SANTA CLARA — It’s about time the 49ers drew a tight end in the first three rounds, something that hasn’t happened since 2013.
Or this could be like so many other years trying to find a Day 3 gem, a la George Kittle’s fifth-round discovery in 2017.
Kittle remains the NFL’s pseudo spokesman for tight ends. If he gets hurt, the 49ers lose a lot of shine. They’ve struggled for years to find a dynamic complement and understudy for him.
Currently they have the same unit as last season. This upcoming draft should bring more competition, and that could force them to use one of their top picks against a tight end, played on Day 2, April 29, in Round 2 (No. 61 overall) and the third round (No. 93) and 105).
This is what the tight end spot looks like:
WHO IS HERE: Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Ross Dwelley, Tanner Hudson, and Jordan Matthews.
Analysis: This is a tight-knit unit, with Ringleader leader Kittle entering his sixth season. They’re 6-8 when he’s missing games through injury. After 20 touchdowns in 67 regular-season games, his first playoff result (in the NFC Championship Game) will likely go down as Jimmy Garoppolo’s final touchdown pass. Woerner, a block specialist, passed Dwelley as a TE2 last season.
TRAIN DYNAMOS: Trey McBride (Colorado State), Jeremy Ruckert (Ohio State), Greg Dulcich (UCLA), Jelani Woods (Virginia), Charlie Kolar (Iowa State), Jake Ferguson (Wisconsin), Daniel Bellinger (San Diego State), Cade Otton ( Washington), Isaiah Likely (Coastal Carolina).
Analysis: McBride was an All-American and John Mackey Award winner for his 1,121-yard season, but he only had one of his 90 catches on a run-first offense. Ruckert (6-foot-5) and Dulcich (6-4) are big targets, but the most intriguing one who may be more available to the 49ers is Woods, whose 6-7 frame grabbed eight touchdown catches last season . Kolar was a Cyclones captain and a three-time Academic All-American. Not only was Ferguson the Badgers’ lead receiver, he’s also the grandson of former coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez.
On Wednesday night, Kittle ate with three prospects who share his agent: Ferguson of Wisconsin, Bellinger of San Diego State, and Chase Allen of Iowa State.
When asked which NFL tight ends he admires, McBride first named fellow Fort Morgan (Colo.) product and NFL alumnus Joel Dreessen, then added, “George Kittle, he’s a guy that I play a lot like him , a guy who can be kind of a threat in the running game, and also a guy who can be a threat in the passing game, really a complete tight end.
Ruckert, the all-time touchdown leader among Ohio State tight ends, said at the combine, “I watch George Kittle a lot. I love the way he plays the game, the way he thinks, all the jobs he does. He’s an absolute tight end, he can do everything, he’s excellent at everything. But the biggest thing that strikes you when you see him is his mentality and way of thinking. He’s not just trying to block someone, he’s trying to knock them out and I respect that. After that, I try to model my game.”
Wood’s idols are Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski and Marcedes Lewis. He could have said a quarterback. Eventually, he was a double-threat quarterback before joining Oklahoma State late in his freshman year and later moving to Virginia.
“At quarterback, I was a double threat, so I ran and got physical. Switching made it more physical, of course. But I’ve enjoyed it and it’s been a pretty smooth transition,” Woods said at the combine.
49ERS LEGACY: Derrick Deese Jr. (San Jose State)
Deese had three 100-yard games (46 catches, 723 yards, four touchdowns) in his final season with the Spartans. His father was a versatile offensive lineman for the 49ers from 1992 to 2003; Two years after arriving from USC as an undrafted free agent, he started as a right guard on the franchise’s last Lombardi Trophy-winning team.
HIRING OF DRAFT EXPERTS
“It’s a pretty good tight-end draft. There’s no Kyle Pitts, but there’s a lot of depth.” — Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network.
Round One (none), Two (#61 overall), Three (#93, 105), Four (#134), Five (#172), Six (#187, 220, 221), Seven ( No. 262).
The 49ers last had a close finish in the first three rounds in 2013 when they traded a second-round pick for Vance McDonald, whom they traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers three days after Kittle was drafted.