The 49ers have long been searching for a No. 2 tight end to pair with George Kittle, and the 2022 NFL Draft might deliver Nevada’s Cole Turner.
It’s a good year for teams in need of a tight end, both in terms of free agents available and prospects coming out in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The San Francisco 49ers have long searched for a quality second-string tight end to back up and support their All-Pro, George Kittle. And while the Niners received modest production from No. 2 tight end Ross Dwelley in 2019 and 2020, Dwelley’s use rapidly declined last season, and he’s poised to hit free agency anyway.
San Francisco could go the free-agent route and pick up another tight end, yes. But the 2022 NFL Draft has an awfully deep class, and while there isn’t a massive name like last year’s Kyle Pitts, there are plenty of high-caliber names up and down the draft’s big board through all seven rounds.
While the 49ers probably won’t reach on a tight end in Rounds 2 or 3, there are certainly some names worth watching on day three of the draft when Round 4 kicks off.
Particularly Nevada tight end Cole Turner.
A 49ers NFL Draft scouting report on Nevada TE Cole Turner
Turner, 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, has great size for a player at his position and moves well considering he’s on the bigger side.
This might have something to do with the fact he’s a converted wide receiver, although his experience at that position didn’t necessarily garner him a lot of statistical production his first two years with the Wolfpack, although it bears noting regardless.
Turner’s speed, particularly for a tight end, allows him to be a downfield threat. And while the Niners offense has long been predicated on generating yards after the catch, one can figure head coach Kyle Shanahan will be willing to take more shots down the field with strong-armed quarterback Trey Lance under center in 2021.
That’s an area where Turner can win, too.
At the same time, though, one of the reasons Nevada asked him to move from wide receiver to tight end (aside from taking advantage of his physical upside) is the fact his route-running skills weren’t exactly the best.
Looking at some of his game tape, it’s not hard to pick apart how some of his routes are relatively pedestrian, not overly crisp to the point of creating immediate separation from defenders. His size might have worked to his advantage in this regard the last two years, but he’ll have to get a lot sharper to contend with NFL-level coverage.
Another important facet to note is that he’s not much of a blocker either, and perhaps the only legitimate blocks he’ll be able to throw are against smaller cornerbacks and safeties, not linebackers or defensive ends.
That could be a liability, too, but it might be one San Francisco would be willing to accept.
Cole Turner’s projected fit with 49ers, NFL Draft target range
The 49ers already have two quality blocking tight ends in Kittle and third-year pro Charlie Woerner, the latter being nothing much of a receiving threat.
It’s Dwelley’s presence the Niners will be looking to replace and likely upgrade over, and Dwelley wasn’t so much of a blocker his first few years in the league either. Perhaps that’s where someone like Turner could fit into a niche.
As far as that niche, Turner can line up all over the field, so it’s possible San Francisco would use him in a sort of H-back role with extreme versatility.
Turner has been one of the draft’s risers, though, and the thought of him slipping into Round 6 or 7 has long since passed. It’s likely he’ll safely be a Round 4 target with the modest potential of slipping into Round 5, should teams be looking for other more-polished tight ends who are projected to be picked ahead of Turner this spring.
The 49ers own each of their picks in Rounds 4 and 5, and they also have the Denver Broncos’ selection in Round 6, should Turner surprisingly slip that far down, which is unlikely.
Still, even if it’s early on day three of the draft, the Niners wouldn’t balk at putting that kind of grade on him and should be looking to pair Turner with Kittle as a dynamic one-two combo.