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Positional preview: The 49ers are in good shape at tight end

Will the team carry four tight ends to enter the season?

San Francisco 49ers Training Camp Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers made it a point to bring in tight ends to upgrade the position this past offseason. The team drafted Charlie Woerner in the sixth-round and signed free agent Jordan Reed. The goal is to take some of the workload off George Kittle, so he’s not playing in the fourth quarter when the 49ers are up multiple touchdowns in the fourth quarter this season.

Woerner was drafted as a “blocker with receiving upside,” not unlike Kittle. Woerner doesn’t have the same background as Kittle as a receiver, but, as a blocker, the two share the same mentality. Drafting Woerner should mean we never have to see Kittle blocking in the backfield on passing downs. In an ideal world, Woerner evolves into a reliable pass catcher that keeps defenses honest. The hope is that Woerner doesn’t have to do too much in the passing game this year as Reed stays healthy. It feels like a stretch to expect Reed to play a full season as that hasn’t happened during Reed’s seven-year career. The 49ers won’t need Reed to play 80% of the snaps, however. I’d only use Reed on obvious passing situations and limit him as much as possible to ensure he’s around for the playoffs.

The Niners’ tight end position is in good shape thanks to the $75 million man.

Kittle’s dominance

One of the most impressive stats from 2019 was Kittle leading all eligible receivers in broken tackle rate at 30%. There are so many arguments out there saying Kittle’s production is generated from Kyle Shanahan’s offense, ignoring Kittle breaking 27 tackles on 85 receptions. Kittle broke eight fewer tackles on three more receptions in 2018. He’s continuing to evolve as a player. Where I thought Kittle improved was his attention to detail. He only had two drops on 107 targets. During Kittle’s rookie season, he had seven drops on 63 targets. Kittle is also adding more nuance to his routes, which allows him to create separation.

Kittle’s relentlessness pours into the running game. He’s a people-mover, and that goes for everyone from defensive linemen to defensive backs. When Kittle was on the field, the 49ers averaged five yards per carry. That’s a yard and a half more than when Kittle was off the field. When you play with the type of passion that Kittle does, not only does it rub off on your teammates, but defenses notice and tend to make “business decisions” in terms of when it comes time to tackle you.

Does Dwelley make it?

In my 53-man roster projection, I left Ross Dwelley out. Dwelley’s foot injury came at the wrong time. He gave the team to see what life is like on offense without Dwelley. To me, they don’t miss a beat. By not having Dwelley on the roster, you run the risk of Reed getting injured, and now you’re scrambling to find a tight end on the waiver wire the next game. If Kaden Smith was claimed after the 49ers released him, you’d think the same would apply for Dwelley.

Dwelley is popular in the locker room among both the players and coaches. It’s not as if Dwelley has done anything wrong. It’s more about what the other two bring to the table that Dwelley doesn’t. Woerner is the better run blocker, while Reed is the better receiver. Where does that leave Dwelley?