. McDonald will be 31 years old next season and is due nearly $8 million, according to Over the Cap. If he doesn’t drastically improve his play this season, he is sure to be a cap casualty in the 2021 offseason.

For a player who has always struggled to stay healthy, going back to a part-time role may not be a bad thing for McDonald. Limiting his snap counts should keep him fresh and playing with Roethlisberger will no doubt be an improvement over the quality of targets he saw last year.

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It’s still too early to tell if Vance will be part of the Steelers in 2021, but his high cap number puts him in a situation very similar to Mark Barron last year. If he doesn’t prove to be a special player in 2020, there is little chance he makes it through next offseason without getting cut.