The 49ers searched for tight ends all offseason, and 2020 rookie Charlie Woerner could find himself in a unique niche potentially developing into more.
Eventually, the Niners made multiple moves to address the position, including the latest transaction of grabbing free-agent tight end Jordan Reed. But before that move took place, general manager John Lynch tabbed former Georgia tight end Charlie Woerner with the team’s sixth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-5, 248-pound Woerner wasn’t exactly a prolific pass-catching threat with the Bulldogs, never having amassed more than 11 receptions in a single collegiate season:
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But Woerner cut his teeth as an NFL-level prospect by being one of college football’s best blockers at the position, and that was a void San Francisco was looking to fill after watching veteran tight end Levine Toilolo depart the team for the New York Giants in free agency.
That’s a potential fit for Woerner this season, possibly as the No. 3 option on the depth chart behind Kittle and Reed.
At the same time, it’s entirely possible the 49ers bank on Woerner becoming something even more impressive. While the notion of Woerner being groomed to take over for Kittle as soon as 2021 is now debunked after the latter’s five-year contract extension was in the books, it’s still plausible to see Woerner’s stock value and role rise in the near future.
Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series wraps up its 2020 preview by looking at one of the newest members in the Bay Area and what his role this season could potentially be.
Why Charlie Woerner improves with 49ers in 2020
So, about Woerner’s blocking. It’s pretty good. Pro Football Focus gave him an 83.0 run-blocking grade, which ranked fourth among all players at his position with at least 100 snaps:
Kittle’s run-blocking prowess is one element of the offense head coach Kyle Shanahan would like to replicate elsewhere on his roster, and Woerner checks off that box and then some.
But the bigger impact, and the one which always garners more attention, is the statistical offensive output. Woerner wasn’t known for this during his collegiate days. Then again, neither was Kittle. The NFL’s No. 7 overall player, at least according to NFL 100, never had more than 22 receptions in a single season. And he’s now turned into one of the league’s best offensive players.
This isn’t to say Woerner is on a similar trajectory. But it does lend credence to the idea San Francisco can identify offensive standouts whose collegiate offensive production never equated to what they’d be capable of doing in the pros.
Why Charlie Woerner regresses with 49ers in 2020
The Niners tried to draft and develop another player with a similar skill set a year ago, now-Giants tight end Kaden Smith, yet he failed to make the 53-man roster after being essentially a non-story during training camp.
That’s essentially the lowest Woerner could go between now and the announcement of the regular-season roster in September. And there are plenty of challenges the rookie will face, including some at his very own position.
San Francisco bringing aboard Reed will cut into the number of practice snaps Woerner will receive, particularly if the former stays healthy and avoids what’s been an unfortunate string of injuries over his career. In addition to Reed, the 49ers are still fielding more experienced tight ends, Ross Dwelley and Daniel Hahn, as well as an undrafted tight end in Chase Harrell.
Dwelley, while nowhere near the blocker, has flashed some notable offensive output during his brief pro career. Woerner could see his own stock slip as long as Dwelley continues to progress.
Especially if the Niners keep only three tight ends on their roster.
Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster, projected role in 2020
Woerner being a sixth-round pick almost automatically places him on the roster bubble, although one could easily make the argument he’s on the stronger side of it.
Third-string tight ends need to have excellent blocking abilities, as they’ll usually find themselves in jumbo packages and filling in as an extra lineman in these cases. Fortunately, Woerner has already shown a knack for being able to do this. And one could make the argument the rookie has the edge over players like Dwelley and Hahn because of the blocking tendencies. Reed, too, especially if injuries are a factor.
The ideal scenario, of course, would be Woerner flashing his run- and pass-blocking ways immediately for Shanahan and the offense, hopefully working up the skills as a pass catcher over the course of the season.
Few NFL defenses are equipped to defend against two-tight end sets where both players at this position are capable of providing some serious pass-catching prowess. Perhaps the Niners aren’t yet convinced Woerner can offer this, hence the Reed signing, but it would be a massive bonus if Woerner could do it anyway.
First, Woerner will have to emerge as a solid standout in camp to ensure his spot on the 53-man roster, which remains an open-ended question.