49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

February 16, 2012
Q: Should the 49ers consider tight end Fleener? A: ...

@BigShot_Mike, a.k.a Michael Darmofalski, asks something a lot of you have been curious about: "Will 49ers consider Coby Fleener with 2 good TE's on roster? Probably have more needs."

I agree that the team has greater needs at the moment, particularly at wide receiver and perhaps at cornerback and/or outside linebacker depending on what happens in free agency. But there also is a solid case for drafting a tight end like Stanford's Fleener should he be there at pick No. 30.

The biggest reason is that the 49ers emphasize the tight end like no other team west of Foxboro, Ma. In fact, you could argue that tight ends are more important than wide receivers to the 49ers. San Francisco currently has two excellent tight ends in Vernon Davis, who played 96.1 percent of the team's regular season offensive snaps in 2011, and Delanie Walker, who played 52.1 percent of the snaps. (Walker missed a game and a half with a broken jaw).

While Davis is locked in through the 2015 season, Walker is up for free agency next year. He's played in Davis' shadow since entering the league - both were drafted in 2006 - and he'll be seeking a lucrative offer. The 49ers also have Nate Byham under contract, but he's not the pass-catching threat Walker is and probably is best suited as the blocking tight end who enters in short-yardage or goal-line situations.

Jim Harbaugh always had a large and capable stable of tight ends at Stanford, and he coached Fleener, whom many think is the best tight end in the draft this season. The 49ers certainly could stand to draft a wide receiver no matter what happens in free agency. But the strength of this position is in the middle rounds where players like Arizona's Juron Criner, Iowa's Marvin McNutt, Cal's Marvin Jones or Texas A&M's Jeff Fuller can be found. Really, it's a huge list from Rounds 2-5.

That is, if there's not a wide receiver worth drafting at No. 30, Fleener may be the best player available and could be a smart move for the future.

I asked ESPN's Todd McShay about Fleener today on a conference call. Here's what he had to say:

"I think he's one of the more underrated players in this draft. I think he's going to work out better than people anticipate, too. I'm excited to see what he does in terms of running and agility. When I watch him on tape, I think he runs better than people really give him credit for. I think he has a chance to stretch the field at the next level. I think he has the size, certainly, to be an adequate blocker.

"I right now have him as the No. 1 tight end. But there's not a whole lot of separation between Fleener, (Clemson's) Dwayne Allen and also Orson Charles of Georgia. It'll be interesting to see how the workouts play out. I know Charles will have great workouts as well, so I think a lot of people will start to get on that bandwagon.

"But Fleener to me - I know he had one drop against USC - but for the most part has been very consistent catching the football, very consistent running routes and being in the right position. He understands where he needs to be, and he can be an in-line blocker. He needs to get a little stronger, but I think he's the most complete tight end, and that's why I've got him in the late-first-round range."

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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