The wave of college basketball players-turned-NFL tight ends continues to churn out pass-catching studs.
Just look at San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates. Or Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints. Or the relative newcomer on the scene, Julius Thomas of the Denver Broncos.
The San Francisco 49ers happen to employ their own former hooper, and he stepped up in a pinch against the Chicago Bears.
After Vernon Davis (ankle, knee) and Garrett Celek (knee) suffered injuries, Derek Carrier took over and caught his first three NFL passes for 41 total yards.
"It was a great learning experience being in there in crunch time and being able to show what I can do," Carrier said on Thursday.
With Davis and McDonald's statuses uncertain for Week 3, the second-year pro could garner another opportunity to showcase his skills in Arizona.
"He is definitely an ascending player," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "There's definitely things he needs to work on, but he's done a nice job. Has a good feel for the passing game."
When he wasn't breaking records at Division III Beloit (Wisconsin) College on the gridiron, the reserve second-year pro played small forward on the school's basketball team. But because of his size, Carrier began concentrating on football as a junior.
"I was outweighing everybody by 25 pounds at the time," said Carrier, now listed at 6 feet, 4 inches and 241 pounds. "But with football, a lot of the moves you have in basketball are similar, posting up, being able to move with your feet and your hands."
Roman referenced Carrier's heightened awareness and body control – skills likely enhanced by playing basketball – as two traits that make the young tight end stand out.
"Feeling what's around him in zones, understanding man and zone, working the route versus man," Roman said, "body position at the point of the catch, shielding the defender, just all those little things. Where to sit, how to setup a defender, that kind of stuff he's pretty good at."
Although his NFL experience is limited, Carrier has the respect of his teammates and will be ready to take another step forward should he be called upon again come Sunday.
"He plays fearless," quarterback Colin Kaepernick said on Wednesday. "He goes out, he's going to give you everything he has and he's willing to go and make a play."