American Football

49ers 2023 Draft Class receives a D+ grade from NFL Network

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Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

There were two Year 1 contributors in this class.

The San Francisco 49ers didn’t have a pick in the 2023 NFL Draft until pick No. 87, thanks to previous trades that landed them a quarterback and the Offensive Player of the Year. So, Christian McCaffrey counts as the second, third, and fourth-round picks when we’re doing re-draft grades.

Ji’Ayir Brown, Jake Moody, Cameron Latu, Darrell Luter Jr., Robert Beal Jr., Dee Winters, Bradyen Willis, Ronnie Bell, and Jalen Graham made up the Niners’ rookie class. Latu was on the Injured Reserve the entire year. Luter and Beal missed the majority of the season, while Graham was mostly a healthy scratch.

In re-grading every team, NFL dot com gave the Niners a D+ for their first-year players:

Third-rounder Moody earned the kicking job and faced his share of ups and downs, missing a potential game-winner at Cleveland and struggling with his consistency and kickoff distance. But he was also 60-for-61 on extra-point attempts, leading the NFL in both numbers, and made a 57-yard field goal against the Rams and a clutch 52-yarder in the playoff win over the Packers. In the Super Bowl, he converted all three of his field goal attempts, including a pair from 50-plus yards out, but had a crucial extra point blocked.

Five of San Francisco’s nine draft picks were on defense, but most of those players made their biggest marks on special teams. Winters was the most accomplished on those units, and he might have to continue toiling there, with the 49ers in good shape at linebacker for the foreseeable future. Luter, Beal and Graham essentially endured redshirt seasons and remain relative unknowns heading into the offseason. (Well, except for the fact that Luter unfortunately had a punt bounce off his leg in the Super Bowl, creating a big momentum swing.)

Bell had some nice moments as a receiver and punt returner, even while needing to be patient. He was solid as a punt returner when given the chance and had three TD grabs on his six catches, which could lead to Bell seeing more time on offense next season. The two tight ends the 49ers drafted contributed next to nothing on offense, with Latu (who struggled in the preseason) landing on IR following knee surgery. But Willis was a core-four special teamer down the stretch and even was given snaps as an inline blocker.

Ji’Ayir Brown was forced into action after Talanoa Hufanga tore his ACL in Week 10. The 49ers’ success and (over?)reliance on veterans can be attributed to why the younger guys didn’t play in Year 1.

They were content with Brown learning from the sidelines. Whenever Kyle Shanahan spoke about him before Brown became a starter, he was happy with how he performed in practice.

When you think about the high-leverage games the 49ers played in, especially down the stretch, and how first-year players are bound to make mistakes, it’s easy to side with Shanahan leaning on veterans.

Ronnie Bell is a prime example, even as a seventh-round pick. Buying in as a blocker in the NFL as a receiver is something most players coming out of college have never had to do. You go from being the go-to receiver in college to having to block linebackers consistently in this offense.

Winters and Graham’s only opportunity was to win the third linebacker job, but that’s on the strong side, where you’re primarily taking on blockers and doing the dirty work. And, at tight end, there’s no way to simulate the jump in physicality from college to the pros.

The Niners draft class from last year were long-term options. Graham and Winters feel like replacements for Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Oren Burks. The tight ends should take Ross Dwelley’s spot.

Brown, playing with this front seven, has star potential. And if Moody misses only four kicks per season for the next ten years, his selection will look better and better after each year.

But the Niners have a first and second-round pick this year. The team must nail those selections, not just for depth purposes.

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