The San Francisco 49ers head into this weekend's Week 3 matchup with significant question marks at the tight end position. Vernon Davis (ankle, knee) and Vance McDonald (knee) are both questionable for Sunday's game, and expected to be game time decisions. Even if they do play, they are going into this game at less than 100 percent. That might be enough to get the job done, but odds are pretty good this opens the door to more playing time for another tight end.
Enter, Derek Carrier.
The 49ers third tight end has been with the team since September 2013, when he signed to the practice squad. The 49ers promoted Carrier to the 53-man roster on November 16, 2013, when Garrett Celek went down with an injury. Carrier was active for five games, then inactive the final two regular season games and three playoff games.
Carrier entered the offseason program competing with Celek for the third tight end role. When training camp got started in July, Celek was placed on the PUP list with a back injury. Jim Harbaugh mentioned at one point that it was a disc issue, but we never really heard anything else. Asante Cleveland was also in the mix, but this became Carrier's job to lose.
Carrier came out of small Beloit College as a wide receiver, and signed with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent. Our photo editor only has eight pictures of Carrier, and a few of them include him with the Raiders with what appears to be a rookie hazing haircut.
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
We actually only have one picture of him with the 49ers, and it is not the most flattering picture, thus the reason for using the above picture of him with the Eagles.
Speaking of the Eagles, the folks at Bleeding Green Nation were big fans of Carrier. They had a quick intro about him, and then discussed why he might be the guy to help produce more from the tight end position.
In August, Eric Branch put together one of his quality features about Carrier, following his journey to the NFL. It's a great read, providing details on why he chose Division III Beloit over Wisconsin. He would have been a "preferred walk-on" at Wisconsin, but at Beloit he got better academics, and a chance to play multiple sports.
Coming out of college, he put on a display at his Pro Day. He conducted it with the Wisconsin players, which meant all 32 teams were in attendance. He measured in at 6'2, 238 pounds, and ran a 4.51 40 ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, with a 40-inch vertical jump and three-cone drill time of 6.69 seconds. That was enough to draw interest as a UDFA once the 2012 draft came to a wrap.
From a purely athletic standpoint, Carrier would appear to have all the tools to succeed in the NFL. I recommend checking out this article, which takes a look at Carrier in the context of his athleticism and college production. Obviously production at the Division III level needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but when you combine it with NFL-caliber athleticism, there is a little more value to be found.
Heading into training camp, the big question for Carrier was his blocking. I say that because it was one of the few specifics that offensive coordinator Greg Roman provided during training camp press conferences. Wide receivers have to do their share of blocking, but making the switch to tight end means that much more blocking, particularly given what the 49ers like to do with their tight ends in the run game. Roman has said Carrier has shown quite a bit of improvement. And it has gotten him out on the field. He got his biggest opportunity in Week 2, finishing the game with 3 receptions for 41 yards.
I don't expect monster numbers from Carrier, but we saw Kap look his way several times last week. Given his speed and size, he could be used on the line, in the slot, or out wide. I would not be surprised to see him used in each one of those ways at one point or another this Sunday. He showed an ability to go up in traffic on his 22-yard catch, and that is always going to impress a quarterback. We'll see how Kap and Carrier build on that Week 2 performance.