The San Francisco 49ers acquired a fourth-round draft pick from the San Diego Chargers when trading down in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. After moving down two spots to No. 17 overall, they picked up this fourth round pick to select TE Blake Bell and a fifth-round pick in 2016.
Bell, who will turn 24 this August, was a former quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners before he switched to tight end in his senior year. In his early years, he would make appearances in the jumbo package while in the shotgun, taking a direct snap for goal line situations.
General manager Trent Baalke first said he could be an emergency quarterback in the event two players get hurt in the same game. NFL teams will usually dress one backup behind the starter, leaving another player as the third QB for a single game. He told the media Bell’s primary position will be TE.
“He’s definitely been brought in here to be a tight end,” Baalke said. “That’s a good room. There’s a lot of talent in that room. So there’s going to be a lot of competition going into this offseason and into this training camp.”
Bell is 6-6 and 252 pounds where he can be developed as a blocker and receiving TE. In his only season as a tight end, he had 16 receptions for 214 yards and four touchdowns at Oklahoma.
Incumbent TE Vernon Davis is entering his contract season for 2015, leaving the door open for Bell to start in 2016. The 49ers drafted TE Vance McDonald in the 2013 NFL Draft, with the hopes he would replace Delanie Walker who left for the Titans in free agency.
McDonald has been a disappointment through two seasons, showing progress as a blocking TE, but as a receiver he has not been a threat. In 2014, he was known for one reception where he fumbled the ball on a catch a run. There was also a play where Davis and McDonald collided, preventing a touchdown in that same game vs. the St. Louis Rams.
Bell will compete with Derek Carrier and Garrett Celek on the roster, both of whom were the backup TEs behind Davis in 2014. Carrier was promising on offense while Celek has been mostly on special teams.
Expectations should not be sky high for Bell entering the 2015 season, but if he can be a decent red zone target with his 6-6 frame, the 49ers will be in business at the TE position for the long haul. He can earn the backup TE spot ahead of McDonald is he impresses in training camp and the preseason.
Bell said he is excited with his transition to TE after being a QB for multiple years. He is also reunited with teammate Trey Millard, who was the play-making fullback at Oklahoma.
“I’m feeling really comfortable [as a tight end],” Bell said in a conference call. “It’s one of those things that, you know, it’s becoming a lot easier as the season went on and that’s what was nice. It’s just kind of repetition. You know, when you haven’t done something for that long, it’s all about just getting reps and getting used to the switch. It went good. It all went back to me making a switch. A lot of people thought that, you know, OU or somebody wanted to do it for me. And I said ‘No, no. That was my decision.’ So, ever since I switched, I haven’t looked back. And I’m just excited about it.”