• Akash Anavarathan

Anavarathan: 49ers should draft TE Hunter Bryant on Day 3 to pair with George Kittle

Heading into the draft, Kyle Shanahan's offense will look to add pass-catching weapons for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. While most fans are focused on wide receiver as the primary area of need, tight end could also be a position that the 49ers address next week.

Tight end George Kittle will obviously be the face of the group, but his receiving numbers were down this season, gaining 324 less yards this season, despite having Garoppolo for the entire 2019 campaign.

In the season's biggest plays, Kittle was not running routes -- he was blocking in the backfield. The two third-and-16's against Los Angeles, Kittle was lined up as a fullback. In the waning moments of the Super Bowl? Kittle wasn't even looking to catch the ball.

San Francisco let Levine Toilolo walk this offseason, only bringing back Ross Dwelley, so it'll be a position of emphasis. While there are reports of moving second-year receiver Jalen Hurd to tight end, his health remains a giant question mark.

[McGee: With his skills, Michael Pittman would add new dimension to the 49ers' passing game]

John Lynch and Co. were also reportedly in the running for the services of Austin Hooper and Jordan Reed -- two pass-catching tight ends that have played under Kyle Shanahan. It gives fans a slight glimpse into the thinking of the duo, as they look to add a more formidable tight end threat in the passing game alongside Kittle.

So how should the 49ers attack this need in the draft? So far, San Francisco's front office has met with two tight ends, UCLA's Devin Asiasi and Washington's Hunter Bryant. I take a look at why the 49ers should draft Bryant in the fifth round to pair with George Kittle.

Here are Bryant's measurables from the NFL Combine:

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 248 lbs

40-yard dash: 4.74 s (71st percentile)

3-cone time: 7.08 s (74th percentile)

20-yard shuttle: 4.46 s (20th percentile)

Bryant doesn't nearly have the size that you'd expect from a typical tight end at 6-foot-2, he's definitely more of a large receiver, which devalues him in the red zone.

Washington used Bryant down the seam or in the flat, areas that 49ers have used Kittle in the past. The Issaquah native is great after the catch, averaging 7.7 yards after catch per reception. He also forced 10 missed tackles, which was tied for fifth among tight ends.

He wasn't as great as an in-line blocker, he definitely didn't have the size to fight off edge rushers or defensive ends. As a receiver, Washington's offense lined up him practically everywhere, making him a chess piece on the field for Shanahan. I think his route-running could use some improvement, especially because he's not great in changing direction quickly for his size.

Given his limitations in run and pass blocking, there were too many highlights in the receiving game that made me feel like Bryant could pair well with Kittle to create the 2020 version of Aaron Hernandez-Rob Gronkowski.

Turning to the film, I watched three games of Hunter Bryant -- vs. Cal, vs. Oregon and vs. Hawaii from this season.

In this first clip, Washington lines up Bryant inside in a jumbo package and the tight end's straight-line speed is on display, as he runs right past the linebacker in coverage. He created separation quickly, while opening up an easy passing lane for quarterback Jacob Eason to make the play.

Here was one of Bryant's better snaps as a run-blocker (even though the play didn't go for many yards). Bryant comes right to left and holds the edge rusher in place, using his lower body strength to impede the rusher's motion. The Washington tight end didn't often use his legs, which resulted in getting knocked down often.

Now, Washington moves Bryant into the slot and he runs a quick slant over the middle. Imagine Jimmy Garoppolo hitting Bryant over the middle and he turns that five-yard throw into 15 yards after the catch like he does in this play.

Against Oregon, Bryant's lined up in the slot again in man coverage against a defensive back. With outside leverage, Bryant doesn't necessarily blow by the defender, but plays the ball beautifully on this back-shoulder throw. He high points the ball well and makes a contested catch -- not a play you see many tight ends make.

Here was an example of the few instances where Bryant was blown off the point of attack in a run-blocking situation. His lack of execution in this run play screws up the entire design and the running back is stopped for a loss here.

Against Cal, Bryant's lined up at the top of the screen here in one-on-one coverage against a corner. Bryant may not be able to win with his speed against a smaller defender, but he should win with his size and physicality. There isn't much route discipline on this play and a poorly thrown ball results in an interception. This isn't a route I'd have Bryant run at the next level against NFL corners.

This is a play we see from Kyle Shanahan far too often. A crossing pattern underneath with two receivers running deeper routes to clear out the zone in the flat. Bryant comes screaming wide open against a Cal zone defense and turns a simple pitch and catch into a first down. This is a type of play that I can certainly see Shanahan installing for Bryant.

Bryant's definitely proven to be a receiving threat that has some size and quickness to threaten NFL defenders. While his blocking may be a concern for the 49ers, I think Shanahan could use a tight end that can line up with Kittle and threaten slow linebackers.

Most mock drafts have him lasting till Day 3 and the 49ers could certainly pull the trigger with one of their two fifth-round picks.

(Cover Image: Getty Sports, MyNorthwest.com)


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