San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
49ers may use pick to find Kittle’s backup
Two Pro Bowl tight ends on the same team.
It sounded so good on paper. But it didn’t work out because George Kittle and Jordan Reed were rarely on the field at the same time for the 49ers in 2020: The decorated duo combined to miss 14 games due to injuries and played together in just two games.
And the 49ers won’t be able to try it again this season. This past week, Reed, 30, retired and cited symptoms from the many concussions he’s suffered.
Without Reed, the 49ers are back in a familiar spot. They have Kittle, arguably the NFL’s best tight end, and little else at the position when it comes to passcatching threats. Besides Reed, no 49ers tight end other than Kittle has had a 20catch season since 2017.
Plenty of jokes have been made about the 49ers using the
No. 3 pick, a selection they’ve made clear will be used on a quarterback, on Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, widely regarded as the draft’s best prospect at that position.
That’s not happening. But after using their firstround pick on a quarterback, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the 49ers tried to find Kittle a running mate in the draft.
What the 49ers have: Their No. 2 tight end is Ross Dwelley, a 2018 undrafted free agent who had carved out a role as a contributor entering last season.
Dwelley had career highs in catches (19) and yards (245) in 2020, but he was also flagged for four holding penalties and three false starts, and he had ugly breakdowns in pass protection.
The only other tight ends on the roster are Charlie Woerner and Daniel Helm. Woerner, a 2020 sixthround pick, is a blocking tight end who had three catches in 119 snaps.
Likelihood of drafting a tight end: Head coach Kyle Shanahan would relish the chance to have two tightend formations featuring Kittle and another player with a strong blocking and passcatching ability. And general manager John Lynch has discussed the 49ers wanting to give Kittle an occasional breather, although Kittle’s brilliance means he rarely comes off the field when he’s healthy.
Still, Kittle, 27, has absorbed plenty of punishment in four NFL seasons. Last year he missed eight games with a knee injury and broken foot. In 2019 he missed two games with a cracked ankle bone and popped knee capsule. In addition, he’s appeared on injury reports for back, calf, chest, elbow, hamstring and hip issues, and has said that since 2018 he has played with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, a condition he plans to have surgically repaired after his career.
A tight end who would make sense: Boston College’s Hunter Long, 6foot5 and 254 pounds, is an adequate blocker who could provide a passcatching upgrade from the secondary options on the 49ers’ roster.
Projected as a midround pick, Long was a secondteam AllAmerican last year after leading the nation in catches by tight ends (57). He has just average speed (4.68second 40yard dash) and isn’t a dynamic route runner, but distinguishes himself with excellent hands.
Last tight end the 49ers drafted: Woerner, in 2020.