Which Tight End Will Emerge in Kelly's 49ers Offense?

Garrett Celek, on verge of new deal, leads a group that also includes McDonald, Bell and Anderson

For years, the 49ers never had to worry about the tight end position. They had an elite talent in Vernon Davis, one of the NFL's fastest and best deep-threat receivers at his position.

But Chip Kelly's offense in 2016 will feature a group of tight ends that hardly could be considered elite. He and his coaching staff will have several young tight ends with potential, but there's no guarantee any of them will emerge to be a vital part of the 49ers' passing game. 

One is Garrett Celek, who is reported to be close to signing a long-term deal with the team, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan. Celek, 27, flashed his potential in 2015, his fourth season with the team, catching a career-high 19 passes for three touchdowns. 

As the 49ers enter the offseason roster-improvement period of free agency and the draft, they have Celek, Vance McDonald and two 2015 draftees, Blake Bell and Busta Anderson, at the top of their tight end group. None has the physical talent Vernon Davis had, but it seems likely that one or two will emerge in training camp to be a reliable target in Kelly's spread attack. 

But as Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee noted this week, the 49ers won't necessarily use the tight end as a big part of the offense. 

"If Chip Kelly's tenure with the Eagles is any indication, the 49ers will rely on their wide receivers far more than their tight ends," he wrote. Barrows said Kelly's Eagles used two-tight end sets just 25 percent of the time, while the Niners of Jim Tomsula in 2015 used two tight ends 44 percent of the time. 

It seems likely, however, that Bell and Anderson, with a season of experience, could take some big steps forward in 2016. Bell had 15 catches on just 24 targets as a rookie, and Anderson had a redshirt season after being sidelined by an injury. 

Anderson, a former South Carolina Gamecock, was considered a sleeper in the 2015 draft. He averaged 15.6 yards per reception in college, despite injuries. 

For now, Celek and McDonald -- who has yet to fulfill expectations after being a second-round pick -- appear to be the best of the bunch. But Bell or Anderson could challenge them, especially considering that all will be auditioning in a new offense for a new coaching staff.

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