Even with Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle settled in as the top option at the position for the San Francisco 49ers, there are some questions about the rest of the depth. Niner Noise takes a look at the possible options at tight end for 2019.
And then some.
Not only did he set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end, and nearly broke the single-game record in one half (he ended up five yards short), he did so in style, including this wild stat from Pro Football Focus:
So it’s pretty safe to say the Niners’ TE1 is taken care of, not only for 2019, but beyond, in San Francisco.
The question is what will the rest of the depth at the position look like for this upcoming season?
Garrett Celek has been locked into the second tight end slot since head coach Kyle Shanahan arrived and has been with the 49ers since his rookie season in 2012, but his output hasn’t exactly set the world on fire.
Given the moves the Niners made in the 2019 NFL Draft, there appears to be two options for the 49ers tight end depth chart in 2019.
Option No.1: George Kittle, Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo
Again, Kittle is locked in to his spot, so these two options will depend on what head coach Kyle Shanahan wants for the depth options.
This look gives Shanahan multiple looks he can utilize using the group, with Kittle and Kaden Smith both able to function as in-line and move tight ends, while Levine Toilolo features as both a capable blocker and potential receiving threat, even if his career numbers aren’t mind blowing.
Since Shanahan is all about disguising looks via personnel, and it appears as if his offense is moving towards positionless football, the versatility of this group should have him quite excited about the possibilities.
Celek just doesn’t have the blocking skills to not tip off the defense of his intended purpose, and while Kittle is a fantastic blocker, he’s clearly a top option when he’s on the field.
If the intention is for Shanahan to carry three traditional tight ends, this trio is the most likely given what the team is looking to do on offense.
Option No.2: George Kittle, Kaden Smith and Jalen Hurd
This direction is a little more outside the box, but it would allow the 49ers to keep more of their 2019 NFL Draft selections, along with extending the depth at wide receiver.
The trio here will be more of a pass-catching group, with both Smith and Hurd needing work as blockers, but will also take the multiple look ideas mentioned above and increase those opportunities even more.
If this were to end up being the depth chart at tight end, it would mean that Shanahan has decided that he’s going all out in the passing game, and that Hurd’s upside as a pass catcher matters more than what a player like Toilolo adds as a blocker.
Given the stable of running backs, however, this is certainly the least likely of the two directions Shanahan and general manager John Lynch could go with the roster.
Shanahan still views the running game as vital to his offense’s success, and the lack of quality blockers outside of the offensive line, Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, this option is decidedly less likely.
But all the orientations that Shanahan could take with his ultimate pass catchers depth, the tight end group will be something to watch as training camp gets started in late July.