It's widely known that Kyle Shanahan's offense is predicated on a dynamic rushing offense. This notion was apparent during the team's 2019 campaign where San Francisco's rushing offense averaged an impressive 144.1 yards per game, ranked second best in the league. Additionally, the 49ers averaged 4.6 yards per carry, ranked eighth in the league, 64 explosive run plays of 10-plus yards (ranked second) and a league-high 28 rushing touchdowns in 2019.
Shanahan puts an emphasis on talent that can help the success of the run game, in particular, skill players who are effective in blocking. In the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the 49ers selected tight end Charlie Woerner, a proficient run blocker during his time at Georgia. Woerner's stats as a pass catcher with the Bulldogs did not jump off the page. His most productive season came in 2018, where he caught 11 passes for 148 yards. However, where he truly excelled was as a blocker, grading at an impressive 82.9 mark in the run game last season.
Some parallels can be drawn to George Kittle's collegiate career. The former fifth-round pick caught just 48 passes in four seasons at Iowa. Not much needs to be said to evoke the career Kittle has made from himself in three short years in the NFL. But as much as Kittle enjoys racking up yards in the passing game, his enthusiasm for blocking is just as, if not more, gratifying for the tight end.
For comparison, just two tight ends have ranked in the Top 10 in Pro Football Focus' receiving and run-blocking grades since 2018: Philadelphia Eagles Dallas Goedert and Kittle.
While making preparations for his first season in the NFL, it didn't take long for Woerner's prowess as a blocker to win over San Francisco's star tight end.
"George told us when he met with him in Tennessee, that we had the right type of guy," Shanahan recalled. "The first thing he said to George was how bored he was with all these pass plays. 'When are we going to start learning some run plays?' So, I think that can kind of show you his mentality, which is similar to George's and similar to our whole tight end group. We've got some tough guys who do the run and the pass game and they enjoy both plays."
The team anticipates Woerner developing into a proficient complement to San Francisco's run game and passing attack. The tight end was active in the passing game during the team's training camp last month. He even stepped in when Kittle missed a series of practices due to hamstring tightness and saw a number of targets with the first-team offense.
It's likely Woerner's duties will go beyond being solely a blocking tight end. Shanahan puts an emphasis on his offensive players' ability to contribute beyond one standard role. When drafted by the 49ers this spring, Woerner was expected to relieve the blocking tight end void recently vacated by now-New York Giants Levine Toilolo and retired veteran Garrett Celek. San Francisco is banking on leveraging the college blocking specialist's athleticism and versatility as another potential wrinkle to add to their offense.
There are plenty of expectations for the first-year tight end being drafted on the heels of San Francisco's 2017 standout. However, Shanahan isn't placing weight on his rookie tight end. Despite the similarities, the 49ers aren't looking for the next "George Kittle." Instead, the 49ers are eager for Woerner to make his own name for himself with the 49ers.
"He is a good blocker and he does things in the pass game too. I mean, he's George in that way," Shanahan added. "I know everyone said we drafted a blocking tight end in George, only because he didn't have any pass stats. I'm not trying to put that pressure on Charlie, but he comes in and earns his way by being a tough player, by really wanting to get after it in the run game."