The 49ers have one certainty at the tight end position in the form of George Kittle. Beyond perhaps the best all-around tight end in football, San Francisco has only question marks in that area.
San Francisco knows it will consistently get All-Pro caliber play from Kittle. Judging what they will get from those players behind him on the depth chart is more difficult.
There is no defined second or third tight end on the Niners’ roster, and whether they’ll carry a fourth will be a question throughout camp.
With the identity of Kittle’s backups and the level of tight end depth San Francisco will keep on the 53-man group undecided, the battle for the reserve tight end spots will be an interesting under-the-radar competition to follow. Here’s how the position group looks a month out from training camp:
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Kittle took something of a backseat to Deebo Samuel as the focal point of the San Francisco offense last season. However, he still demonstrated the value of his remarkably well-rounded skill set in a Pro Bowl year where he finished with 910 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 14 games.
The challenge for Kittle will be to remain healthy for a full season. He has not done so since the 2018 campaign and the ceiling of the Niners offense will be higher if he can avoid injury and play a full 17-game slate.
(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Woerner took over as the 49ers’ second tight end in 2021, playing nearly 23 percent of the offensive snaps while Ross Dwelley played a little under 18 percent, per Pro Football Reference. His impact remains limited predominantly to blocking with just eight catches in his first two seasons.
The former sixth-round pick’s influence in pass protection and run blocking will likely see him retain a place on the roster, though he could see his snaps decrease with several potential third tight ends possessing skill sets more conducive to receiving production.
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Dwelley’s versatility has previously added great value to the 49ers offense, particularly in the 2019 season when he filled in for both Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. In 2021, however, his impact was minimal. Dwelley made only four receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown while playing fewer snaps than Woerner on offense and special teams.
Kittle and Woerner are superior blockers, which means Dwelley’s case for a place on the 53-man roster is becoming tougher to make, especially considering the competition the Niners have added for the TE3 spot.
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A player whose production has been severely hindered by injuries since his career-high 404 receiving yards and seven touchdowns for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017, Kroft should be considered firmly in the mix to unseat Dwelley and claim a place on the roster.
Still only 29, Kroft still has time to revitalize his career and joining the 49ers will give him a chance to do that since he’ll at least be familiar with Kyle Shanahan’s system after playing for Shanahan disciple Mike LaFleur during his sole season with the New York Jets.
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Signed by the Niners following a successful tryout during the team’s rookie minicamp, Fumagalli has bounced around the NFL since being drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2017. He was a productive pass-catcher in college with Wisconsin, but that has not translated to the pros . Fumagalli has only 14 catches in his career and was not renowned for his blocking coming out of college. He will need to impress significantly in one of those areas to have a shot of making the roster.
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The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer spent last season on the Niners’ practice squad and could be a dark horse to claim a roster spot. Hudson has already been on the receiving end of targets from Trey Lance during the offseason program, including one he reeled in with a one-handed catch on a deep post during the offseason program.
A continuation of their rapport in training camp may well be enough for him to seal a place on the 53. If he fails in that quest, Hudson looks likely to be a candidate to provide insurance on the practice squad once again.
(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Matthews will once more try to crack the Niners’ roster as a wide receiver turned tight end having spent last season on the practice squad in that role. He certainly has the size for the position and his experience as a receiver aids him in terms of route-running. On the other hand, his struggles as a blocker mean a place on the active roster should continue to elude him.