No. 3: Tight End Cole Hikutini
The competition at tight end promises to be one of the most interesting to keep an eye on through minicamps and into the team’s formal training camp.
Along with undrafted free-agent Cole Hikutini, Kyle Shanahan will have rookie George Kittle, Blake Bell, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen and incumbent starter Vance McDonald battling it out to be among the final 53.
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Although McDonald was last year’s starter, and received a contract extension last December, it was done under previous general manager Trent Baalke.
Both Shanahan and John Lynch have said that the team did try to trade McDonald but could not find a trade partner.
And while the team ended up keeping him, it also would not be a surprise to see him moved before the start of the 2017 season.
With Brian Hoyer the presumed starter at quarterback, there promises to be quite a few short-to-intermediate throws to the flats and underneath to the tight end.
Hikutini, although a UDFA, left Louisville having led the team last season in receptions (50), receiving yards (668) and touchdowns (eight). Scouts love Hikutini’s 6-foot-4 frame and route running to go along with his reliable hands. He is also a good red-zone target capable of hauling in 50/50 balls.
In fact, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper wrote, “He ran the 40 around 4.80 at his Pro Day, but I thought his tape showed a Day 2 pick, and he was my sixth-ranked tight end. Hikutini could be a steal.”
Shanahan may ultimately decide Paulsen is the best fit to start Week 1 at tight end, but Kittle and Hikutini will battle for some playing time in his offense as well.