Image Credit: Stan Szeto/USA TODAY Sports
One of the few bright spots for the San Francisco 49ers in 2018 was tight end George Kittle’s record-setting season. His 1,377 receiving yards were the most by any tight end for a single season in the history of the NFL. Kittle was also a monster once he had the ball in his hands as he led the league with 784 yards-after-catch. Kittle’s running mates at tight end, Garrett Celek and Ross Dwelley, unfortunately did not offer much statistical help. They combined for only seven catches, 104 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns from Celek. With training camp beginning on July 26, how does their tight end depth chart stack up against 2018?
Even with a superstar like Kittle, the tight end position has been thin since the days of Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. John Lynch and Co. added rookie TE Kaden Smith out of Stanford in the sixth round to pair with veterans Kittle, Celek and Dwelley. Journeyman Levine Toilolo, who played for Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta, and undrafted rookie Tyree Mayfield will round out the depth chart for the 90-man roster. As with the previous two seasons under Shanahan, it is likely that only three of the six will still be wearing red and gold as a part of the final 53.
“Celek Time” as 49ers fans know it could be coming to an end. Celek, one of the team’s longest tenured players, is slated to miss the start of training camp while recovering from back surgery. According to Jennifer Lee Chan of NBC Sports Bay Area, the procedure is similar to the one wide receiver Trent Taylor had performed last offseason. Taylor was not nearly the same player as his rookie year while fighting through his back issues and this does not bode well for a backup tight end entering his age 31 season. Kaden Smith and Toilolo could be the men alongside to finally push Celek off the roster.
The injection of younger talent will force the cream to the top and Shanahan will be forced to make tough cuts, a position he was not in prior to the 2018 season. As one of the best in the game, George Kittle will remain the unquestioned starter at the tight end position. Kaden Smith is the most likely candidate to slide in as his primary backup and whether Garrett Celek recovers from his surgery or Levine Toilolo steals his roster spot, the 49ers enter 2019 with stronger depth than a year ago.
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