It was in November that Kyle Shanahan singled out his tight end as the 49ers’ “best football player.”
But no, it wasn’t George Kittle.
Shanahan was talking about Ross Dwelley, a second-year undrafted player out of the University of San Diego who started his pro career on the practice squad and had just two catches in 2018 over 11 games as a rookie.
Shanahan lavished his praise on Dwelley after San Francisco had beaten the Arizona Cardinals 36-26, with Dwelley playing a large role.
In that game, Dwelley caught four of the five passes thrown in his direction for 14 yards and two touchdowns, while playing 89 percent of the offensive snaps (with Kittle out with an injury). It was one of several games that Dwelley played a prominent role. He started the season as a strong extra blocker in running formations, then filled in as a fullback when Kyle Juszczyk was injured and then became a target for Jimmy Garoppolo with Kittle hurt.
Dwelley finished the season playing all 16 regular-season games and had 15 catches on 22 targets for 91 yards and the two scores. He then played in all three postseason games.
“We respect the heck out of him,” Shanahan said after the win over the Cardinals. “I said he was the best football player on our team yesterday, so I don’t mind messing with his average (yards per catch). He also had a 14-yarder called back. … But it’s better to keep his average down just so we keep him humbled. We don’t want him to get carried away.”
Though the 49ers have much higher-profile players to consider re-signing this offseason, on Thursday the franchise re-signed Dwelley to keep him on the roster as an effective, multipurpose piece in 2020. The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder received a one-year contract from the 49ers for an undisclosed amount that will likely top his 2019 earnings of $570,000.
Dwelley may not be Kittle – a premier receiver and blocker – but he’s valuable, as Shanahan noted, and capable of helping the 49ers in a variety of ways.