Ranking the NFC West Tight End Groups

How does the 49ers tight end group stack up?

During the next two weeks, I will publish a series of articles in which I rank the 49ers position-by-position against the other three teams in the NFC West. Which team has the best running backs? Which team has the best wide receivers? And so on.

The 49ers have had the best tight end in the NFC West for as long as I can remember. They had Brent Jones in the '80s and '90s, Vernon Davis after him and now George Kittle, the best tight end in the NFL and probably the best one the 49ers ever have had.

But how does the 49ers' group of tight ends compare to the other NFC West teams' groups of tight ends.

Let's rank them from the worst set of tight ends to the best.

4. The Cardinals

The Cardinals barely merit a place on this list, because they don't value tight ends. Their starter last season, Maxx Williams, caught a whopping 15 passes. His 202 receiving yards ranked behind four wide receivers on his own team, plus a running back.

The Cardinals have a new-age, college-style spread offense -- four wide receivers and one running back. They use a tight end mostly in the red zone, but not often.

Meaning the Cardinals and 49ers have polar opposite offensive philosophies. The 49ers offense is cutting edge, but it's old school, because it uses a fullback and a traditional tight end. And the offense features condensed formations, the kind you saw in the '80s. The Cardinals are the future.

3. The Seahawks

Tight end has been one of the Seahawks' biggest weaknesses for ages. When was the last time they had a good one?

In 2015, they traded their All Pro center Max Unger to the Saints for tight end Jimmy Graham, who had nothing left in his tank. Huge mistake for the Seahawks. The past two seasons, they've had to use an offensive lineman to play tight end. 

The Seahawks won't do that next season.

Now they have Greg Olsen, one of the best tight ends of the past 10 seasons. He's 35, but he caught 52 passes for the Panthers last season. If he catches 50 passes for the Seahawks next season, he'll be their third best pass-catcher behind Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf.

Olsen probably will play no more than 20 snaps per game, but he still should substantially improve the Seahawks passing game.

2. The Rams

The Rams don't just have one good tight end. They have two: Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. Everett finished 2019 with 408 receiving yards, and Higbee finished with 743 receiving yards.

Higbee improved as the season went on. From Weeks 13 to 16, he produced four 100-yard-receiving games in a row, including one against the 49ers. He seemed like the most dangerous weapon in the Rams' passing game, and a Pro Bowl talent. Everett is no slouch, either.

Meaning the gap between the Rams' tight-end group and the 49ers' tight-end group might be smaller than you'd expect.

1. The 49ers

Kittle is the best blocking tight end and the best receiving tight end in the NFL. He can do everything his position requires. And he can get better.

In three seasons with the 49ers, Kittle has scored just 12 touchdowns. He should score 12 touchdowns every season. He can improve in the red zone, and the 49ers can improve the ways they use him.

And they can get the No. 2 tight end more involved. Ross Dwelley caught just 15 passes last season -- he should catch 30 in 2020. He has fabulous hand-eye coordination, and almost never drops a pass. He can help the 49ers offense. They just have to use him.