the 49ers drafted nine young men with hopes of them turning into franchise players. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan are entering their sixth season in San Francisco with a bright future, but time is ticking.
San Francisco did well in accumulating talent without a first-round draft pick this year. We look at the potential roles of the nine rookies drafted to give a feel for how they can impact the 2022 season.
1. Drake Jackson, EDGE, (61st overall) – Potential starter
Lynch continues to honor his pass-rush over coverage mantra in selecting defensive end Drake Jackson. Lynch has selected a defensive lineman with San Francisco’s first draft pick in five out of seven Drafts through the Shanahan-Lynch tenure.
The 21-year-old USC Trojan made the All-Pac-12 second team three years in a row. It looks to be a motor problem on film, but that will quickly be corrected with the talent around him in the defensive line group.
Pass Rush Moves: The best way to describe Jackson’s pass rush moves is inconsistent. There are times where he throws out a move or two and looks unstoppable, but Jackson doesn’t keep that up long enough to become as dominant as he’s clearly capable of. That also makes it difficult to gauge how deep his pass rush repertoire is and how comfortable he is with each move.
Jackson has the tools to develop into a pass-rush specialist under defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. I imagine Jackson will be used as a situational pass rusher until he has shown he can hold up against the run in the NFL.
2. Tyrion Davis-Price, RB, (93rd overall) – Two-headed monster with Mitchell?
I was shocked when Ty Davis-Price’s name was called for San Francisco’s second draft pick. What happened to Shanahan being a running back whisperer? Nonetheless, this pick is acknowledging last year’s whiff in Trey Sermon.
Shanahan’s running back room was constantly banged up last season, which forced WR Deebo Samuel to carry the load in the backfield. Drafting Davis-Price takes the stress off Samuel and demands Sermon, JaMycal Hasty, and Jeff Wilson to step up.
There is a chance that Davis-Price wounds up the second RB on the depth chart after camp. His lack of pass-catching ability is a concern as I’ve vouched for the Niners to add an RB with hands. Having the capability to make plays as a pass-catcher will separate him from the other running backs on the roster.
3. Danny Gray, WR, (105th overall) – Special teamer/contributor
I’m all for the front office surrounding offensive playmakers sophomore quarterback Trey Lance. Danny Gray is a walking explosive play. His 4.33 40-yard dash time is what this offense needs to become one of the premier vertical passing attacks in the league.
Gray will be an immediate contributor with his elusiveness and ability to make defenders miss in space. Gray spent some time returning kicks at SMU, and he may compete with Ray-Ray McCloud as San Francisco’s return specialist.
Four. Spencer Burford, OG/T, (134th overall) – Tackle or guard?
Fans begged for interior offensive line reinforcements all offseason, and Lynch delivered. Spencer Burford predominantly played left tackle in his 46 games at UTSA, together with game experience at right tackle and both guard positions.
The biggest question for Burford is if he can anchor against NFL edge rushers. Regardless, Burford has the opportunity to make an impact in year one.
5. Samuel Womack, NCB, (172nd overall) – Practice squad
Samuel Womack boasted that he was a lockdown press-man corner to media after he was drafted. This could be an overreaction, but I do not think it’s guaranteed that Womack makes the 53-man roster. Womack is comfortable pressing receivers despite his 5-foot-9, 189-pound frame.
Niner’s defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, has several serviceable options at cornerback. Womack’s ball skills could leave him outside. He’s comfortable in press and off coverage, and Womack tends to play through the hands of the receiver when out of phase. The main concern is his size. Ideally, nickel cornerback could be a role for him, but he has to prove that he can fit the run in the NFL,
6. Nick Zakelj, OT, (187th overall) – Practice squad
The 49ers get more help on the offensive line in drafting Nick Zakelj 187th overall. Zakelj was a four-year starter at Fordham under a similar offensive scheme (wide zone.) He solely played tackle in college, and I believe the 49ers will try to keep him there.
Offensive tackle is a position Shanahan and Lynch have highly valued. Trent Williams is still playing like the best tackle in the league, but he turns 34 this season, and we don’t know how much longer he wants to play. Mike McGlinchey is returning from a torn quadriceps, and the pressure is on for him to earn a second contract.
Zakelj certainly has a chance to make the 53-man roster, but I think the current tackles on the roster will beat him out. We’ll have to wait till preseason to see if he is NFL tackle material.
7. Kalia Davis, IDL, (220th overall) – Redshirt
The 49ers’ defensive line adds another player with a good pass-rushing upside in Kalia Davis. Davis has similar traits to DJ Jones with his short-area quickness and disruption during run plays.
Unfortunately, a torn ACL in October ended his redshirt senior year early, and it could hold him out for the 2022 season. San Francisco has a deep history of drafting players with recent injuries or loaded injury history. A lot can be learned in a redshirt year, learning how to be a pro, recognizing offensive line schemes, getting into a regime, etc.,
8. Tariq Castro-Fields, CB, (221st overall) – Key contributor
The 49ers quietly have a solid cornerback room. It’s more so several C+ players, but it feels good to have competent cornerbacks instead of players signed off the street. Tariq Castro-Fields may have the biggest question mark of the nine players drafted. He gives off a swiss army knife vibes in that he could play outside or inside corner and maybe even safety.
Former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator, now Virginia Tech Head coach Brent Pry often rotated Castro-Fields from corner to safety pre-snap. He would mainly be responsible for the deep middle of the field, and he could see the same responsibilities in the 49ers’ heavy Cover 3 and quarters scheme.
The biggest question for Castro-Fields is his willingness to tackle and take on blocks. Ryans’ scheme has heavy stress on the safetyties and nickel cornerback.
9. Brock Purdy, QB, (262nd overall) – Practice squad
The 49ers not only took runningbacks in back-to-back drafts but opted to do the same for the quarterback position. Lynch has continued to stress the possibility of Jimmy Garoppolo remaining on the roster though I think he will be moved by camp.
Brock Purdy has over 12,000 passing yards in his career at Iowa State. His ability to get the ball out quickly is what likely reeled Shanahan in. Purdy’s lack of arm strength leads me to believe he will land on the practice squad before he eventually wins the backup role.
The 49ers draft isn’t glitter and gold, but they addressed several holes and seemed to have added some good players. Lynch’s comfortability with the safety room was a bit concerning for me, but the front office has a plan.
Drafting an edge, receiver, and safety was at the top of my list of needs. The future is bright, and now it’s all eyes on second-year quarterback Trey Lance. Shanahan kept the training wheels on Lance all season, and now it’s time to see what he is made of.
My main takeaways from the draft are how the offensive lineman drafted will land (guard or tackle) and if either of these cornerbacks can make an impact in year one.