Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert expects McDonald to benefit from a full offseason with the team, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports. Reading between the lines, Colbert is hinting that he doesn't plan to release McDonald, who carries a $3.7 million base salary for 2018, per overthecap.com. The 27-year-old was traded from San Francisco to Pittsburgh in August and only had 14 receptions in 10 regular-season games, but he shockingly broke out with 10 catches for 112 yards in a playoff loss to the Jaguars. The huge outing was a first step toward supplanting incumbent starter Jesse James, who's been one of the league's least efficient tight ends on a per-target basis in back-to-back seasons. The Steelers probably hope to see McDonald step up and take the No. 1 job.
McDonald caught 10 of his team-high 16 targets for 112 yards in Sunday's 45-42 AFC divisional round loss to Jacksonville. Where was this guy all season? McDonald never caught more than four passes or exceeded 52 yards in a game in his first Steelers campaign, yet he set new single-game career bests across the stat sheet Sunday. Considering that Jacksonville's defense had been stingy against opposing tight ends this season, McDonald's performance was particularly encouraging. Given his upside, he seems to have an edge over Jesse James for the role of primary pass-catching tight end heading into the offseason.
McDonald, who caught one pass (on two targets) for five yards in Sunday's 28-24 win over the Browns, finishes up the 2017 season with 14 catches (on 24 targets) for 188 yards and one touchdown in 10 games. McDonald missed several games this season due to injury, and didn't seem to hit his stride until Week 15. Splitting time with Jesse James, along with a diminished role for tight ends in the offensive game plan, resulted in McDonald's worst season since 2014. Pittsburgh signed him to a hefty contract that runs until 2022, so it is unlikely McDonald is going anywhere but, unless there is a change in how he is utilized, his fantasy value will continue to be limited.
McDonald totaled 52 yards on four receptions in Monday's 34-6 win at Houston. McDonald has now caught four passes for 52 yards in each of his last two games over the past three weeks. Plagued by minor injuries all season, he seems to be hitting his stride and has a favorable matchup in Week 17 against the Browns, who have yielded the second-most touchdowns (10) to opposing tight ends this season.
McDonald (shoulder) practiced in full Thursday. McDonald's full participation in practice to begin Week 16 preparations sets the stage for the tight end to return from a one-game absence Monday in Houston. Before the shoulder injury prevented him from playing in the Week 15 loss to the Patriots, McDonald was coming off his best outing of the season -- a four-catch, 52-yard effort in a victory over Baltimore. The absence of all-world wideout Antonio Brown (lower leg) for at least the game against the Texans should put McDonald and most of the Steelers' other tertiary pass catchers in line for elevated target counts.
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