Vance McDonald
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Vance McDonald is a popular tight end sleeper heading into the season. In part because the San Francisco 49ers have a shortage of pass-catching talent and in part because Blaine Gabbert doesn’t have the big arm to stretch the field.
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Anquan Boldin  left for Detroit leaving Torrey Smith as the returning leading receiver for the 49ers with 33 receptions for 663 yards and four touchdowns. He’s not really a great fit for Gabbert’s skillset. Bruce Ellington (hamstring) is shut down for the year. Quinton Patton and Jeremy Kerley are far from reliable fantasy options.
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That leaves McDonald because Gabbert is going to have to throw the ball to somebody. Vance tied for third (with Patton) with 30 receptions last year while finishing fourth with 326 yards and tied for third (with Garrett Celek) with three touchdown catches. At 6’4 and 267 pounds McDonald is a solid option for Gabbert working the middle of the field.
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He did have relative success with Gabbert at the helm. From Week 11-17 McDonald caught 21 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He did miss Week 14, but in the final six games he played, McDonald averaged 3.5 catches for 43.7 yards and 0.5 touchdowns.
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Not exactly TE1 numbers, but certainly worthy of TE2 numbers if he can maintain similar production. I have him inside the top 20 for Week 1 and just outside of the TE2 range for the year.
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Keep him in mind should you suffer an injury or need a bye-week fill-in.
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The AFC South made a big splash in the quarterback department in the recent NFL Draft.
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The division continues to be dominated by the Indianapolis Colts. Peyton Manning is consistently among the best fantasy quarterbacks in the league. He never has a shortage of weapons, and even when they break down like Dallas Clark last year, someone else (Jacob Tamme) steps up. One thing that needed more than a temporary fix was their offensive line. The Colts walked away from the draft with tackle Anthony Castonzo and guard Ben Ijalana. With better protection look for Manning to turn in another impressive season. Would you expect anything less?
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Matt Schuab regressed a little statistically, but that can be expected when you have the NFL rushing leader.  He still threw for 4370 yards and 24 touchdowns (12 INTs). With Andre Johnson, one of the more physical receivers in the league, look for Schaub to remain a quality QB1. The team did not give him any new weapons in the NFL Draft, instead using their first five picks on defense.
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In Jacksonville David Garrard will hold down the fort until Blaine Gabbert is ready to take control of the team. Garrard had a solid year throwing for 2734 yards and 23 TDs (15 INTs) while adding another 279 yards and five scores on the ground. The Jags are limited in the playmaker department. Marcedes Lewis scored ten touchdowns, but had just seven scores in four seasons before busting out in a contract year. Mike Sims-Walker is a free agent that will likely have a new home in 2011. Garrard is a quarterback to use during the bye weeks and little more.
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The Titans turned heads by taking Jake Locker with the eight pick in the draft. He will likely start the year on the sidelines while a veteran (possibly Matt Hasselbeck) acts as a bridge. Despite the presence of Kenny Britt, this is not a great quarterback situation. We’ll have to wait and see how this one plays out.
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Obviously quarterbacks were big early, with none bigger than Cam Newton. He should have no trouble beating out Jimmy Clausen as long as he’s able to get the reps to learn the playbook. The labor situation comes into play once again. He’s a bit of a risk as a dynasty quarterback. You just don’t know how he’ll fair at the next level. He is an amazing athlete though that has major upside.
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With the Steve Smith era likely over, Newton will be working with David Gettis and Brandon LaFell. Not exactly the who’s who of NFL receivers, but they showed some flashes last year. Given the quarterback issues in Carolina last year, it’s not really fair to give them a grade.
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The loser is this draft pick, aside from the obvious choice of Jimmy Clausen, is Jonathan Stewart. Newton is a gifted runner that will vulture some of his would be rushing touchdowns.
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Jake Locker found a good landing place. Who wouldn’t want to have Chris Johnson in the backfield and Kenny Britt (assuming he doesn’t get himself arrested or suspended) to throw to? Accuracy has been an issue for Locker, but Britt has the ability to erase mistakes. While he doesn’t have the upside of Newton, he could turn into a solid NFL (and fantasy) quarterback.
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I would take Blaine Gabbert over Locker in dynasty leagues, but Locker is probably the second quarterback (behind Newton) that I would take in redraft leagues. We’ll have to see how the rest of the draft and free agency period plays out before I make a firm assessment.
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Blaine Gabbert landed in a good place for him. He will be afforded the time to develop playing behind David Garrard. Garrard, who learned under Byron Leftwich, is a good team player and will be suitable teacher for Gabbert. The pick doesn’t affect the skill position players as he won’t likely take the field unless things go sour of the Jags.
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One long-term concern is the hot seat the Jack Del Rio seems to continually be on. If he loses his job, will a new coach want to make his mark with his own guy? Especially if he does play and stink it up, a la Jimmy Clausen. That is back-of-the-mind concern though and shouldn’t have too much weight in your decision to take him in dynasty drafts.
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Finally we come to Christian Ponder, a pick that did not go over well with Vikings fans. He’s smart, with enough athleticism and accuracy to make him a quality NFL quarterback. Injuries have dogged him the past couple of years, but the jury is certainly still out on him in that regard. I think he’ll be a solid pro, I just don’t know that the Vikings wouldn’t have been better served taking Nick Fairley, Mike Pouncey, or Prince Amukamara with the 12th pick and went after a quarterback in the second round.
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Ponder has one of the best running backs in the game (Adrian Peterson) to hand off to and a gifted receiver in Percy Harvin. Sidney Rice may have leave via free agency, but the Vikings have been committed to addressing needs under Zygi Wilf. The Vikings will add a veteran quarterback, but we’ll have to wait and see if it is to be a mentor or a stopgap.


