NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Iowa tight end Noah Fant just missed George Kittle on his trip from Iowa to visit the 49ers in Santa Clara this month.
When Fant was in the Bay Area, Kittle was in Iowa City. And around the time Fant returned, Kittle was heading back to California for the beginning of the 49ers’ offseason program.
Fant, who was a teammate of Kittle at Iowa two years ago, is also a tight end. He is expected to be a first-round draft pick. But the 49ers already have one tight end from Iowa, so why did he visit the 49ers?
“They’re trying to get two,” Fant told NBC Sports Bay Area on the eve of the NFL draft. “When they have a guy like George and maybe they draft a guy like me, it’s going to be essentially unguardable. It will be hard to find that many players who can cover two different tight ends who can run like receivers and block and do all of that.”
Kittle, a fifth-round draft pick in 2017, emerged as one of the game’s top young stars last season. He set the NFL single-season record for tight ends with 1,377 yards receiving despite the 49ers playing most of the season with reserve quarterbacks.
“Obviously, playing there with George would be something that’s insanely incredible, and something I would definitely enjoy,” Fant said.
Fant and another Iowa tight end, T.J. Hockenson, could be the first two tight ends selected on Thursday night at the NFL draft. Fant (6-foot-4, 249 pounds) ran a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. In his final two seasons of college, he caught 69 passes for 1,013 and 18 touchdowns.
The 49ers are clearly looking for an upgrade at tight end to create match-up issues for defenses. Fant was one of four draft-eligible tight ends who visited the 49ers in Santa Clara. He got excited when talking about the endless possibilities if he were on the field again with Kittle.
“Try putting a linebacker on us. They’d be too slow,” Fant said. “Try putting a corner on us and we’d be bigger than him. Safeties are a little harder because you could find a good safety like Jamal Adams or Derwin James, so you can get guys like that are going to be good.
“But then you’re bigger than them, and you go to the run game. Having that many different things you could do with a pair of tight ends would be something that would be pretty special. I can definitely see where their vision is with that.”
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The likelihood of Fant ending up with the 49ers appears remote, unless the 49ers were to make a trade on Thursday. The 49ers’ first pick is No. 2. Their next pick is slated for Friday’s second round (No. 36 overall). Fant is expected to fall somewhere between those spots.
“If they traded back or they traded up from the second,” said Fant, who took visits to nine teams during the pre-draft process. “You never know what could happen. Obviously, I treated that visit like any other job interview. We’ll see what happens.”