49ers roster: Can Tanner Hudson emerge as No. 2 tight end in 2022?

Tanner Hudson #84 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Tanner Hudson #84 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

The 49ers have long sought a No. 2 tight end to pair with George Kittle, and Tanner Hudson will get that chance in a crowded depth chart.

The San Francisco 49ers have one of the NFL’s best tight ends in All-Pro George Kittle.

They don’t have much proven depth behind him.

Kittle’s injury history mandates the Niners have at least one competent backup, and head coach Kyle Shanahan has long sought a quality No. 2 option anyway to help create more mismatches against opposing defenses.

While San Francisco’s January 2022 pickup of tight end Tanner Hudson didn’t exactly move the needle, there’s a chance he winds up being a top competitor for that role this offseason.

Tanner Hudson Receiving Table
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Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 6/15/2022.

Hudson, an undrafted free-agent signing out of Southern Arkansas, joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018 but found himself buried on the depth chart for his three seasons there before being signed by the 49ers late in the 2021 season.

Waived and then re-signed for 2022, the 27-year-old Hudson could fall into one of a number of different roles for the Niners, or off their roster altogether.

Let’s see what’s in store for him between now and Week 1.

Why Tanner Hudson climbs the 49ers depth chart in 2022

San Francisco’s depth behind Kittle is awfully fluid, consisting of Ross Dwelley and Charlie Woerner, in addition to other offseason free-agent pickups like Tyler Kroft and Troy Fumagalli.

The 6-foot-5, 239-pound Hudson certainly has a leg up over players like Fumagalli and arguably Woerner, who is known as a run-blocking specialist only, and reports from mandatory minicamp said Hudson was already displaying some highlight-reel catches during practice.

While Hudson never showed any real pass-catching prowess over any length of time at the pro level, this kind of effort could certainly propel him up the depth chart and potentially into a No. 2 support role behind Kittle.

Why Tanner Hudson winds up being a 49ers afterthought

Dwelley and Kroft both have significant advantages in the receiving game over Hudson.

Case in point, and while it was some time ago, Kroft’s 404 yards and seven touchdowns back with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017 suggest he’s a better option to support Kittle than Hudson. Dwelley, meanwhile, has been Kittle’s primary backup for the better part of the last three years, including a career-high 19 catches for 245 yards in 2020 when Kittle missed nearly half the season because of injuries.

Read More: Ross Dwelley can be ‘the boss’ for 49ers No. 2 tight end

If Hudson hasn’t caught on with a team by now and showcased his value, it’s not likely to change anytime soon.

Chances Tanner Hudson makes 49ers’ 53-man roster

Signing a reserve/future contract with the 49ers earlier this offseason, Hudson isn’t going to be owed anything by the way of guaranteed money, and the Niners would have no further financial obligations to him if he was let go by the time Week 1 rolls around.

True, the back end of the depth chart is wide open behind Kittle, and the door is open for Hudson to outperform other names like Dwelley, Kroft, Fumagalli and Woerner. And if San Francisco keeps four tight ends on its 53-man roster, the chances increase dramatically.

That said, Hudson still has to be viewed as on the weaker side of the roster bubble, and unless one or more of his competitors flame out or suffers an injury, it’ll be awfully hard for him to survive roster cuts.

What’ll likely happen is Hudson winds up playing a share of snaps late in preseason games but ends up being let go prior to Week 1, potentially winding up on the practice squad if the 49ers deem it necessary to keep him as a reserve.

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