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49ers tight ends: Better, worse, or same in 2016?

A position by position look at the San Francisco 49ers’ roster, and whether the team is better, worse, or the same as the 2015 roster.

The San Francisco 49ers face a lot of questions surrounding their roster in 2016, and it will take some time to figure out where this team stands. The team was fairly quiet in free agency, but did plenty of work in the 2016 NFL Draft. Additionally, they will welcome back some injured players, and look to further develop young talent from the past few drafts.

With that in mind, I thought we would take a look at each position, compare it to various points last year, and consider whether the unit is better, worse, or the same compared to last year. The table includes the current group of players, and then a list of players on the 90-man roster for the first preseason game, the players on the Week 1 53-man roster, and the players on the Week 17 53-man roster. The idea is to compare this year with last year across the board. The roster changes from August to December, so I’m including three separate markers just to provide an overall view of the position last year.

We started with the quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers, and today we move on to the tight ends.

Current 2015 preseason 2015 - Week 1 2015 - Week 17
Vance McDonald Vernon Davis Vernon Davis Vance McDonald
Bruce Miller Vance McDonald Vance McDonald Blake Bell
Garrett Celek Garrett Celek Garrett Celek Brian Leonhardt
Blake Bell Blake Bell Blake Bell Busta Anderson (IR)
Je'Ron Hamm Derek Carrier Jamie Childers (PS)
Busta Anderson Asante Cleveland
Xavier Grimble
Busta Anderson

There is one fairly notable change to this personnel group. Fullback Bruce Miller is now officially a tight end in Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme. Kelly has not used fullbacks much, so Miller either had to learn a new position, or face a swift departure from the team. Considering he made the transition from defensive end to fullback, it is not surprising he quickly took to another position change.

A year ago, we might have figured things would be OK with Vernon Davis as the No. 1 tight end. Instead, we saw his career stall out and eventually he was traded to the Denver Broncos. He’s now in Washington, and likely is nearing the end of a career that was filled with ups and downs. I view Miller’s move to tight end as an upgrade, and I honestly would not be surprised if he was the leading receiver among this group by season’s end. He might not put up huge yards per catch, but I see him being an integral part of the short and intermediate passing game.

McDonald and Celek return looking to get a boost from a Chip Kelly offense that can mean good things for tight ends. McDonald has dealt with drops all his career, and while he is entering his walk year, it’s hard to expect some drastic improvement for the time being. Celek was a favorite of Blaine Gabbert for a stretch last year, but he ended up on injured reserve. He got an extension this offseason, but injuries remain a concern.

One player not included on this list that will be someone to track in general is Devon Cajuste. I listed him with the wide receivers, but there is some thought that he could eventually end up in a potential h-back role. He’s got some serious size, so it would not be entirely surprising to see him getting a mix of outside and inside work during the preseason.

All in all, I think this group is improved from last year. It doesn’t mean we’ll see huge numbers, but given how poorly the group performed, adding Miller, and potentially using Cajuste in some kind of role could be an improvement. And even Busta Anderson is someone to consider. He has significant athleticism, but injuries have been a problem. The potential is there, if he can stay healthy.