Every day leading up to the start of training camp set for July 28, 49ers.com will assess each position group on the roster as we get closer to the season. In this installment, we will address the tight end position and how the 49ers may look to take some of the pressure off of their All-Pro, Pro Bowl talent.
Pro Football Focus recently ranked all 32 tight end units with the 49ers group, headlined by George Kittle, landing at the No. 1 spot. San Francisco looked to add relief to Kittle's load this offseason with sixth-round pick Charlie Woerner. Despite the departure of two veteran tight ends last year, the 49ers saw the maturation of Ross Dwelley in Year 2, who looks to maintain his TE2 role. With the goal to take some of the pressure off of Kittle, will someone step up to unseat Dwelley as the 49ers primary backup? In an offense that deploys multiple tight-end sets, could a different TE see more time on the field this season?
The 49ers entered the 2019 season with four tight ends on the roster: Kittle, Dwelley, Levine Toilolo and Kaden Smith. After running back Tevin Coleman suffered a high-ankle sprain in the season opener, the 49ers promoted Jeff Wilson Jr. to the active roster, and in a corresponding move, waived Smith who was claimed by the New York Giants.
Garrett Celek rejoined the team in Week 11 after starting the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP) after undergoing back surgery earlier in the offseason. He spent three weeks on the active roster before being placed on season-ending Injured Reserve. Helm, who spent the season on the practice squad, subsequently was promoted to the active roster.
At the close of the 2019 season, Celek announced his retirement from the NFL and Toilolo signed with the Giants in free agency.
Tight End Breakdown
George Kittle: Kittle topped 1,000 receiving yards for the second-straight season with significantly fewer targets last year, earning the former fifth-round pick All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2019. Kittle led the team in targets (107), receptions (85), yards (1,053) and tied with Kendrick Bourne for a team-high five touchdowns through 14 games in 2019.
It's worth noting, Jimmy Garoppolo had a passer rating of 114.6 when throwing Kittle's way last year and the tight end dropped just two of his 91 catchable targets all season, according to Pro Football Focus. The football analytics site went as far as naming the tight end the league's best player in 2019 – not only as an elite pass catcher but a premier blocker as well.
Ross Dwelley: Dwelley stepped into a prominent role for the 49ers last season after Kittle suffered a broken ankle in the Week 9 win over the Arizona Cardinals. That game, Dwelley hauled in a huge 11-yard reception from Garoppolo on 3rd-and-9 that helped San Francisco run out the clock for the win. Dwelley made six starts last season and recorded 91 yards and two touchdowns as the 49ers primary backup. He also saw time at fullback after Kyle Juszczyk missed four games with a knee injury.
Charlie Woerner: The 49ers drafted Woerner in the sixth round of April's draft. Regarded for his blocking abilities, the tight end graded at an impressive 82.9 mark in the run game last season at Georgia. It's possible Woerner could assume the role of Toilolo (two receptions in 2019) as a blocking tight end, unless the 49ers plan to get the rookie involved in the passing game.
Daniel Helm: Undrafted out of Duke, the 49ers placed Helm on the team's practice squad at the start of the 2019 season. Called up to the active roster in December, the tight end remained inactive throughout the remainder of the season and the playoffs. Helm amassed 804 receiving yards and six touchdowns between his time at Tennessee and Duke.
Chase Harrell: Harrell spent his first three collegiate years at Kansas before transferring to Arkansas in 2018. Harrell played wide receiver at Kansas before switching to the tight end position at Arkansas. The undrafted rookie amassed 396 yards and six touchdowns throughout his collegiate career.