The 49ers addressed every area of need they had heading into the 2022 NFL Draft weekend.
San Francisco headed into the draft needing to address edge pass rusher, the interior of their offensive line, cornerback, safety, running back, and a wide receiver with speed.
It’s important to remember the draft is about more than finding players who can help your team right away. Under John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers have built an incredibly deep and talented roster.
Let’s see how the players selected this week fit into the 49ers plans for 2022 and beyond.
Round 2, Pick 61: Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
Round 6, pick 220: Kalia Davis, DT, UCF
The 49ers went into draft weekend with 11 defensive linemen capable of making an NFL roster which caused some eyebrows to raise when they went with another edge rusher with their first pick and followed that up with an interior lineman later.
One reason these additions make sense is the structure of the current roster. San Francisco has only three defensive linemen under contract beyond 2022, one edge rusher (Nick Bosa), and two defensive tackles (Javon Kinlaw and Arik Armstead).
The 49ers like to have a rusher with speed opposite Nick Bosa. This thinking led to the team trading for Dee Ford in 2019, signing Samson Ebukam in 2021 and Kemoko Turay during this offseason.
“You always try to envision our group as a whole, but you can’t help but say, ‘Ok, opposite of Bosa, this guy is going to get a lot of one-on-ones. We need a finisher,’” said John Lynch.
“It’s what we had in Dee Ford, we just never got to see a lot of it, but I think some of the best football we played was when we had that kind of situation. We do believe he (Drake Jackson) has that kind of impact in him.”
Kalia Davis was a linebacker in high school. That athleticism shows in his play along the defensive line.
Davis is an explosive three-technique whose ability to get off the ball, penetrate and disrupt is reminiscent of former 49ers defensive lineman D.J. Jones who joined Denver as a free agent this offseason.
Unfortunately, Davis tore his ACL only five games into the 2021 season, and the injury makes it likely that he will spend the 2022 season on the physically unable to perform list.
“We’re going to bring him in, evaluate where he is in the rehab process and make sure that he’s right before we put him out there,” said Lynch. “We think he’s got a bright future.”
Round 4, pick 134: Spencer Burford, OT, UT-San Antonio
Round 6, pick 187: Nick Zakelj, OT, Fordham
Burford and Zakelj both played tackle in college and impressed at the Senior Bowl; however, they project as interior offensive linemen in the NFL.
According to assistant general manager Adam Peters, Burford impressed the 49ers scouts with his footwork, length, and great practice habits.
Turn on Burford’s film, and you see an offensive lineman with a nasty streak reminiscent of current 49ers left tackle Trent Williams.
According to Tariq Ahmad, San Francisco’s director of college scouting, the 49ers had Zakelj on their radar for the last four years.
San Francisco not only envisions Zakelj at guard, but they can see him at center as well.
“He played guard at the Senior Bowl. He started off slow, but as the week went on, he got better and better,” said Adam Peters. “By the game he was really good. We think he has the skillset, the quickness, the intelligence to play both guard and center.”
Round 5, pick 172: Samuel Womack, Toledo
Round 6, pick 221: Tariq Castro-Fields, Penn State
The selection of Womack makes it back-to-back drafts in which San Francisco has taken a cornerback at 172.
San Francisco area scout Ryan Kessenich told Lynch and Peters that Womack was “one of his most convicted guys early in the draft process.
Womack possesses terrific speed and movement skills, allowing him to record 39 pass breakups, a Toledo record.
Womack can play inside and out and will compete for the slot cornerback role and playing time on special teams.
The 49ers have been following Castro-Fields for the last three years. There was a chance the Penn State product would declare for the draft early, but injuries forced him to miss three games in 2020 and he decided to stay in school.
A boundary corner, San Francisco believes Castro-Fields will be ready right away from a technique standpoint.
With Emmanuel Moseley entering the final year of his contract, the development of Castro-Fields in important for the 49ers future roster and salary cap.
