The San Francisco 49ers start training camp later next week, which means we’ll start to get some resolution on who will make the roster, and how the starting lineup will look come Week 1. As we come down this final stretch, I thought we’d go through some of the notable position competitions facing the 49ers in training camp. We’re going to focus primarily on starters, but we might mix in some pertinent reserve roles from time-to-time. We started things off with right tackle, inside linebacker, wide receiver, nickel back, and the backup running back.
Today we move on to the tight end position. This is a complicated one. The 49ers have some returning options, and have moved Bruce Miller into the mix. Chip Kelly likes using his tight ends, so we should see plenty of them, but it’s a tough question figuring who fits in where
The incumbent(s): Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Blake Bell
Vernon Davis entered last season as the 49ers No. 1 tight end, with Vance McDonald serving as the No. 2, and Garrett Celek rotating in. The team eventually traded Davis, while Vance McDonald rotated in and out of the starting lineup. Celek eventually landed on injured reserve, and rookie Blake Bell got some work over the course of the season.
The challengers: Bruce Miller, Busta Anderson, Je’Ron Hamm
The biggest news is Miller transitioning from fullback to tight end. Kelly does not really use fullbacks, so Miller either had to change positions, or find himself a new team. It remains to be seen how this change will work out, but given his move from defensive end to fullback, he’s shown he can make a big move. The 49ers used a seventh round pick on Anderson last year, and the talented but injury prone player spent his rookie season on injured reserve. The team claimed Hamm off waivers late in the season.
Leader in the clubhouse: Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek
Bruce Miller is getting significant work, but given the recent change in position, it’s hard to say where exactly he stands in the competition. McDonald is entering the final season of his contract, while Celek got a four-year contract extension this offseason. I could see this position being very fluid, but for the time being, the two incumbents with the most experience lead the way.
Contract implications: The team has very little money invested in the position. McDonald is in the walk year of his rookie contract, while Bell and Anderson remain on cheap rookie deals. Garrett Celek signed a four-year extension worth $10.2 million, so they haven’t exactly bet the farm on him.
Wild card: Anderson is the big wild card in this group. The team obviously thinks somewhat highly of Bell. Anderson however is an extremely athletic option who could contribute if he can stay healthy. He has yet to prove he can consistently stay healthy, but that’s what makes him a wild card.
Way too early prediction: I remain convinced Bruce Miller emerges in some way at tight end. Given his blocking prowess, maybe he is primarily in a blocking role initially. However, out of the gates, I see Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek as the primary starters. Bell is the most intriguing of the tight ends most likely to get on the 53-man roster. I think by season’s end he is getting starter level snaps.