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The Panthers were 2-14 last year. Their 196 points scored last year was the lowest in the league by a mile. They scored 75 fewer points than an inept Cleveland Browns offense. That’s nearly five fewer points per game than the league’s second worst scoring offense. Their 143.1 passing yards per game was nearly 40 fewer than an Arizona team that is desperate for a quarterback change. Clearly the Panthers need better play out of their quarterback. The question is will it be Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, or Jimmy Clausen?
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So how bad was Jimmy last year? He completed 52.5 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and nine interceptions. He had a 58.4 passer rating. In his defense he had just one legitimate target (Steve Smith) in the passing game, and he actually had fewer fantasy points in non-PPR leagues than David Gettis. Smith will turn 32 in May and is on the downside of his career. An intriguing option would be to select Georgia WR A.J. Green with the number one pick. He is the top receiver prospect since Calvin Johnson and the Panthers could take a quarterback in the third round to compete with Clausen.
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The Panthers struggled on the defensive side of the football as well. They ranked 26th with 25.5 points allowed per game. Carolina allowed the tenth most rushing yards per game (123.8). Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus won’t help you score points on offense, but he would certainly beef up their defense. If he commanded double teams, it would open things up for everybody else. The Panthers could also consider Patrick Peterson, but cornerbacks traditionally have not gone that high in the draft.
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Without a second round pick it seems unlikely that the Panthers go in any direction other than quarterback. It will most likely come down to a decision between Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton. Sorry Jimmy. Gabbert is a safer choice while Newton has more  upside. Not only does Newton have incredible athleticism, but he has the ability to put butts in the seats and increase merchandise sales. If the lockout continues, that revenue stream would be desirable.
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If I were pulling the trigger on the Panthers’ first pick I would go with A.J. Green. I’d bring  back Matt Moore once the lockout is over and have an open competition at quarterback. If you struggle again this year, perhaps you land Andrew Luck next year.
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What would you do if you were calling the shots for the Panthers?


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Chris Mortenson
is reporting that Blaine Gabbert scored a 42 on the Wonderlic test. His high score further cements him in my mind as the number one overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He is the purest quarterback in the draft and has the second highest Wonderlic score, after Greg McElroy, among quarterbacks.
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Cam Newton reportedly scored a 21. It’s a solid enough score that he shouldn’t receive scrutiny. Other first round hopefuls, Jake Locker scored a 21 and Christian Ponder scored a 35. Ryan Mallet, who slipped at the combine more for his interviews than for his performance, scored a 26.


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