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 you get the idea.
Of the two tight ends the San Francisco 49ers drafted last season, Blake Bell is the most interesting from where I’m sitting. The former quarterback has all the makings of a good all-around NFL tight end, I’m just not certain if he has what it takes to be a top tier receiving tight end, something the 49ers have needed ever since Vernon Davis started his decline.
What I do know is that it’s awfully hard to evaluate pass-catchers when Colin Kaepernick is benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert. Both of them stuck up the joint, and it seems like the 49ers were forced to give Garrett Celek a lengthy contract extension just out of pure necessity. Nobody knows if Celek can actually be a receiving threat, but he’ll likely enter next season as the starting tight end.
So what about Bell?
As a rookie, Bell played in 14 games and caught 15 of the 24 passes thrown his way for 186 yards. He did not find the end zone, and he didn't have too many significant plays. His best game came against the Arizona Cardinals, where he caught three passes for 67 yards. We’ll go ahead and take a look at how that happened.
Oh. Well, I suppose leaving him completely uncovered on the left side of the field is one way for him to have a career-best game. What’s really frustrating about this play is Gabbert not moving quickly through his progressions, so rather than firing off the quick pass to Bell, he has to scramble away from the pressure allowed by Marcus Martin, who is doing Marcus Martin things in the .gif above.
Bell is open almost immediately, but Gabbert isn’t looking his way until he’s already on the move. Still, he at least does a good job of getting the ball to where it needs to be and Bell turns upfield and makes it a 48-yard gain. Good stuff, but the Cardinals gave it to him.
But here's Bell fighting for some yards, and that’s good to see. If a tight end catches a football and he goes down on first contact in this situation, something is wrong. Bell makes an easy catch in close coverage. Unfortunately, he can’t get the first down (and this was a third down), but he fought hard and turned a gain of a couple yards into a gain of several.
I like to see that. It’s not a lot to go on, but I like to see it. We don’t have a lot of NFL tape of Bell at this stage. But I do like what I see, and I do like that the 49ers are at least throwing a whole bunch of tight ends at the wall and seeing which one sticks.
I hope Bell is one of them.
Experience: 2nd season
Bell signed a standard four-year rookie deal that will keep him with the 49ers through 2018. He has a cap number of just over $650,000 next season.
Why he might improve in 2016
The guy is young, he’s still learning a position that he didn't originally play in college and he may just get a chance at starting. The guys above him on the depth chart aren’t exactly exciting, and Chip Kelly needs a reliable pass-catching tight end in his offense. Bell might just be that guy, and improvement isn’t just possible, it’s likely.
Why he might regress in 2016
Bell made the conversion from quarterback to tight end late in his college career, and the transition to the NFL is a tough one for any position. He saw the field last season almost entirely due to a lack of good players ahead of him. Now, the still-new tight end will learn yet another new offense in his second year in the league, and who knows if he’s a fit for what Chip Kelly wants to do?
He’s a young player with a high ceiling and I wouldn’t suggest that regression is likely by any stretch of the imagination, but it wouldn't be the most shocking thing.
Odds of making the roster
It’s a crowded tight end position, but it’s not crowded with for-sure starters. Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek top the depth chart, but there is plenty room for Bell to be mixed in and he’s likely considered the third tight end regardless. Somewhere down the line, Bell and Busta Anderson are probably fighting for a single roster spot, but that's not this offseason.