Kaden Smith’s stock as a draft prospect dropped at the NFL Scouting Combine when he ran the second-slowest 40 time among all tight ends.
The 49ers ended his fall on the third day of the NFL draft when they selected Smith with the first of their three sixth-round draft picks.
Shortly thereafter, 49ers tight end George Kittle, who set the NFL single-season record for tight ends last season with 1,377 receiving yards, reached out to welcome Smith to the organization.
“Right after I got drafted, he texted me: ‘Good luck. He’s happy I’m on the team,’” Smith said of Kittle. “He’s pumped up.”
Smith is plenty excited, too.
Smith played college football just up the road at Stanford. After having contact with the 49ers just once during the pre-draft process and not attending the team’s local pro day in Santa Clara, the 49ers came out of nowhere to select him with the No. 176 overall pick.
The 49ers were determined to add depth behind Kittle, and Smith ended up being the guy they tabbed to give coach Kyle Shanahan more options for two-tight end formations.
“I saw what he did last year, and I’m really excited to come in and learn under him, eventually fight for his spot,” Smith said of Kittle. “I’m not really sure what my role is, yet. I’m just going to go play football, enjoy it, have fun and keep learning.”
Smith (6-foot-5, 248 pounds) declared for the draft after a two-year career at Stanford in which he caught 70 passes for 1,049 yards and seven touchdowns. He missed the final three games of last season with a foot injury and ran a disappointing time of 4.92 in the 40-yard dash.
“I ran at the combine and ended up not running at pro day,” Smith said. “I was just ready to get back to football and figured a team would draft me, based on my skills and I was ready to go.”
Shanahan said Smith’s speed – or lack thereof – is not much of a concern for him. General manager John Lynch, who played his college football at Stanford, watched Smith routinely come up with big catches as part of Stanford's NFL-style offense.
“When your speed isn't great, I'm not going to send him on a bunch of speed routes,” Shanahan said. “But there’s a lot of good tight ends who run around there. Some guys who got drafted early aren't that much faster than him. Speed's not the issue depending on how you want to use him. He's effective in the pass game and we think he could be a good blocker for us, too.”
Said Smith, “I get open. At Stanford through nine games, I had 47 catches, so separation isn’t really a problem for me. And blocking, too. Understanding staying low and going against some bigger guys and doing well against them.”
Seven-year veteran Garrett Celek was the 49ers’ top backup tight end last season. But his production dropped, as he caught just five passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games.
Ross Dwelley, who appeared in 11 games last season as an undrafted rookie, and Tyree Mayfield, an undrafted rookie from Wyoming, are the only other tight ends on the 49ers’ 90-man roster.