Round 3, pick 93: Tyrion Davis-Price, LSU
This is the one selection that left me scratching my head. Taking a running back in the third round wasn’t the issue; San Francisco had shown interest in enough backs throughout the draft process for this not to be a surprise. The problem for me here was the player chosen.
The 49ers needed a breakaway threat in the backfield, and they ended up with a slower version of Elijah Mitchell.
Davis-Price is a big back who does a good job of getting behind his pads and punishing defensive players. Mitchell had a tough time staying healthy last season, so perhaps that prompted the 49ers taking another bruising back.
Kyle Shanahan has been successful with big running backs in the past. Alfred Morris ran for 2,940 yards and 20 touchdowns under Shanahan in his first two seasons with Washington.
The top of the 49ers running back room now consists of Mitchell, Davis-Price, Trey Sermon, JaMycal Hasty, and Jeff Wilson Jr. San Francisco carries four halfbacks on their active roster, meaning one of these backs will not make the final roster. My bet is on that player being JaMycal Hasty.
Round 3, pick 105: Danny Gray, SMU
Gray is a burner with 4.3 speed. What makes him attractive to the 49ers is he’s not limited to just being a speed guy, and he can make plays at all three levels.
“He (Gray) does a lot of the things we covet, in-breaking routes, screen game, and he’s very good with yards after the catch,” said John Lynch. “When you have the qualities of flat-out speed and then you also have the toughness, that’s a special combo for us and something that we can implement into our system.”
“It will only amplify the skills of a Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Jauan Jennings, and the rest of that group.”
As is the case with most players, Gray has areas of his game where he needs to improve. Gray struggled with drops, particularly on in breaking routes. He also needs to become more consistent with using his vertical speed to drive defenders off to get open on intermediate patterns.
Gray was a junior college transfer who only played 18 games at SMU. He showed continued growth throughout his time with the Mustangs, and the 49ers are betting they can keep him moving forward.
Round 7, pick 262: Brock Purdy, Iowa State
What did the 49ers see in Purdy?
“We thought he played the position really well, as well as anybody in the draft,” responded Adam Peters.
“He doesn’t have the biggest or strongest arm, but he does a good job of moving guys with his eyes, he’s tough in the pocket, doesn’t need a lot of room to throw and really put that program on the map. They won a lot of games with him as the starter.”
Purdy also demonstrates a competitive streak that is needed for a player who doesn’t have all the measurables to succeed. He wasn’t highly recruited out of high school but would take over the starting job at Iowa State early in his freshman year.
Purdy’s athleticism, ability to work off play-action and hit throws over the middle is reminiscent of former 49ers backup quarterback Nick Mullens. All of this makes Purdy a solid project quarterback for the 49ers practice squad.
Undrafted Free Agents
Dohnovan West, Center, Arizona State
Leon O’Neal Jr, Safety, Texas A&M
Jason Poe, OL, Mercer
Tay Martin, WR, Oklahoma State
Jeremiah Gemmel, LB, North Carolina
Taylor Hawkins, CB, San Diego St
Segun Olubi, LB, San Diego St
Taysir Mack, WR, Pittsburgh
Sam Schlueter, OL, Minnesota
Devin Atkins, DL, Fresno State
Qwuantrezz Knight, CB, UCLA
Garrett Walston, TE, North Carolina
Cyrus Habibi-Likio, RB, Boise State
Very few would have batted an eye if the 49ers had selected West in the third or fourth round. That San Francisco was able to sign him post draft is a steal.
The same can be said for Leon O’Neal and Jason Poe. Both players drew considerable attention throughout the draft process for their athleticism and play-making ability. Many had O’Neal and Poe as fifth or sixth round selections.
While it’s unlikely any of the undrafted free agents will make the active roster out of training camp, they will have a good opportunity to end up on the 49ers practice squad.
The 49ers entered Thursday with 22 players signed for 2023, and they finished Saturday with at least 31. This team is deep and talented, with a strong core moving forward.