© Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
INDIANAPOLIS — The 49ers, especially in the John Lynch era, are quite fond of Stanford Cardinal alumni. The first draft pick of the Lynch-Shanahan era was defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, out of Stanford, where Thomas and Lynch took a class together. 2018 was the only year in the past four when San Francisco has not made a draft selection out of Palo Alto.
On the active roster, you have Thomas, Richard Sherman and tight end Levine Toilolo, plus Joey Alfieri, a linebacker who finished the season on the 49ers’ practice squad, as Cardinal alumni.
Last season, the team selected tight end Kaden Smith in the sixth round, and kept him on the final 53-man roster, which left a temporarily quirky roster composition with four tight ends (two from Stanford). By Week 2, Smith was waived in order for San Francisco to bring Jeff Wilson Jr. to the active roster.
Their fears of Smith being picked up on the waiver wire were valid, as he quickly signed with the New York Giants, and went on to have a solid half-season, catching 31 passes for 268 yards and 3 TDs in nine games after New York lost Evan Engram for most of the season.
Toilolo, age 28, was by no means bad for the 49ers, and provided an effective blocking body, but he’s not all that much of a pass-catching threat despite his 6’8″ frame. Smith made that final roster because he provided youth and the potential to be a dynamic pass-catching tight end.
His former Stanford teammate, Colby Parkinson, at 6’7″, 252 pounds, is likely the next Stanford tight end to be drafted. He follows in a long line of Stanford-turned-NFL tight ends — Zach Ertz, Austin Hooper, Coby Fleener, Toilolo, Smith — and said Smith raved to him about his time in Santa Clara.
Parkinson didn’t have the type of junior year that he, or head coach David Shaw had hoped for when Shaw said, “We’re anticipating him being where Kaden is, which is one of, if not the best tight end in America,” before the season.
He caught 48 passes (up from 29) for 589 yards (up from 485) for just one touchdown (down from 7 TDs in his sophomore season). It wasn’t poor, but it wasn’t “best tight end in America” good.
Like Smith, Parkinson was lined up all across the line for Stanford, and showed his knack as a pass-catching tight end, with solid blocking in tighter formations.
Parkinson said he called Smith a couple times before deciding to declare for the NFL draft and that Smith’s own decision to leave as a junior influenced him and that he raved about the 49ers’ locker room.
“He said he absolutely loved it made the right choice, excited that he’s in the NFL now and kind of advised me that it’s a fun process,” Parkinson said. “He said he actually really loved the locker room he had a great time with the guys. And injuries and whatnot led to cutting him, but he loved to sign with the Niners, and then also enjoyed it with the Giants obviously and he said the locker rooms aren’t as big and scary as they might appear.”
Parkinson is projected to be drafted in the fifth round in a few seven-round mock drafts, which is probably a bit too early for the 49ers, given that they have just six draft picks, and none in rounds two through four:
1st round (pick 31)
5th round (pick 157, via Broncos)
5th round (pick 177)
6th round (pick 210)
7th round (pick 218, via Eli Harold trade)
7th round (pick 246)
The one caveat here is that if the 49ers move down in the draft, they could set up a haul of draft picks. If the 49ers stay with their first-round pick and Parkinson doesn’t drop into the sixth or even seventh round, he’s probably out of their range, given that there are other needs (like defensive back and offensive line) that probably come in a bit higher.
Sill, given the fact that tight ends are such a valuable part of Kyle Shanahan’s run game and there’s a real lack of certainty on the Jalen Hurd front, a large pass-catching body with above-average run-blocking potential who’s from Stanford could be an enticing offer for San Francisco.
Parkinson said he models his game after Ertz, and has been getting advice from him and Hooper over the offseason. All three train at Cal Strength, a performance gym in San Ramon.
“They’ve been around for the past couple months and hanging out with them has been great,” Parkinson said. “Ertz has been helping me on my routes. He helped me out in the summer as well going into the season. Like I was saying just the route running and how to create that separation. And Hoop is just giving me subtle moves and one off the line.”
He described his game, again, modeled on Ertz’s, as pass-catching first. Here’s his self-evaluation, saying that there’s room to grow as a blocker (which would be impossible not to improve at with tight ends coach Jon Embree throwing him at sleds every day and watching George Kittle in practice):
“I think my pass-catching ability is gonna help me get on the field early on,” Parkinson said. “I think I’ll develop into a more all-around tight end as we get going. But I think early on, I’ll be someone that can go and consistently catch a ball, catch the ball in traffic and make some plays down the field.
“Today, I think right now I’m almost there. My blocking has gotten a lot better. But I think continuing to grow in that and making sure that I’m not just a one-dimensional tight end. Someone I can be on the field for every play.”
As for Kittle, Parkinson said his tape was so ideal for a tight end that it resulted in some requests to the Stanford coaching staff.
“That guy’s a blast to watch,” Parkinson said. “I mean the way they use him in that offense is unbelievable. He’s such a great talent. The 49ers, they use him in so many unique ways so it’s pretty fun to watch and try to prod our coaches to put in some specific plays that they’d been running.”
As for the prospect of Parkinson being drafted by the 49ers, he was unabashedly stoked.
“That’d be unbelievable,” Parkinson said. “That’d be awesome.”