Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it's worked so far. Who am I to argue?
The San Francisco 49ers head into the summer with eight tight ends on the roster. Well, nine if you want to include long snapper Kyle Nelson. He did have two touchdowns in the 49ers preseason finale last year, so we probably should not entirely ignore him in the tight end depth chart.
The 49ers are coming off a season in which their tight end position suffered numerous injuries. Vernon Davis dealt with ankle, knee and back issues early in the season, and may or may not have fully recovered from them during the season. Vance McDonald dealt with knee and hip injuries for part of the season, and then was shut down late with a back injury. Garrett Celek opened the season on the PUP list, played in three games in November and December, and finished the season on injured reserve. Derek Carrier was the healthiest of the bunch, but then a Week 12 foot injury put him on injured reserve. He continued to wear a boot during the offseason workout program.
This all opened the door for Asante Cleveland to get work off and on throughout the season. The 49ers signed Cleveland a year ago as an undrafted free agent out of Miami. He was released at the end of training camp and subsequently signed to the practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster in Week 3, then sent back to the practice squad for Week 4. He was later promoted back to the 53-man roster in Week 13, and remained active the rest of the season.
Cleveland played special teams in Weeks 3, 13 and 14. He got in on offense the remaining three weeks, accumulating 40 total offensive snaps during that time. He was used almost exclusively as blocker, with only one target coming in Week 15.
What to expect in 2015:
Although Cleveland did get into games, I decided to remove improve/regress for this one. I would expect Cleveland's best chance at a roster spot being on the practice squad. The 49ers drafted Blake Bell and Busta Anderson, and will potentially have a completely healthy tight end depth chart (Derek Carrier still pending). Cleveland could potentially earn a special teams oriented role, but practice squad seems most likely. Scouting reports talk about him more in the context of athleticism and route-running, as opposed to strength and blocking. With Davis, McDonald and Bell all potential pass catchers, a fourth tight end will need to do more as a blocker.
Odds of making the roster:
I suppose the above covers some of this, but to be clear, I think Cleveland's chances at the 53-man roster are pretty slim. He could build on last winter's opportunity, but the 49ers additions of Bell and Anderson do not exactly indicate a ton of faith in Cleveland as a roster option.
At this point, Davis, McDonald and Bell seem like roster locks. Some will question McDonald, but at this point, if he is healthy, I have to think he makes the roster. Of course, a wildcard in all this could be Anderson. He has dealt with multiple triceps injuries, and that likely cost him in the draft. But if he can be back to 100 percent, maybe he surprises as well. But unfortunately for Cleveland, I just don't see anything happening with the 53-man roster.