It is usually not difficult to find underrated players on a team’s roster. National coverage tends to take a 30,000 foot view of the entire league, understandably leaving rocks untouched.
Ask any 49ers fan who the most underrated player on the team is and there are a whole host of answers that would make sense. Free safety Jimmie Ward is a good player who doesn’t get much national shine. Neither cornerback Emmanuel Moseley nor wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. However, Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr found a fascinating deeper cut in his exploration of: the most underrated player of any NFC team†
The name he pulled from San Francisco’s roster? Back up tight end Charlie Woerner. It’s a mind-boggling choice at first, but his explanation and a dive into the numbers make it hard to disprove:
Woerner was not heavy used last year and came in on about a quarter of the 49ers’ snaps and 75% of their special teams’ snaps. But once inside, he flashed his ability to block the plan exceptionally well, which is essential for a franchise that needs moveable pieces in the backfield to dictate certain looks. Someone like Woerner proves their worth when Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk don’t have to put as much wear and tear on their own bodies and can be released as more natural match-up-creating pass catchers. Go back and rewatch his game against the Bears, in which he was used for 80% of the team’s snaps, and you’ll find a skilled blocker who was a focal point on certain wide runs. Passing plays for which he was on the field, San Francisco’s passing offense was 1.1 yards better per game.
It took Woerner some time to come into his own as a blocker after the 49ers took him out of Georgia on round 6 of the 2020 draft. His first year wasn’t exceptional, but last year he got better and eventually passed Ross Dwelley. in for the TE2 job.
His athleticism failed to show in the passing game, which is part of the reason he is considered underrated. Woerner has just eight catches for 88 yards on 10 goals in 31 games. However, his ability to run wide and execute combo blocks with Juszczyk is key to the 49ers’ successful hasty attack.
He is the in-line tight end over the left tackle in the game below:
The eye test with Woerner’s improvement last season, and his increase in playing time also illustrated that. The numbers also indicate that he is one of the league’s most effective blocking TEs.
Analytics site Pro Football Focus dropped Woerner in 13th place in the overall TE’s ranking last season with at least 200 offensive snaps. He was No. 7 in blocking runs and No. 14 as a pass blocker. His overall grade went up 15 points from Year 1 to Year 2, and his block running grade shot up 25.8 points. Making that leap between his first and second season bodes well for Woerner’s long-term future.
It would be behooves the 49ers to find another reliable receiving option in their cramped room because of what it could unlock in their passing attack. However, Woerner has turned himself into a major cog on the offensive over the past two years, and San Francisco certainly approves of being underestimated as long as he continues to grow into that expanded role.
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