49ers’ 2019 ‘Who Is?’ series: Tight end Garrett Celek

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: Tight end Garrett Celek #88 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on against the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park on September 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: Tight end Garrett Celek #88 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on against the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park on September 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) /

Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series looks at a veteran on the fringes of the San Francisco 49ers roster, tight end Garrett Celek, and whether or not he sticks around in 2019.

San Francisco 49ers tight end Garrett Celek couldn’t have had two more vastly different seasons between 2017 and 2018.

In 2017, the famous “Celek Time” moniker became famous, as the now-30 year old managed 21 receptions for 336 yards and a career-high four touchdowns his first year under head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Yet those numbers took a tumble last year, as Celek finished 2018 with a mere five receptions and was nary a factor in the receiving game:

Garrett Celek Receiving Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/16/2019.

On top of that, Celek was hit with six accepted penalties last season — one more than the number of receptions he had.

The 49ers added two notable tight ends during the offseason, grabbing Stanford’s Kaden Smith in the 2019 NFL Draft and recently signing former Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons veteran, Levine Toilolo, to a one-year deal.

Toilolo is an excellent blocker, which is something Celek struggled with a lot last season. For Celek to win this pending training camp battle, what will he have to do? More importantly, what are his chances to stick around into 2019?

Why Garrett Celek Improves in 2019

Despite the penalty-prone season in 2018, Pro Football Focus still gave Celek run- and pass-blocking grades of 66.2 and 61.3, respectively.

Those aren’t bad numbers. Both were even better in 2017, too.

Celek will never post lofty receiving numbers, and serving as a No. 2 tight end to Pro Bowler George Kittle is going to be a ceiling for the former at this point in his career. But after Kittle set the NFL record for single-season receiving yards by a tight end last year, he’ll likely receive a lot more attention from opponents’ defenses in 2019. That could open up a stat increase for Celek.

So could the fact Toilolo was never much of a receiving tight end, either. And Smith is a sixth-round rookie, still needing to showcase a lot of ability to overtake a veteran.

Why Garrett Celek Regresses

Celek will turn 31 years old later in May, and he’s hitting the downward portion of his career. So it’s possible the kind of numbers and efforts seen in 2018 are signs of what’s to come this upcoming season.

Additionally, that solid 2017 season was only the second time in Celek’s career he finished with a PFF grade above 67.0 — he had a 91.8 overall grade in 2014, albeit on only 35 snaps.

As Celek gets older, he’ll likely have to rely more on holds and grabs than his sheer athletic ability. That tends to be the trend with aging blockers, even though Celek isn’t old, per se. But it’s possible that tendency is already starting.

Chances of Making the 49ers’ 53-Man Roster in 2019

There’s another thing to consider with Celek’s future in San Francisco. According to Over the Cap, Celek is due a total of just over $2.7 million in this, his 2019 contract year. If cut, the Niners would save over $2 million in cap space with a dead-cap hit of just $625,000.

Toilolo looks to be the primary competition here. He’ll turn 28 years old later this summer and has a keen knowledge of Shanahan’s complex offense from his days with the Falcons. Celek has that knowledge, too. But given Toilolo is younger, he might have the advantage based off age alone.

Most likely, there will be no more than three tight ends on the 49ers’ 53-man roster this season. With Smith having a solid chance of making the cut, the final spot behind Kittle likely goes to either Celek or Toilolo.

This pushes the older, easier-to-cut Celek squarely on the roster bubble heading into training camp. One could make the argument he’s on the weaker side, too, especially considering the number of penalties he had last season.

Toilolo, meanwhile, had only one accepted last season — a false start.

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Training camp will ultimately be the determining factor. Needless to say, however, Celek has an uphill battle to make the cut.

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