George Kittle is certainly in the prime years of his NFL career, with four Pro Bowl appearances before the age of 30 as the proof.
But at some point, the San Francisco 49ers will need to find the protege to “The People’s Tight End.” And 49ers insider for The Athletic Matt Barrows believes “this is the year” it happens.
Barrows unveiled his updated mock draft for the April 2023 NFL Draft on Monday, February 20 and has the Niners rolling with a tight end in one of their first three picks. And at pick No. 102 in the third round of the draft: Barrows has S.F. drafting Payne Durham of Purdue — adding one more past Big 10 representative in the 49ers’ tight end room.
“This. Is. The. Year. The 49ers haven’t used a Day 1 or 2 NFL Draft pick on a tight end since Vance McDonald in 2013, but this would be a great spot to take one,” Barrows wrote.
The insider adds how Durham has soft hands and impressed during practices held in Mobile, Alabama in late January.
“Durham caught 99 passes over the past two seasons and was one of the standouts at Senior Bowl practices,” Barrows said. “Best of all, he took the majority of his snaps as an in-line tight end and not, as is common in the college game, as a slot receiver.”
Is Durham a Kittle Clone?
Turns out there are plenty of parallels drawn between Durham and Kittle — and it’s not just because of the position they play or what conference they played their college football in.
Going all the way back to their prep years, Kittle was ranked a three-star recruit by 247Sports composite. Durham himself was rated with a three-star by the same national recruiting website.
Both are additionally at a similar height with the two standing at 6-foot-5. Durham, though, played at 255 pounds for Purdue while Kittle entered the league at 247 pounds.
But if there’s a difference between Durham and Kittle, it’s that Durham ended up with more career receptions (126), yards (1,275) and touchdowns (21) than what Kittle managed at Iowa — 48 career receptions for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns across four seasons which eventually led to him going in the fifth round.
Durham is currently projected to rise all the way to third round status by Barrows. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated’s The Draft Bible gave the Boilermaker a fourth round grade.
Could Durham Fall to the 49ers?
Barrows predicts the Purdue star will be available before the 105th pick of the draft. The Draft Bible has him going in the next round. But are there others believing Durham could go higher?
The website NFL Draft Buzz has him falling to the seventh round. The Draft Network, though, has Durham going in the third — joining Barrows in that belief.
But, Packers Wire on USA Today wrote how they feel Durham is a fit before the round of 100 — with the Green Bay Packers claiming him at No. 96 and eventually grooming him next to another Pro Bowl TE in Robert Tonyan. Meanwhile, nfl.com’s Chad Reuter doesn’t list Durham in his first three rounds and even has Sam LaPorta from Kittle’s alma mater going higher at No. 78 to the Packers.
But in a tight end heavy class, there’s plenty of intrigue involving the 49ers finding the eventual protege to the four-time Pro Bowler. Durham is already believed to be the closest to “The People’s Tight End.”