Charlie Woerner a better 49ers fit than Kaden Smith

Charlie Woerner #89 of the Georgia Bulldogs (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Charlie Woerner #89 of the Georgia Bulldogs (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers tried to make something out of tight end Kaden Smith via the 2019 NFL Draft, but this year’s draftee, Charlie Woerner is a better fit.

There was enough upside to suggest the San Francisco 49ers found a solid piece to their offensive puzzle when they selected former Stanford tight end Kaden Smith in Round 6 of the 2019 NFL Draft.

The Niners needed a complementary tight end to their budding star, George Kittle, and the 6-foot-5 Smith had a productive enough two-year stretch in college to suggest he could be the ideal No. 2 option at the position. 49ers Webzone’s Rich Madrid broke down the film, showcasing how Smith would line up everywhere and anywhere in Stanford’s run-heavy system, which seemed to be a staple for how Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan would use him.

Ultimately, however, Smith didn’t do enough in training camp or the preseason to stand out. San Francisco ultimately elected to stick with Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Levine Toilolo and later, Daniel Helm, forcing the tough decision to waive Smith.

Smith would go on to sign with the New York Giants shortly thereafter.

Fast-forward to 2020, and the 49ers used another sixth-round pick on a tight end, this time on Georgia’s Charlie Woerner. While the 2019 shot on Smith might be viewed as a small and under-the-radar failure, one has to hope this year’s efforts to reinforce the back end of the tight end depth chart produce better results.

And there are reasons to see why Woerner might be the better fit than Smith could have been.

Charlie Woerner tested better than Kaden Smith at the NFL Combine

While NFL Scouting Combine numbers aren’t the end-all, be-all for draft prospects, there’s a noticeable difference between both Woerner and Smith.

Smith, for starters, didn’t particularly test well, and his numbers included a near-5.0 40-yard time and a relatively unimpressive 15 bench reps, which stood in contrast for his 255-pound frame. In contrast, Woerner ran a 4.78 40-yard time and benched six more reps of 225 pounds, showcasing a bit more strength in that department.

That’s noticeable for a player who, despite the same height, weighed in 10 pounds lighter than his 49ers predecessor at the same position.

Both players showcased good agility, Smith running a 4.47 20-yard shuttle compared to Woerner’s 4.46 time in this same workout, not giving any substantial difference there. But it appears Woerner is the superior athlete.

And that athleticism has a trait specific to what Shanahan needs the Georgia rookie to do.

Kaden Smith was a jack of all trades, yet a master of none

Smith, according to Madrid, had a lot of likable traits associated with his collegiate career. He was a good pass catcher, a good blocker and had some meanness to his game.

Yet there wasn’t exactly one particular area in which Smith excelled.

Woerner, meanwhile, was a non-factor in Georgia’s pass-catching offense, surpassing 10 receptions over his four-year collegiate career just once back in 2018. Like NFL Combine numbers, going off college stats alone is a poor method to evaluate a prospect’s potential impact at the pro level.

Instead, one has to look at the role the 49ers envision for Woerner to dissect the would-be fit.

San Francisco is looking for Woerner to be an exceptional blocker, both for inline formations and out in space. This is something Woerner did particularly well at Georgia, and the efforts show up on tape:

Granted, there’s an argument to be made Shanahan’s offense is leaning more towards “positionless” football, which would suggest a more-versatile player like Smith could have succeeded better than Woerner, who is more akin to being a mere blocker.

But the Niners needed a better blocking tight end heading into 2020, especially after losing Toilolo to the Giants in free agency this offseason.

Toilolo, after all, secured this kind of role over Smith by Week 1 last year.

Simply put, there was a niche need on San Francisco’s roster that Toilolo ultimately filled and Smith couldn’t. With both players now gone, Woerner has the inside track to hold this role.

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As a result, he winds up being the better fit for Shanahan’s offense.