49ers 2020 NFL Draft preview: Tight end to help George Kittle

George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers don’t need a prolific tight end in the 2020 NFL Draft with George Kittle around. But some late-round fliers might be wise to support him.

In 2017, the San Francisco 49ers arguably landed the biggest steal of that year’s NFL Draft by grabbing a relatively unknown tight end, George Kittle, out of Iowa in Round 5.

Three years later, he’s a first-team All-Pro and one of the league’s biggest sensations.

It’s unlikely the Niners will have that magnitude of fortune again on day three of the 2020 draft, although there’s always hope one of the team’s five picks between Rounds 5 and 7 wind up being a superstar.

Even if that pick winds up being yet another tight end.

San Francisco has Kittle on its roster, of course, yet it will need to come up with what promises to be the largest contract ever given out to a player at his position. This will happen sooner than later. And to protect their lofty investment, the 49ers will want to find some solid supporting cast members.

Even at tight end, which helps explain why there were reports the Niners were pursuing veteran tight ends this offseason.

As far as the NFL Draft is concerned, just how big a priority is it for general manager John Lynch and Co. to get a supplementary No. 2 tight end?

It might be bigger than you think.

49ers moves in NFL free agency

After losing veteran tight end Garrett Celek during the offseason to retirement and fellow TE Levine Toilolo to the New York Giants, the Niners now have two backups to Kittle: Ross Dwelley and Daniel Helm.

Dwelley flashed some moments in 2019 in relief of Kittle, but the former isn’t exactly going to be the next up-and-comer. And considering few NFL defenses are equipped to handle two prolific pass-catching tight ends, it makes some sense a report from The Athletic’s Matt Barrows earlier this month cited some reasons why the Niners were exploring adding a veteran tight end in free agency.

Among the names were now-Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper, along with former Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed.

Needs in the NFL Draft

It’s obviously not a major need, at least on the surface. But the fact San Francisco has been linked to so many tight ends during the offseason so far — including a recent report suggesting the 49ers are in on the Giants’ Evan Engram — suggests Lynch is strongly considering using one of his NFL Draft picks to bolster the depth at this position.

Unlike 2019, the 2020 draft class isn’t deep at tight end. A few, such as Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet, stand atop the class and look to be solid pickups.

But the vast majority of day-three players project to be spot No. 3 on most NFL rosters, positionally. Yet if the Niners are thinking about pushing Dwelley down the depth chart and Helm off of it altogether, it wouldn’t be a shock to see one of those day-three picks used to do so.

2020 NFL Draft outlook

San Francisco won’t get Kmet. But someone like Stanford’s Colby Parkinson or LSU’s Thaddeus Moss could be on the radar. Lynch has his Stanford connection, of course, and Moss made a name for himself against Clemson in the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship game.

As far as another under-the-radar sleeper, don’t overlook UCLA’s Devin Asiasi or Oregon’s Jacob Breeland. Moss’ LSU teammate, Stephen Sullivan, is raw and looks more like a big-bodied wide receiver.

But those project players are the types teams often grab late in the draft anyway. The 49ers could easily take the same route.

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Regardless, the priority isn’t high for San Francisco. At the same time, there’s a strong chance the Niners bring aboard another tight end with a low ceiling, yet potentially high enough an upside.