NFL Free Agency

49ers need Latu, Willis to step up in Woerner's absence

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The 49ers are banking on their 2023 draft picks to contribute in the coming season, particularly at the tight end position.

On Monday, Charlie Woerner agreed to terms with the Atlanta Falcons on a three-year $12 million deal. The Georgia tight end was San Francisco's sixth-round pick (No. 190 overall) of the 2020 NFL Draft and spent his entire four-year career in the Bay Area.

With both Woerner and Ross Dwelley scheduled to be free agents in 2024, the 49ers selected two tight ends in the 2023 NFL Draft in hopes of adding affordable talent to their roster for the future.

Alabama's Cameron Latu was selected with a third round (No. 101 overall) pick and Oklahoma's Brayden Willis in the seventh round (No. 247 overall).

Unfortunately for Latu, his rookie season was over before it started, suffering a torn meniscus in the 49ers' preseason finale. The 6-foot-5 tight end, who recorded 56 catches for 787 yards and 12 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Alabama, was forced to spend his first NFL season on injured reserve.

Willis, who looked to be having a better camp than his fellow rookie, appeared in seven games in 2023, predominantly on special teams. The tight end was on the field for 149 snaps — 48 on offense, 101 on special teams.

George Kittle still is clearly the star of the tight end room but on the chance the two-time All-Pro needs a breather, or is sidelined due to his physical style of play, the club needs a sufficient player to step in.

Woerner was more of a blocking tight end than a receiving target for Brock Purdy. The 26-year-old was on the field for 312 offensive plays in 2023, catching all three of his targets for 32 yards and a touchdown. Without Woerner on the roster, the club could opt to have an additional offensive line active on game days instead of a tight end as a blocker.

Dwelley was on the field even less in 2023 — 76 offensive snaps and 206 on special teams in 2023. The veteran tight end caught one of his two targets for 12 yards in 2023, and 44 total receptions for 518 yards and five touchdowns over his six seasons with the club.

There is a possibility that Dwelley could sign a fourth consecutive one-year contract to stay in the Bay Area, offering veteran leadership to the tight end room, but coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch are hoping that their two 2023 draft picks step up to the plate.

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