49ers Sign Rookie TE Byham to four-year deal

Forget this picture, Byham's blocking is his forte

The 49ers announced today that they have signed rookie tight end Nate Byham, a sixth-round pick from Pitt and the 182nd selection overall, to a four-year deal at undisclosed terms. Byham is the fourth of the team's eight draft picks to sign, joining receiver Kyle Williams from Arizona State, running back Anthony Dixon of Mississippi State and cornerback Phillip Adams of South Carolina State.

Byham, who is 6'4 and a solid 265 pounds, was praised as the best blocking tight end prospect of this year's draft class in many publications. In his introductory conference call with the local media he made sure to mention immediately his passion for blocking and that he's well aware it's his strength in that area that got him drafted. He harbors no illusions about becoming the next Brent Jones.

However that doesn't mean he should be looked at as a complete liability in the passing game either. He did catch 20 passes for 260 yards as a junior at Pitt, to earn All-Big East First Team honors, and added 10 more receptions for 108 yards as a senior to grab an All-Big East Second Team nod. During OTAs and in minicamp Byham caught everything thrown his way and looks like he can be a decent dump off option for quarterback Alex Smith to pick up a few yards if all his other reads are blanketed.

Byham will never be asked to run the 20-yard seam route down the middle, and that's okay. His main job will be to pin down defensive ends to seal the corner for Frank Gore to do his thing. He may even see some time as an H-Back in the offense, providing he picks up Jimmy Raye's playbook quickly.

The one thing Byham will have to prove right away is that he can handle Tight End Coach Pete Hoener's tough love approach. Bear Pascoe, last year's sixth-round pick from Fresno State, couldn't and was cut. Byham has to show he's mentally strong enough to absorb and use Hoener's lessons instead of taking the constructive criticism personally and tuning him out. Pascoe looked like a star in the making during OTAs last year, so we'll have to see how things go with Byham.

The Niners still have their top four picks to sign; first-round linemen Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, from Rutgers and Idaho respectively; second-round safety Taylor Mays from USC; and third-round linebacker Navorro Bowman from Penn State. The four of them have about three weeks to get their deals done to ensure they won't miss any of training camp.

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