The next subject in our "Undrafted" series has added to the competition at tight end. Cole Hikutini has been an intriguing name since he signed with the San Francisco 49ers as a priority undrafted free agent.
ESPN's Todd McShay tabbed the Louisville product as one of his top-ranked undrafted players in the 2017 class. The 6-foot-4 tight end brings a unique skill set to the Bay Area.
"I'd say my best ability is stretching the field," Hikutini said of himself. "I have good hands. I'm working on my route-running and turning my shoulders quicker. I think I'm good at knowing how to set guys up. Speed and quickness in short areas is how I can create separation."
Take a look at behind-the-scenes photos as the 49ers travel to play the Kansas City Chiefs in the first week of preseason.
The Sacramento, Calif. native began his college career at Sacramento State University before transferring to San Francisco City College. That's where the Cardinals found Hikutini. The tight end spent two seasons at Louisville with his best year coming in 2016. Hikutini caught 50 passes for 668 yards and eight touchdowns from Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson.
His rising draft stock took a hit when he suffered a knee injury during the Citrus Bowl against LSU. The ailment cost Hikutini an opportunity to play at the Reese's Senior Bowl. It also limited him to just the bench press at the NFL Combine (he got 20 reps).
Hikutini wasn't able to begin sprinting until a week before his pro day. That led to an underwhelming performance in front of the scouts on hand.
"Maybe I wasn't ready, but I wanted to show them I could compete," Hikutini said
The tight end posted two 40 times of 4.75 and 4.78 seconds.
"I've never run that slow of a 40 before," he added. "It was disappointing for sure, but I was happy to be out there moving again and running routes. I just didn't have my strength back yet."
NFL.com gave Hikutini a sixth-to-seventh round pre-draft grade, and the tight end was surprised to go undrafted. San Francisco called during the seventh round. His agent and family were there for his decision to remain in Northern California and sign with the 49ers.
"The knee injury hurt me a lot, but I think I ended up in a great situation."
John Lynch sold his vision to Hikutini. That vision involved a clean slate for every player and the opportunity to compete for a roster spot. It's an added bonus that he's only an hour-and-a-half drive from home.
No longer will his parents – both of whom are 49ers fans – have to take a full day of travel across the country to see their son play. They were on hand at last Saturday's open practice at Levi's Stadium.
"It was the best situation for me," Hikutini said. "I know I made the right decision."
The tight end has flashed his athletic ability. His speed is no joke, and Hikutini has shown he's capable of making contested catches downfield. Next on his to-do list is gaining a mastery of Kyle Shanahan's offense.
That will be a must if he's to win a roster spot against fellow tight ends Garrett Celek, Garrett Celek, Blake Bell, Logan Paulsen and George Kittle.
"I have to prove myself every day," Hikutini said. "It's a job, and it's a grind. You only get so many reps. It's important to take advantage of each one. I'm competing for a job, and that's the mindset I have every day."