By: Zach Hernandez (@Zachhernan)
For the first time in years, the San Francisco 49ers entered the draft without the rest of the world knowing who their first pick would be. Last year, DeForest Buckner was a lock to the 49ers since about February, and the same situation the year before with Arik Armstead. Now that the rat is out, there are no more leaks going out to the media from the Bay. This year the media, fans, and I’d assume even other teams had absolutely no idea when it came to what John Lynch and Co. would do.
In the end, San Francisco was able to move down from the #2 overall spot – trading with Chicago in exchange for the 3rd, 67th, and 111th overall picks, plus a 3rd-round pick next year. The Bears gave up a multitude of picks to move up one spot to select UNC QB Mitchell Trubisky. While it may seem like a lot of picks, they must’ve been convinced at the time that they would have lost out on him by the 49ers trading with another team.
Today, I’ll be grading each individual pick, and the class as a whole! So without further ado, let’s check out the 49ers 2017 rookie class!
3RD OVERALL SELECTION (FROM CHICAGO) – SOLOMON THOMAS |DE| STANFORD
The 49ers get one of the most versatile defensive linemen in the class. Thomas is 6’3″, 273lbs, ran a 4.69 40-yard dash, 126.0″ broad jump, and a 35.0″ vertical. Thomas comes from a long line of athletes – his mother and uncle both played collegiate sports. In Thomas, the 49ers get a very explosive defender who has great strength speed, and has an extremely high motor. How fitting that NFL Network compared Solomon to none other than The Cowboy – Justin Smith.
@SoCaliSteph joined @Zachhernan on the @nothingbut9ers podcast and she explained while Solomon may not have the stats that jump off of the page, he does a lot of the dirty work that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Thomas does a lot of work that helps free up others to make the play.
Thomas has the versatility to move all over the defensive line, depending where DC Robert Saleh sees fit. Although many teams and media personalities have knocked Thomas’s size and constantly called him a “tweener”, Solomon has the drive and tools to develop into a Michael Bennet-like player for the 49ers.
Overall Grade: A
31ST OVERALL SELECTION (FROM SEATTLE) – REUBEN FOSTER |LB| ALABAMA
Reuben Foster was the #3 overall player on CBS Sports @NFLdraftscout‘s big board pre-draft. However due to the infamous incident at the combine, his positive drug test due to a diluted sample, and character concerns, Foster fell all the way to the 31st pick. The 49ers were wise to trade up with the Seahawks to select the Crimson Tide product. Foster could very well be the steal of the entire draft.
Many teams cited character concerns as a reason to pass on Foster, but John Lynch said in a post-draft interview that Foster’s personality was the main reason he was driven to take him in the first place. Lynch also stated he spent more time with Reuben than any other draft prospect. If you watch any of Foster’s interviews (particularly @49ersfangirl‘s 5 Fun Facts video) since being drafted, the guy just lights up the room.
Now onto his play – Reuben is the most violent defender in this entire class. The guy can cover sideline to sideline no questions asked. He is not only tough as nails, but also an excellent athlete. After losing 15lbs, Foster’s explosiveness improved dramatically. Reuben is stout against the run, and plays exceptionally well in pass coverage. In 2016 alone, Foster totaled 10 passes defended. Foster could very well take the torch from Bowman in the next few years and become the next defensive star for the 49ers.
Overall Grade: A+
66TH OVERALL SELECTION – AHKELLO WITHERSPOON |CB| COLORADO
Witherspoon brings great size and speed to the table for the 49ers. He ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the combine, along with a 40.5″ vertical and a 127.0″ broad jump. Witherspoon has great hip movement and exceptionally quick feet. Ahkello has great hand-eye coordination, which helps him when it comes to his ability to play the ball. He is able to reach his top speed fairly quickly, so it is no problem for Ahkello to run stride for stride with the fastest wide receivers.
Witherspoon brings with him an exceptional ability to shadow opposing wide outs – something that has been severely missed in San Francisco. He will need to work on his ability to keep the edge. Also, Ahkello will most likely need to bulk up to succeed against NFL-sized players.
Overall Grade: B +
104TH OVERALL SELECTION (FROM MINNESOTA) – C.J. BEATHARD |QB| IOWA
When the 49ers traded up to select Iowa QB C.J. Beathard, most fans were left scratching their heads in confusion. Now that there has been a little time to look back on his tape and reflect, the pick makes a lot more sense. C.J. is one of the smartest and mentally ready quarterbacks in this class. Kyle Shanahan stated after the draft that Beathard was the QB he has been eyeing entering the draft.
Beathard has good size, standing at 6’2″, 219lbs. Like DeShone Kizer, C.J.’s 2015 tape was much better than his 2016 season. However, Beathard did not get much help from his supporting cast. @PFF reported that C.J. had the highest difference in adjusted completion percentage and actual completion percentage, at 17.6%. The adjusted completion takes dropped passes and getting hit as they throw into consideration. Beathard was impacted by these factors more than any other QB in this class.
Beathard played in a pro-style offense while at Iowa, operating from under the center or from shot-gun. C.J. is also more than capable at rolling out of the pocket if pressured and delivering on the run. He completed 57% of his passes outside of the pocket during his time in Iowa. Displays a soft touch on short throws, something that 49ers receivers complained Kaepernick was unable to do. While Beathard has the arm to make all the down-field passes, he rarely forces it in or takes unnecessary risks.
Overall Grade: C +
The main reason I give the Beathard pick a C + and not higher is because I think he is still there if they don’t trade up for him.
121ST OVERALL SELECTION (FROM INDIANAPOLIS) – JOE WILLIAMS |RB| UTAH
Although it was recently reported Williams was off of the 49ers board the night prior to drafting him, the team still decided to use a 4th-round pick on the Utah product. Williams is blazing fast, running a 4.41 40-yard dash at the combine. Joe has true break-away speed once he gets past the secondary, and has no problem taking one to the house once he finds the hole.
