Editor’s note: Matt Maiocco will provide daily content previewing the NFL Draft, including position breakdowns, news stories, mock drafts and more. Here, he analyzes draft prospects at tight end, and whether the 49ers should select one.
The 49ers had such a stockpile of tight ends a year ago that they made three trades to thin out the position. After dealing Derek Carrier and Asante Cleveland before the regular season, the 49ers sent Vernon Davis to the Denver Broncos at the trade deadline.
The 49ers do not have that kind of depth this offseason, but coach Chip Kelly said recently that he is impressed with the state of the team's depth chart.
“There are four quality tight ends that have played, so that will be a fun group to work with, in terms of how you disperse them and try to figure out what’s going on," Kelly said.
In reality, the 49ers have only three tight ends who have caught passes in NFL games. One other, Je’Ronn Hamm, appeared in one game for Washington last season. And Busta Anderson was a seventh-round draft pick last year who spent his rookie season on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
Who’s here: Garrett Celek, Vance McDonald, Blake Bell, Je’Ron Hamm, Busta Anderson
Draft needs: The Philadelphia Eagles selected Zach Ertz in the second round of Chip Kelly’s first draft in 2013. Ertz's role with the Eagles steadily grew in three seasons under Kelly. Last year, he caught 75 passes for 853 yards.
The 49ers do not appear to have a lot of firepower at tight end. McDonald had his best season with 30 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns. Celek saw action in 11 games and had a career-best 19 catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Bell, a fourth-round draft pick, caught 15 passes for 186 yards as a rookie.
The 49ers have other more-pressing needs, but the selection of a tight end is not out of the question.
Good fits: It does not look to be a great draft for tight ends, but Kelly could look at a couple of Stanford projects to see if he can recreate with the 49ers what he built with Ertz and the Eagles.
Austin Hooper averaged 12.7 yards per reception the past two seasons and proved to be a good red-zone target with six touchdown receptions last year. Stanford wide receiver Devon Cajuste (6-foot-4, 234 pounds) looks like a tight end, and might be a better fit in that spot to create mismatches. Hooper is likely to be selected on Day 2, while Cajuste should be available on Day 3.