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.
Blake Bell was picked in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL draft as a developmental tight end following his 2014 conversion from quarterback. As such, there were fairly low expectations placed on him going into his rookie year, low expectations that he overcame with a 15 reception, 186 yard effort. This time last year, James Brady highlighted a couple of his catches against the Arizona Cardinals, both highlighting Bell’s athletic capabilities whilst the first was on a Shanahan-esque play.
Unfortunately for Bell, he was unable to continue his development in year two under Chip Kelly, managing only 4 receptions, albeit for 85 yards and thus averaging 21.3 yards per reception.
Bell has staggering natural physical traits but given his lateness coming to the tight end position and sheer competition for the tight end places this year, he faces a make or break summer to force his way into the coaches’ plans at the tight end spot.
Age: 25 (26 on August 7)
Experience: 2 accrued seasons
Going into the third year of his rookie deal, Bell has a cap hit of $741,283 and if cut, would result in a dead cap of $252,566.
Why he might improve:
Bell is the 49ers tallest tight end and arguably carries the largest YAC ability once he gets the ball into his hands. He is also a surprisingly capable blocker despite his lack of experience at the position, most likely a product of the same willingness to get his nose dirty and embrace his physicality that makes him a dangerous ball carrier. These attributes could be enough to see him sneak onto the roster. His upside could also be sufficient to see off the likes of Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek if the coaching staff truly commit to a youth movement.
Why he might regress:
Nevertheless we cannot ignore the fact that Bell had a down year last season and has seen three new tight ends as well as an “offensive weapon” join the roster this season.
Addressing the first issue, Bell continued to do little as a receiver, which given his inexperience isn't unsurprising but can no longer and will not be tolerated by the new staff. His blocking likely falls below that of Logan Paulsen and rookie pick-up George Kittle. Bell just doesn’t have any abilities or traits that truly elevate him above his competition, except for his size and ball carrying.
Additionally, the number of tight ends on the roster drastically reduces Bell’s chances of making the roster. Even the aforementioned McDonald and Celek could be above Bell in the current pecking order. Though the new staff attempted to trade McDonald, that does not itself mean that Bell is seen as superior to him, whilst Shanahan has spoken favourably about Celek thus far. The addition of Paulsen, Kittle (who may well be TE1 already)UDFA Cole Hikutini (who has been an impressive receiver thus far) and Kyle Juszczyk could see Bell on the outside looking in. Not so much of a regression perhaps, but unemployment as a result of increased competition and a lack of development on Bell’s part.
Odds of making the roster:
Bell looks like a fairly likely cut at this point, given the competition at the tight end position. The three new tight ends added and the presence of Kyle Juszczyk as a fullback/tight end hybrid could alone force Bell out. The continued presence of McDonald and Celek only decreases Bell’s chances further. If Bell makes the 53 it would be a major surprise.