The San Francisco 49ers have made all sorts of improvements to some rather sub-par units this offseason. One unit that didn’t so much need improvement as it needed depth was the tight end group. Now with draft pick Kaden Smith and a (hopefully) healed and rejuvenated Garrett Celek, the 49ers now have a respectable tight end room. In 2018 it was Kittle, Celek, and then whoever was activated off of the practice squad.
SB Nation’s Christian D’Andrea put together a ranking of each of the NFL’s tight end groups. Note this is the group, not just the player. We’ve seen all sorts of articles where Kittle was fighting with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce for the No. 1 spot with some Philadelphia Eagles Zach Ertz thrown in for good measure. This is how the entire room ranks among the rest of the NFL.
The 49ers were ranked third, behind the Philadelphia Eagles and the Indianapolis Colts who were second and first respectively. Here’s what D’Andrea said in the ranking:
Primary tight ends: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Kaden Smith
Kittle was great at pretty much anything he was asked to do for the Niners, excelling despite catching passes from three different starters in his second season as a pro. His 1,377 receiving yards in 2018 were the most ever by a tight end, and he also cleared a path for one of the league’s most dynamic rushing attacks by sealing off the edge effectively as a blocker. Smith and Celek don’t offer as much behind him, but the former Iowa Hawkeye was destructive enough last fall to push San Francisco into the top five on his own.
Ahh, the George Kittle show. Remember, we’re not talking about the best tight ends, but the group. Plural. Behind Kittle there’s Celek who had a severe regression last year and Smith who is unproven. Before Smith, the depth was a rotating door of bodies, none of which could stick with the team.
The 49ers do need something to take the edge off Kittle, which is why Smith is so intriguing. With a full offseason, linebackers are going to clamp down on Kittle’s routes and having Smith ready to keep them honest will allow Kittle continue dominating on the field. Let’s also not forget having a second capable blocker is just as important as a pass catcher, and it will be interesting to see Smith’s blocking ability in the NFL.
The 49ers are now starting to have several top-tier units develop. Remember when this was one of the worst rosters in the league?