49ers 2020 ‘Who Is?’ series: Daniel Helm a likely cut candidate

Daniel Helm #43 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Daniel Helm #43 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

49ers offseason additions at tight end likely mean Daniel Helm won’t have a chance to make the 53-man roster this season.

If you’re struggling to remember who San Francisco 49ers tight end Daniel Helm is, you’re not alone.

The 6-foot-4, 255 tight end out of Duke came to the Niners as an undrafted free agent in 2019 before failing to make that year’s 53-man roster, which wasn’t a surprise given San Francisco’s veteran options like George Kittle, Ross Dwelley and Levine Toilolo. Subsequently, the 49ers placed Helm on their practice squad before a late-season call-up in December when Helm remained inactive to close out the regular season and into the playoffs.

Helm managed a modestly productive collegiate campaign, starting off at the University of Tennessee before transferring to Duke, posting a college-career best 271 receiving yards back in 2018:

Daniel Helm Receiving & Rushing Table

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 7/1/2020.

Entering 2020, there’s potentially room for Helm to grow as a player. But with the Niners adding two more bodies to this position during the offseason, even after losing Toilolo to free agency, it’ll be an uphill climb for the two-year pro to make the cut.

Niner Noise explores how he can do so in our latest “Who Is?” installment.

Why Daniel Helm improves with 49ers in 2020

Much of it will hinge on an opportunity, and there isn’t a lot of these to go around for what looks to be a fourth-string tight end.

Still, there are enough traits worth developing, particularly when looking at modestly solid route running, as pointed out by The Draft Network’s Dan Marino:

"Appears to know how to attack coverage and make adjustments on the fly. Fairly smooth accelerator that does well to bend his routes and set up route breaks. Not overly twitchy or quick but he deploys deceptive movements to try and sell routes. He isn’t dynamic and separation quickness is lacking. Got open primarily by scheme."

Scheming players to get open is something head coach Kyle Shanahan knows how to do, so it’s feasible Helm could end up contributing nicely enough in this kind of role.

On top of that, Helm is a willing open-space blocker, and he’ll need to capitalize on that if he hopes to stand a chance.

Why Daniel Helm regresses with 49ers in 2020

Practical strength and speed aren’t parts of Helm’s game. At the 2019 NFL Combine, he ran a so-so 4.89 40-yard time and put up only 14 bench reps of 225 pounds. That might be OK if Helm was an elite route runner or had above-average blocking skills, but that’s not the case here.

Helm also doesn’t possess the best hands either, which is something Marino pointed out.

On top of that, San Francisco’s numerous attempts to land another tight end to pair with Kittle this offseason tell you most of what you need to know about Helm. It’s likely he’ll wind up getting only a small amount of reps during training camp and the preseason, and the limited number of games there won’t work in his favor.

Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster in 2020

Helm’s status as a late-season call-up in 2019 bodes well for him, but the sole reality of his chances this season fall upon the health and development of other depth tight ends at the position, namely Dwelley and rookies Charlie Woerner and Chase Harrell.

Dwelley had some flash moments in relief of Kittle a year ago, and his spot on the depth chart is much safer. Woerner’s excellent blocking efforts likely translate to him being safe, too, pointing to the idea Helm is competing with Harrell, another undrafted free agent, for a spot on the practice squad.

One could argue Harrell, who impressed during his pro day, winds up getting the nod over Helm here. But Helm at least has the stats on his side, whereas Harrell had more than five receptions in a single season just once (2017) during his college tenure.

Next. 49ers' 5 best UDFA signings in John Lynch era. dark

As such, Helm might get a handful of late-game reps during the preseason, and it’s likely the practice squad would be his best bet if he hopes to stick around with San Francisco in 2020.