Williams runs with a very low center of gravity, allowing him to easily break through half-assed tackles. Joe has a unique ability to bounce back from hits that would knock down most backs. When hit, Williams is smart enough to lower his pads to help gain a few extra yards on the way down.
Joe has his fair share of red flags, as he was kicked out of UConn for credit card fraud, and also taking some time off of football after his sister’s death. However, I find it very hard to believe John Lynch drafts Williams without addressing these concerns first. Whatever his answer was, it’s apparent it sufficed for Lynch.
Overall Grade: B +
146TH OVERALL SELECTION – GEORGE KITTLE |TE| IOWA
The 49ers kept the Beathard – Kittle connection together by bringing Kittle to the Bay Area as well. Standing at 6’4″, 247lbs, George has ideal size at the tight end position. Kittle is one of the more NFL-ready tight ends in this class. We’ve seen Kyle Shanahan find success running 2-3 tight end sets in Atlanta, so selecting Kittle allows Kyle to do that in San Francisco. George is not only able to run down the seam and catch passes, as he also excels at run-blocking.
Current starting tight end Vance McDonald could very well be booted off of not only the starting lineup, but the team entirely. Kittle blocks just like an offensive lineman, which definitely drives his stock up. Unlike Vance McDonald, George has great hands, only dropping one out of 48 catches while at Iowa. Kittle presents athleticism and an exceptional blocking ability to the 49ers, which could prove enough to crack the starting lineup.
Overall Grade: B +
177TH OVERALL SELECTION (FROM DENVER) – TRENT TAYLOR |WR| LOUISIANA TECH
I was one of the biggest fans of UNC wide receiver Ryan Switzer, but the 49ers might’ve gotten a better wide receiver in LA Tech’s Trent Taylor. Taylor led all of FBS in receiving yards with 1,803 on 136 catches, and also 12 touchdowns. Only East Carolina wideout Zay Jones totaled more catches with a record-setting 158 receptions.
The 49ers get a versatile weapon in Taylor who can line up in the slot and return punts/kick offs. Trent displays excellent instincts and awareness in space. He shows a great feel for the field and his surroundings. Taylor just catches everything thrown his way, rarely does he drop well-thrown balls. The LA Tech product excels at creating yards after the catch, and doesn’t shy away from contact.
Taylor is as tough as they come, and I think he stands a good chance of making the final 53-man roster. He might need to start off on special teams and work his way up the depth chart, but I think Shanahan could seize his full potential.
Overall Grade: B
198TH OVERALL SELECTION (FROM BALTIMORE) – D.J. JONES |DT| OLE MISS
Look for Jones to start off as a rotational player in Saleh’s defense. D.J. plays very wide, and standing at 6’1″, 319lbs, it’s easy to see why he takes up so much space. Jones is an extremely athletic nose tackle who played exceptionally well for the past two seasons at Ole Miss.
D.J. provides an usual combination of strength and athleticism to the 49ers newly-improved defensive line. Jones needs to improve his consistency, but could really pan out as a solid rotational/depth player for San Francisco. Now that the team is no longer under Jim O’Neil’s read and react defensive scheme, Jones could thrive as a one-gap nose tackle who could present a real ability to stay on the field all three downs in the future.
Overall Grade: B –
202ND OVERALL SELECTION (FROM DENVER) – PITA TAMOEPENU |LB| UTAH
Years ago, the 49ers had McBLT on the roster in Mcleod Bethel-Thompson. Now, San Francisco will have a Pita on the squad in Pita Tamoepenu out of Utah. At worst, Tamoepenu will provide depth and a special teams role. However, Lynch and Co. hope Pita adds another piece to their pass rushing packages. Tamoepenu is a twitchy athlete with great footwork.
Pita provides solid explosiveness off the snap, which helps tremendously in his pass rush. Unlike Ahmad Brooks, Tamoepenu is able to correctly time the snap-count more often than not. Look for Pita to start off on special teams and hopefully develop into a rotational pass rush specialist.
Overall Grade: C +
229TH OVERALL SELECTION (FROM NEW ORLEANS) – ADRIAN COLBERT |DB| MIAMI
With their final pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the 49ers selected DB Adrian Colbert out of Miami. As a senior, Adrian totaled 90 tackles and four interceptions in nine games his senior season. Colbert upped his draft stock at his pro day when he ran a sub 4.4 40-yard dash. He brings ideal size at the position, and is a solid tackler.
Colbert will most likely not make the team, but if he does it will be primarily a special teams role in his future.
Overall Grade: C –
Overall Draft Grade: A –
The 49ers most certainly won the first round of the draft, selecting two top-5 level talent. Exiting day one with both Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster set the bar high for the rest of the draft picks. Using the picks they had just acquired from Chicago, the 49ers were able to trade back into the first to select the free-falling Foster, and it might have been the best move of the whole draft. The trade sets San Francisco up with two starting-caliber players on the front seven for the upcoming season.
San Francisco addressed the cornerback position after releasing Tramaine Brock by drafting Ahkello Witherspoon. Witherspoon is a lengthy corner who will excel in press coverage. Also they selected Iowa tight end George Kittle, which may be the writing on the wall for Vance McDonald’s time in the Bay Area. Besides Foster, my favorite pick was LA Tech wide receiver Trent Taylor. Taylor may prove to be a security blanket to Hoyer, or whoever is throwing his way in the future.
After spending the majority of free agency signing offensive players, the team focused primarily on defense in the draft. This draft class was the first of many from a rebuilding franchise. It set them up with a few pivotal pieces to continue to build around. All in all, bravo Mr. Lynch, job well done!