As the San Francisco 49ers‘ search for a new No. 2 tight end continues, Trent Baalke and Co. remain busy scouring the 2013 NFL Draft class for a potential replacement to Delanie Walker, who left via free agency to sign with the Tennessee Titans. Walker is one of the more versatile TE’s you’ll find in the league, and ideally, the Niners would prefer to replace him with a player who possesses a similar skill set.
Travis Kelce, who San Fran recently brought into Santa Clara for a visit, is a potential solution if the team decides against pursuing a tight end on the first day of the draft. At 6’5″, 250 pounds, the Cincinnati product is much larger than the 6’0″, 242-pound Walker, but the added height and bulk could provide the Red and Gold with distinct advantages it has been without in recent years.
Though it only takes one team to fall in love with a player, there’s a good chance Kelce won’t be falling off the board until the late-second, or even third round.
With Vernon Davis (the Niners No. 1 TE) and Walker being used in the team’s frequently utilized two-tight end sets, the Niners had plenty of speed at the position, but lacked a guy with the size to become a true threat over the middle of the field. Kelce used his senior season to prove his worth as a pass-catcher, hauling in 45 passes for 722 yards and eight touchdowns despite battling through a ruptured lower abdomen much of the year.
His size and abilities as a receiver may be right up there with potential first-round selections, Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz, but Kelce could provide even more value than the aforementioned prospects as a blocker in the run game. Walker, despite his small stature, was an extremely effective blocker himself, and this happens to be one of Kelce’s strong suits as well.
Walker played a whopping 717 offensive snaps in 2012, so it’s fairly evident San Francisco’s backup TE isn’t really a backup at all. Whoever does end up filling that role will likely see the field often in 2013, and he’ll need to be prepared to handle a variety of assignments as well.
With that said, is Kelce the man for the job? Obviously, that is yet to be seen, but Garrett Celek, who the 49ers signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012, is currently the only TE behind Davis with any playing time at the NFL level.
Kelce ran 40-yard dashes of 4.64 and 4.69 at the NFL Combine despite not being at full strength, which is quite an impressive feat. He also added a 35-inch vertical, and let’s not forget his brother is already doing a fine job at the NFL level while playing center for the Philadelphia Eagles.
The youngster seems to be a great fit for what the 49ers could use, and his 2010 season-long suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules serves as his only legitimate red flag. Kelce is an aggressive and fearless competitor on the gridiron who has proven himself willing to fight through anything to stay on the field. These are undoubtedly characteristics Baalke and Co. often seek out during draft weekend.
The Niners obviously were interested enough to bring him in for a visit, but is Kelce impressive enough to warrant a selection? It goes without saying that only time will tell, but I wouldn’t be shocked to hear his named called when San Francisco is on the clock.