Could a position switch for rookie 49ers tight end Chase Harrell help the former Arkansas Razorback’s wide receiver acclimate to the NFL?
The San Francisco 49ers must have liked what they saw from former Arkansas Razorback tight end Chase Harrell during his 2020 pro day, at least enough to make him a prime undrafted free-agent target once the NFL Draft wrapped up last April.
Harrell has an interesting story leading up his UDFA selection by San Francisco. He spent his first three collegiate years at Kansas, then transferred to Arkansas in 2018 where he rounded out his college career.
The stats themselves don’t jump out in any one way or another, but that’s not necessarily the point:
Day-three draft selections and UDFAs often don’t have the stats or accolades to justify being picked earlier. In many cases, scouts go off other intangibles and strengths not always showing up on paper.
And if those things show up on paper, they do so in different ways.
In this regard, Harrell crushed his pro day workout… as a defensive end.
More on that in a second, but Harrell ran an outstanding 4.53 40-yard time, had a great 4.34 20-yard shuttle and put up an impressive 22 reps of 225 pounds, all of which earned him some recognition on Niner Noise’s sister site, Golden Gate Sports.
Just how serious the Niners may be about transitioning the 6-foot-4, 249-pound Harrell to a defensive end is anyone’s guess. But it certainly wouldn’t be the first time the 49ers had success with such a transition.
Remember former Niners fullback Bruce Miller? He was a collegiate defensive lineman.
This isn’t to say Harrell is on the same trajectory, and he might be nothing more than an intriguing gadget player at a position where depth is already there. On both sides of the ball, too.
As far as projecting his roster chances, Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series breaks this enticing prospect down.
Why Chase Harrell improves with 49ers in 2020
There isn’t a lot to go on, as far as Harrell is concerned, by the way of stats or general offensive/defensive impact.
As for a defensive end, he’d be a complete wild card. And his stats as a pass catcher aren’t telling either. The lack of reps would also cut down on the amount of game tape and film one could watch, particularly useful when evaluating route-running and separation skills.
But those intangibles are hard to pass up. Harrell is fast, and his shuttle drills are solid. Strength is there, too, meaning he has the physical tools to be dominant if he can put everything else together in training camp.
Why Chase Harrell regresses with 49ers in 2020
San Francisco is stacked both at tight end and along the defensive line, so Harrell is automatically going to be buried deep on the depth chart regardless where he lines up during camp.
The lack of practical reps as a tight end or even wide receiver could hurt any chances, too, as he’d essentially be learning a position within one of the most complex offensive systems under head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Serving as a defensive end, even in a pass-rushing role only, could be considered a better route to take, given the sole job of a pass-rusher is to collapse the pocket en route to the quarterback. Yet the nuances of this job aren’t exactly easy either, and Harrell has essentially zero experience in this matter.
Raw skills only go so far.
Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster in 2020
Harrell is the epitome of a flier prospect: someone worth investing in late after the draft, banking on the hope he can translate raw skill over into practical on-field usage. In the case of Miller, it worked.
In the case of another gifted athlete, British Olympian Lawrence Okoye back in 2013, it didn’t work to desired expectations.
San Francisco probably envisions Harrell as more of a tight end, potentially giving him pass-rushing reps on defense at times. In the former role, he’ll likely be competing with returning tight end Daniel Helm, who currently is holding the No. 3 spot on the depth chart behind George Kittle and Ross Dwelley. Another rookie, Charlie Woerner, is also in the mix and figures to be well ahead of Harrell in the pecking order.
As such, Harrell is probably in line to receive some fourth-quarter reps during the preseason, potentially showing some of his raw talents in an attempt to at least have a shot at the practice squad.
That’s probably best for him right now, giving both Harrell and the Niners an opportunity to refine his unrefined talents into something potentially exciting.
It would be a long shot for Harrell to make a sizable impact. But nobody expected those kind of pro day numbers either.