Garrett Celek has been heralded as a blocker since he entered the NFL in 2013, but the San Francisco 49ers tight end made significant strides as a pass-catcher this season.
The former second-round pick set career highs in every notable statistical category: catches (30), receiving yards (326), long reception (36 yards) and touchdowns (three). McDonald started in 11 games this season and saw his role increase substantially following the Week 9 trade of Vernon Davis to the Denver Broncos.
From there, McDonald went from a blocking specialist in two tight end sets to a relied-upon weapon in the passing game. The tight end had only one game with more than two targets (three versus Indianapolis Colts in 2013) going into this season. In 2015, McDonald was targeted at least three times in eight games.
"I thought, individually, that I finished the year on a strong note," McDonald said. "You're always looking for ways to improve. I'm going into the offseason now and taking the positives."
One of McDonald's biggest performances came in Week 11 against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Despite the loss, the tight end caught all four of his targets for 65 yards and his first career touchdown.
McDonald said that crossing the goal line was his favorite individual moment of the year.
"The first touchdown in Seattle was really special," said McDonald, who kept the football and later gave it to his mom. "My close friend up there (Seahawks tight end Luke Willson) scored against us his rookie year, so it was really cool to go to Seattle and do the same against him."
The following week, McDonald topped that performance with a six-catch, 71-yard day against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12. Both of those numbers were single-game highs for the tight end. McDonald also scored a touchdown for the second straight week.
McDonald said that he plans to bounce back-and-forth during the offseason between his Bay Area home in Santa Clara and his hometown of Winnie, Texas. One of the focal points of his work will be to study film of the top tight ends in the league and see where he can improve.
"It's just seeing what works," McDonald said. "Every year that you play, you're going to get more comfortable in all areas: getting open, route running and what defenders like to do. I like to see what other tight ends do around the NFL and see what they bring to the game.
"It's about what you can take from them and apply to your game."