49ers 2020 ‘Who Is?’ series: Ross Dwelley holding onto No. 2 TE role?

Tight end Ross Dwelley #82 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Tight end Ross Dwelley #82 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

49ers tight end Ross Dwelley had some moments in 2019, but his role could be challenged by rookie tight end Charlier Woerner this year.

The San Francisco 49ers were proven right by keeping then-second-year pro tight end Ross Dwelley in a prominent spot on the roster in 2019.

This, because the Niners were without their top tight end, George Kittle, for two-plus games last season, allowing Dwelley to see some key targets thrown his way over the course of his limited action.

Case in point, following a ribs injury to Kittle against the Arizona Cardinals on Halloween, Dwelley caught a key third-down pass late in the fourth quarter to ensure Arizona’s dramatic comeback efforts on Thursday Night Football would fall short.

Tack on two key touchdowns as well last season, Dwelley’s minimal impact wasn’t so minimal after all.

Ross Dwelley Receiving Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/17/2020.

Dwelley also saw some time as a fullback, too, helping San Francisco offset the four-game absence of the starter, Kyle Juszczyk. And while there was a substantial difference in the run game’s overall effectiveness, at least Dwelley added that skill set to his on-field repertoire.

Entering 2020, though, things could be a bit different for Dwelley. The 49ers spent a portion of the offseason looking for a veteran tight end to back up Kittle. Finding none, the Niners elected to add former Georgia tight end Charlie Woerner in Round 6 of the NFL Draft.

Whether or not this move affects Dwelley’s role is anyone’s guess. But it could have an impact, as Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series evaluates.

Why Ross Dwelley improves with 49ers in 2020

Dwelley is nowhere close to the blocker both Kittle and Woerner are, yet one could argue the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Dwelley has the next-best pass-catching skill set behind the All-Pro, Kittle.

Undrafted in 2018, Dwelley earned praise from head coach Kyle Shanahan ahead of last year’s campaign, which ended up being justified by his presence on the field during Kittle’s absence. And it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see Shanahan mix in more two-tight end sets in the passing game over the course of 2020.

This would be good news for Dwelley, whose scant numbers don’t reflect his general reliability as a target. While Dwelley might not be the catch-and-run specialist Kittle is, the former has a clear leg up over Woerner in the pass-catching department anyway.

Especially considering Woerner never had more than 11 receptions in any of his four collegiate years at Georgia.

Why Ross Dwelley regresses with 49ers in 2020

As noted earlier, Dwelley wasn’t exactly a road-grading blocker in Juszczyk’s absence, and Kittle’s own absence meant Dwelley had to perform double-duties during his time out, too.

The Niners’ prolific run game took a hit during that midseason stretch, and there’s little reason to assume Dwelley automatically gets better in that area. If anything, it suggests the rationale behind San Francisco selecting Woerner.

Yet the true question whether or not Dwelley sees an uptick in use this season would center around Woerner’s use in the passing game. True, Woerner wasn’t known for his reception duties with the Bulldogs. But Kittle wasn’t exactly the most stat-worthy tight end during his time at Iowa either.

If Shanahan looks to Woerner to provide an added spark in the receiving game, it could ultimately mean Dwelley is relegated to third-string status.

Chances of making the 49ers’ 53-man roster, projected role in 2020

Woerner’s presence on the roster doesn’t help Dwelley’s roster chances, but the player most affected by the rookie’s selection is Daniel Helm, who saw his own 2019 campaign go from the practice squad to San Francisco’s No. 3 tight end role.

Dwelley remains on the bubble heading towards training camp, but it’s safe to assume he’s on the stronger side of things.

The only question is whether or not he holds onto that No. 2 spot behind Kittle.

Much of this will ultimately depend on Woerner’s development and maturation. The Niners boasted a blocking tight end last year, Levine Toilolo, who had a mere two receptions on the year before jettisoning for the New York Giants during the offseason. So it’s possible Woerner assumes that kind of role in 2020, while Dwelley emerges as the No. 2 pass-catching tight end on the depth chart.

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But if Woerner flashes signs of being a reliable receiving target, Dwelley could see himself fall in the pecking order.