Turns out the San Francisco 49ers and head coach Kyle Shanahan landed themselves a surprise gift through a $4 million addition to their offense, as one 49ers assistant reflected back on the process in adding Brayden Willis to the tight end room.
Speaking with The Athletic, 49ers tight ends coach Brian Fleury revealed on Monday, June 5 that he was surprised to see the 49ers’ newest $3.9 million addition Willis fall to them during the 2023 NFL draft. Fleury clearly originally thought the towering and physical 6-foot-4, 235-pound tight end was going to go earlier than where he ended up landing in.
“I’m surprised he was available in the seventh round, to be honest with you,” Fleury shared to 49ers insiders for The Athletic Matt Barrows and David Lombardi.
Willis ended up as the 30th pick of the draft’s final round. He even fired off a fiery response video during his draft party repeatedly shouting “31 teams are going to pay.”
Fleury, though, offered a likely explanation on Willis’ drop to the Niners.
“Maybe (YAC, or yards after the catch) is something we prioritize more than other teams,” Fleury said, identifying Willis’ potential fit on the Niners. Willis did average 7.2 yards after the catch with Oklahoma last season.
49ers TE Coach Details What He Likes About New Option
Fleury already has a strong personality and All-Pro performer in the tight end room through George Kittle. Still, the need was there to add depth and youth to what’s been one of the strengths of the 49er offense.
And with the Oklahoma Sooners standout Willis, Fleury has plenty of things to admire about his newest tight end.
“There’s a lot to really like,” Fleury said of Willis. “He’s just a really remarkable person. I love the personality off the field, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in his intelligence and room to grow. The fit for us in the room, and when you turn on the film and see how aggressive he is, the tenacity and the way he finishes people [on blocks]. It just seemed like a great fit all the way around and somebody I’m really excited to work with.”
Willis’s strengths not only include showing tremendous focus and body control on his catches (two needed traits to play TE in the league), but his blocking prowess helped explain why the Niners took him in. Willis shows strong control of his blocks with the ability to finish in destructive fashion.
“He has a skill set that fits in very well with our offense. I was very excited to get him,” Fleury said.
State of 49ers TE Room Including George Kittle
With the 49ers nearing the completion of voluntary practices (or organized team activities), the Niners are carrying an even deeper group of TEs as the next phase soon becomes minicamp.
Kittle isn’t just the lone veteran in this room. Ross Dwelley and Troy Fumagalli add 11 years of NFL experience at the position. Charlie Woerner is another veteran with four seasons on his resume.
Willis, though, is one of two newcomers alongside third-round selection Cameron Latu out of Alabama. The rookies are expected to bring more size and infusion to the TE room. Willis is labeled the surprise addition…but one who could be impactful through Fleury’s words.