2012 NFL Draft: Does Tight End Fit In For The 49ers?

Over the last two months, a sizable chunk of our draft discussion has centered around the tight end position, and Stanford TE Coby Fleener in particular. 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has shown a proclivity for using three tight end sets and his history with Fleener makes it a logical conclusion to assume the team will try and grab him at No. 30.

However, given some of the depth needs the 49ers currently have, it makes some sense for the 49ers to potentially wait into the later rounds. Coby Fleener is the number one option in positional rankings, with a fairly sizable gap between him and the next group, including Orson Charles and Dwayne Allen.

Earlier this week, I put together a post about potential tight end Andre Hardy. The Cal State-Fullerton basketball product is looking to follow in the footsteps of star tight end Antonio Gates in jumping from college basketball to the NFL in spite of no playing time since high school. There will be an opportunity for Bay area football fans to watch Hardy, but it will be in Oakland, not San Francisco. Due to his basketball playing nature, Hardy was allowed to sign with any team before the draft gets going in two weeks.

Mike Mayock put together a rundown of three members of the tight end class of 2012 for Philly.com (he lives near there). Fleener tops his list, but he pointed to the common issue of Fleener's blocking ability. He thinks Fleener needs to get bigger and stronger, which he thinks should be able to happen at the next level.

After discussing Fleener, he pointed to a riser in James Hanna (Oklahoma) and a sleeper in Rhett Ellison (USC). Hanna appears to be a pure receiving tight end who would be brought in to add to the vertical threat as opposed to be down close to the line:

"He doesn't block anybody, but when you're talking about a 252-pound kid who can run a 4.45, that's rare ... I think he's going to go in the fourth round, and I think it's going to be somebody who's going to say, ‘I know he's not a blocker. But we've already got a blocking tight end. He's going to be more of a move guy that we're going to develop.' If you're a team that already has a base-blocking tight end and you're looking for a vertical threat to pair with him, this is the kind of kid you draft."

On the other hand, Mayock views Ellison as a more dynamic tight end. He describes Ellison as a "fullback/h-back tight end." Delanie Walker is approaching free agency after 2012 and it remains to be seen if he will be back in San Francisco. Nate Byham will get plenty of opportunities to compete for the third tight end position, but given his draft position, his presence likely will not prevent the team from looking for more options in the draft.

Here's what Mayock had to say about Ellison:

"I really like this kid. He's a fullback/h-back tight end. He was a point-of-attack guy at USC. It didn't matter where they lined him up, he was the point of the football. He blocked. He caught the ball. He ran a little bit. He can run short and intermediate routes. He reminds me a little bit of the kid out of Pitt that ended up with the Giants last year, \[Henry\] Hynoski ... "

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