The 49ers drafted two tight ends in the NFL Draft, but Niner Noise explains why Brayden Willis will be the unsung hero in 2023.
The San Francisco 49ers went into the offseason needing an upgrade at backup tight end and came out of the draft with two players to compete for the position.
The headliner was Alabama tight end Cameron Latu, whose frame and former experience as a linebacker gave him physical upside but also raw ability.
But the Niners also selected Brayden Willis, a tight end out of Oklahoma who had been a more prototypical tight end in college, and a player they had been eyeing throughout the draft.
Latu's athletic profile is a tad bit concerning, but more importantly is his lack of experience. The 49ers are in their championship window right now, and they do not have the time for their TE2 to be learning on the fly.
Willis, while lacking the raw upside that Latu has, is a more polished blocker and technician at the position. According to Lance Zurlein of NFL.com, his issue stems from a lack of long-term potential than current ability. Zurlein pinpoints a lack of fluidity in his route-running.
That, however, is one thing head coach Kyle Shanahan is more than capable of taking care of. One of the major onuses of San Francisco's offensive game plan is the ability to get players in space off play design. Shanahan's offensive structure should give Willis the chance to be a solid contributor if he can hold onto the football, which is one of his strong points coming out of Oklahoma.
The 49ers are not looking for another George Kittle, rather they are looking for a player who can augment what Kittle does. Having any player talented and capable enough to give Kittle enough time to rest or be split out wide like a receiver, or just manipulate his own ability, could unlock another dimension to this offense.
With Brayden Willis, San Francisco just might get that chance.