Ross Dwelley didn’t go into this 49ers season with many accolades as a pro football player.
The 24-year-old from near Sacramento played at the University of San Diego (in the lower Football Championship Subdivision) and went undrafted after the 2017 season, despite catching 198 passes for 2,310 yards and 26 touchdowns over four years.
He was signed by the 49ers in the spring of 2018, cut near the end of training camp and then re-signed to the practice squad and played in 11 games, but caught just two passes for 14 yards.
At the time he was signed, Dwelley was ecstatic to get a shot with the 49ers.
"It’s the pinnacle of my football career, making it to the NFL and with a team I grew up watching," he told a reporter at the time. "It’s a perfect situation."
This season, with injuries to starting tight end George Kittle recently, Dwelley has become a much bigger part of the San Francisco offense.
In Sunday’s 36-26 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Dwelley caught four passes from Jimmy Garoppolo for 14 yards and two touchdowns – the first of his pro career. Over the past three games, Dwelley has 11 receptions for 67 yards, and he’s played the majority of offensive snaps.
When Kittle returns healthy, Dwelley’s role will diminish somewhat. But he’s shown head coach Kyle Shanahan that he can be a dependable receiver and blocker, and has been deployed out of the backfield (in the fullback role) as a capable run- and pass-blocker.
"Ross has been one of the better football players on our team this year," Shanahan told Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee. "(He) doesn’t get a lot of accolades because he’s not going to sit there and get a bunch of explosive plays, but he’s as good of a football player as we’ve got going right now."
Now Dwelley and the 9-1 49ers go into perhaps the toughest stretch of their schedule, with games against the Packers Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, followed by the Ravens and Saints.
Kickoff for Sunday’s game against Green Bay is set for 5:20 p.m.