Have you ever heard of Bemidji State University? Would you even know what state it’s in or any notable alumni? Well, it’s in Minnesota and it’s most notable alum is San Francisco 49ers’ GM Trent Baalke. Baalke’s daughter currently attends Bemidji State and plays basketball there. Baalke was visiting his daughter and watched a game of theirs this past season. After his daughter’s game, he decided to stay and watch the men’s game. This is how Baalke noticed the BSU big man Zach Noreen.
Noreen is 6-foot-6 and weights 255 pounds. He played tight end in high school and is very athletic. He is built like the prototypical NFL tight end in today’s game. With guys like Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, and Tony Gonzalez having so much success in football after being star basketball players in college, NFL teams will take a chance on a guy who fits the physical mold. This is why Noreen was invited to 49ers rookie mini camp. It’s an extremely low-risk move with a potentially enormous upside.
So what’s the best case scenario of Noreen coming into the 49ers’ rookie mini camp? The best case and most ideal scenario (albeit an extreme long shot) is Noreen eventually taking over for Vernon Davis. Davis is 30 years old and isn’t going to play forever. He is still at the top of his game and still one of the best tight ends in the league, but Noreen would need some years to develop anyway. Noreen will most likely never be able to completely fill Davis’ spot, but he would be able to develop into the style of tight end that Davis has become; someone that can line up wide if they need to and stretch the field, someone who can create a mismatch no matter where they are, and someone who can make timely catches in the red zone.
The other tight ends on the roster are Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek. Neither of these two have the same playing style as Davis. McDonald is very young and much more of a blocking tight end at the moment. If Noreen were able to develop into a serviceable tight end, these two would give them different styles for whatever the 49ers wanted to do on offense.
While it would be great if Noreen could develop in a few years and be able to take the place of Vernon Davis one day, the reality is it most likely won’t happen. Davis has had very few injuries in his career and stays in great shape, just like Tony Gonzalez. And look how that’s worked out for the longevity of Gonzalez’s career. Davis isn’t going anywhere soon and Noreen hasn’t played football since high school.
With that said, the most likely result of this mini camp invite is a spot on the practice squad to see how he develops. If they don’t see him progressing or progressing very little, they can cut ties without having invested much. If they like how he is developing, they could promote him to the 53-man roster if there is an injury or so he can help out on special teams. However, if Noreen’s ceiling is Antonio Gates and his floor is just an attendance at the 49ers’ rookie mini camp, why wouldn’t the 49ers invite him? The chances are pretty small he turns into a star, but the possibility is exciting.