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49ers bubble watch: Tight ends feature a lot of questions

The San Francisco 49ers have questions at almost every position while they work to figure out their 53-man roster. We’ll break down the bubble watch for each one. Today we look at tight ends.

The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up minicamp last week, and return for training camp in just over five weeks. The roster appears to be just about set, so with that in mind, it is time to re-visit the bubble watch. The offseason workout program does not lock in most roster spots, and that is even more the case this season with a new coaching staff and front office.

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to take a look at each position, and what the bubble watch looks like. As we’ve done for many years now, the bubble watch breaks down to lock, strong bubble, weak bubble, and longshot. For some positions, we'll have multiple players listed at strong bubble, even though not all are likely to make the roster. But the idea is that they both stand a good shot, even if it is just one of them. Additionally, this does not reflect whether or not a player will be traded. Trades can and probably will happen during training camp, but the positioning on this focuses on whether or not they’d be cut.

We move on to the tight end position.

Lock: George Kittle
Strong Bubble: Logan Paulsen, Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek
Weak Bubble: Cole Hikutini, Blake Bell
Longshot: None

The San Francisco 49ers have been busy considering their options at tight end, and the final result remains a mystery. They entered the offseason with Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Blake Bell, and Je’Ron Hamm on the depth chart. They then signed Logan Paulsen as a veteran free agent, drafted George Kittle, and signed rookie free agent Cole Hikutini.

Kittle seems to be the only sure thing at this point. A fifth round pick does not qualify as a “sure thing,” but given that he has quickly worked his way into first team reps with the offense, it’s safe to say he will make the roster.

After that, it’s tough to tell. I wasn’t sure what to do with most of the rest of this group. Logan Paulsen is not a lock to make the roster, but his history with Kyle Shanahan suggests he has a good shot. The team tried to trade Vance McDonald leading up to the draft, but if they don’t get a deal done during training camp, I don’t think they would simply cut him. Garrett Celek is a relatively inexpensive option right now, and Kyle Shanahan has mentioned him as a guy he studied prior to his contract extension.

I don’t really know what to make of this depth chart after Kittle. In my post-minicamp 53-man projection, I had Kittle, Paulsen, and Celek making the roster. I did not include Vance McDonald because I think they end up trading him between now and final roster cuts. They are not going to get much more than a ham sandwich for him, but I think there’s a strong chance he gets traded.

Cole Hikutini remains a wild card in this. He was a praised UDFA, but as a UDFA, he’s facing an uphill climb. He is more likely to end up on the practice squad, but again, there are few sure things in this group.