As we had so many excellent questions for the mailbag this week, we decided to do it in two parts. Part 1 can be found here, and this is Part 2:
What is the feeling on our tight end situation? With Logan Paulsen signed and future All-Pro George Kittle drafted, who makes it onto the final 53? Tight ends are very important in the Shanahan offense if I remember correctly… – ak4niner (Niners Nation profile)
Whilst I do not echo ak4niner’s view that George Kittle is a future All-Pro just yet, there can be little doubt that the former Iowa man figures to be one of the main men at the tight end spot this year in San Francisco. The importance of the position is significant, particularly given the versatility demanded by Shanahan as his starting tight ends must be viable blockers and receivers.
Kittle is certainly the most exciting player currently at the position and figures to make the 53 and see a lot of the field due to his blocking and receiving abilities. Paulsen is also pretty much a lock given his knowledge of the scheme and his blocking. Shanahan has said he likes Garrett Celek, but he is worse than Vance McDonald and perhaps Shanahan is just trying to drum up some trade interest in Celek having failed to trade McDonald. Kyle Juszczyk potentially takes up a tight end roster spot and is also incredibly versatile as a blocker and pass catcher (almost exclusively how Patrick DiMarco was used last season in Atlanta).
Cole Hikutini is the interesting option. He’s absolutely not an in-line guy at this stage of his career and is basically a big receiver… BUT the absence of a big wide receiver means that Hikutini could well make the roster due to the need to have that kind of player, especially if Kittle were to get banged up. Despite being very raw, Hikutini could straight away be a very effective match-up weapon.
For me, Kittle, Paulsen, McDonald and Hikutini make the 53, in addition to Juszczyk. McDonald, Paulsen and Kittle will rotate as the top guys whilst Hikutini will likely appear in certain packages, if not spend a lot of the season on the bench. He will need to contribute on special teams however.
Even if Ray-Ray looks great in training camp, do you guys still see him making the 53 with Malcolm Smith and Brock Coyle signed? – Loco Waze
Absolutely. The 49ers have the cap space to cut either or both Coyle and Smith if they perform at a lower level than their competition. Coyle is by the far the more vulnerable of the two however. Should someone such as Ray-Ray Armstrong perform strongly in training camp, Coyle only has a dead cap hit of $400,000 if he is cut. It would not surprise me if he failed to make the roster due to Armstrong playing well, or because the 49ers decide they need less stack linebacker back-ups due to the presence of Jaquiski Tartt and Eric Reid on the roster.
Smith is a very different proposition, and given the sizeable dead cap hit of $11.5 million this season if he is cut, he is unlikely to get the chop even if Armstrong outperforms him. Though the team could afford it, it would be a bad business move and would also leave egg on the face of a front office who were widely criticised for giving Smith so much money. We’re unlikely to see Smith cut in years 2 or 3 either due to his dead cap hits, but the new front office and coaching staff are clearly backing him to be an important player. This importance could well derive from the coaching staff fearing they may need to phase out Navorro Bowman. Right now however, that is purely guesswork and it is certainly far too early to tell how well Bowman will perform.
Is Carlos Hyde a fit in this offense, and if not, how will we part ways with him, and what would we be looking for? – nynerfan4ever (Niners Nation profile)
There’s certainly been a lot of doubt about Carlos Hyde’s fit in the 49ers’ offense this year. This largely stems from the fact that at both college and in the NFL he has been an inside zone and power run guy, whilst there is a considerable amount of outside zone in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. He will absolutely have to adapt a little to the running concepts.
Nonetheless, there are several reasons to think that he can adapt. He has demonstrated growth in his patience as a runner – one run against the Rams last season stands out clearly in that regard. Additionally, whilst there has been a limited number of outside zone runs so far in his career, he has proven himself effective at picking his gap or getting to the edge when such runs have been utilised and is an absolute nightmare for defensive backs to tackle thereafter. His lateral agility is sensational at times and this will help him a lot once he gets more acclimatised to the demands of the offense. Becoming more decisive within this new scheme will take time, but I see no reason why the 49ers would not give him that time as he is clearly their best back. Not only is he one of the most dangerous runners in the NFL, but he has also shown solid ability as a pass catcher. He’s also an effective pass blocker when required. He’s not LeVeon Bell or David Johnson, but he shows a versatility that will make him attractive to Kyle Shanahan – something that Shanahan looks for to make his offense as diverse and unpredictable as possible.
If the 49ers shock me and Hyde doesn’t make the team, I would expect the team to try and trade him, though there is a significant chance that he would not be able to command significant capital in terms of players or picks due to his position and injury history. If they did want rid of him, you would have to assume that he failed to acclimatise to the outside zone, as he is no less versatile than his peers in the running back room. The last part of the question is pretty much covered here.