49ers roster 2021: Can Charlie Woerner grow in year two?

Charlie Woerner #89 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Charlie Woerner #89 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

The 49ers knew they weren’t getting a receiving threat with tight end Charlie Woerner in 2020, but can his development in 2021 make a difference?

Late in the 2020 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers decided to replace one of their free-agent departures, veteran tight end Levine Toilolo, with another blocking-specialist tight end, Charlie Woerner out of Georgia.

Selected in Round 6 and at No. 190 overall, Woerner honed his NFL pedigree in run blocking, emerging as one of college football’s better blocking tight ends.

Yet Worner offered almost nothing in the receiving department — a fact San Francisco clearly understood when it drafted him in the first place.

Not even Woerner’s collegiate offensive output raised many eyebrows:

Charlie Woerner Receiving & Rushing Table

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference
Generated 8/9/2021.

Fast forward to Woerner’s rookie year, and there wasn’t much to speak of either: three receptions for 36 yards, and those all came awfully late in the season when the 49ers were since eliminated from playoff contention and trying to field a healthy roster anyway.

All told, Woerner saw only 11 percent of offensive snaps but did appear on just over half of the Niners’ special teams snaps.

Could things change for the better in 2021?

Why Charlie Woerner improves with 49ers in 2021

Often enough, tight ends making the transition from the college ranks to the pros are good at one thing or the other: either blocking or receiving. Only the rare specimens are good at both.

Woerner displayed some awful route-running tendencies during his rookie-year training camp. But one can fairly figure those will improve a modest bit now that he’s had a full year in the system and finally got a regular offseason with OTAs, something the pandemic halted a year ago.

He might never be more than a back-of-the-roster tight end. Yet he certainly wouldn’t be the first player to make a noticeable leap between years one and two.

Why Charlie Woerner flattens out with 49ers in 2021

One of the limitations for tight ends who do little more than just run block is the fact their presence on the field is a true indicator of what kind of play is being run.

If Woerner doesn’t hone his route-running and receiving skills between now and Week 1, his placement on offensive snaps will continue to be a dead giveaway of what head coach Kyle Shanahan is calling.

True, this might have some merit on short-yardage and goal-line situations where jumbo packages are the norm. But it’s hard to envision the Niners using a roster spot on a run-blocking specialist for this kind of niche role.

Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster

In year two of a cheap rookie contract, Woerner’s status as a lengthy San Francisco player was already precarious, made even more evident by the sheer number of tight end transactions the team has made.

Tight ends George Kittle and Ross Dwelley aren’t going anywhere. But the remainder of the depth chart has been awfully fluid.

Related Story: Is Ross Dwelley in for a bigger role in 2021?

Josh Pederson was an undrafted add earlier this spring before being waived. The 49ers also onboarded veterans like MyCole Pruitt, Joshua Perkins and even a former wide receiver now playing tight end, Jordan Matthews.

Pruitt, in particular, has about the same blocking pedigree as Woerner, yet Pruitt’s 32 career receptions for 343 yards and four touchdowns almost automatically make him an upgrade over Woerner for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.

It’s possible Pruitt’s presence is merely to push Woerner, or at the very least, force the second-year pro to come along further in his maturation.

But to say that Woerner is on the stronger side of the roster bubble is awfully premature, and he’ll need an excellent remainder of training camp and preseason to stick around into 2021.

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