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2017 NFL mock draft: What about O.J. Howard?

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The 49ers need skill position players. Even with a full contingent of tight ends, there’s room for improvement.

The San Francisco 49ers spent a sizable chunk of change on their skill positions in free agency, signing Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, and Kyle Juszczyk, among others. They made some solid additions, but the team can use a lot more talent on the offensive side of the ball.

NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein posted his latest 2017 NFL mock draft on Monday, and it offers a twist. There is a trade involving the 49ers, with them moving down from No. 2 to No. 8. However, it is the player the 49ers draft that offers the biggest twist. Zierlein has the 49ers selecting Alabama tight end O.J. Howard. Here’s what he says about the pick:

Of course the 49ers have other pressing needs, but Howard has tremendous upside and would be a perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan's play-action passing attack.

Some names that come off the board after Howard include QB Mitchell Trubisky, DT Jonathan Allen, LB Reuben Foster, WR Mike Williams, S Jabrill Peppers, and pass rusher Taco Charlton.

The 49ers have a full contingent of tight ends, adding Logan Paulsen to a group that includes Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Blake Bell, and Je’Ron Hamm. That’s certainly not the strongest group in the NFL, but the 49ers have not exactly pushed to improve it. This year’s tight end draft class is viewed as a strong one, with Howard joined by David Njoku, Evan Engram, Gerald Everett, and George Kittle, among others. There’s a lot of talent in the group.

However, Howard is viewed as a step above, and I’ve seen some compare him to Rob Gronkowski. If the 49ers were to think Howard is that kind of impact player, the fact that he is a tight end really doesn’t bother me. Kyle Shanahan has shown an ability to use pieces in creative ways. I imagine he could find ways to use Howard.

That being said, the question comes down to how much greater the 49ers think Howard would be compared to the other tight ends, and then where Howard stands compared to the options that might be available to the 49ers. We’ve had folks here suggest Howard at No. 2, so clearly there are some fans. But it comes down to what else you can get, and still potentially get a tight end later.