Honest assessment of 49ers 2023 draft class

The San Francisco 49ers added nine players to their roster during the NFL draft. According to a several publications their choices were collectively the worst in the league.

That’s not surprising. After all, they didn’t have a pick until the end of round three due to previously using their first and second round picks in trades for Trey Lance and Christian McCaffrey. San Francisco also used a pick on a kicker which never goes over well with the draft value charts.

Here is a look at each of the 49ers selections and why the team made the selection.

Pick 87: Ji’Ayir Brown, Safety, Penn State

This was a terrific pick. San Francisco used three picks to grab the do it all safety from Penn State, sending 102, 164 and 222 to the Minnesota Vikings.

The 49ers had shown a lot of interest in Brown throughout the pre-draft process.

Brown shows the ability to make plays all over the field regardless of whether he lines up deep, in the box or in the slot. Over the last two seasons he recorded ten interceptions for the Nittany Lions.

With San Francisco returning their starting safety tandem of Tashaun Gipson and Talanoa Hufanga, Brown is likely to serve as a core special teams player during his rookie season. Still, don’t be surprised to see him get on the field often. During Hufanga’s rookie season in 2021 the 49ers found a way to get their young safety on the field often with Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt.

Pick 99: Jake Moody, Kicker, Michigan

This selection has left several people questioning the 49ers decision making, but it seems clear. San Francisco had a need at kicker heading into the draft and took the best one available in this draft class.

There were several other teams targeting kicker, including the New England Patriots who not only drafted one just 13 picks later, but they also used another pick so they could trade up to get it done.

The 49ers will return 19 of 22 starters from a team that just reached the NFC championship game. During free agency they added the best defensive tackle available and improved their coverage in the slot.

Moody will be the only starter for 2023 from this draft class and provides the 49ers a solid option for years to come.

There’s a couple of other notes to consider with this pick.

First up, unless the next target for the 49ers was wide receiver Tre Tucker, every player in the draft was still available to them when their next pick came up.

Second, offensive lineman Blake Freeland was still available at this point. Freeland, a favorite of many 49ers fans, was passed over at this spot along with the 49ers nest turn two picks later. The BYU product played over 1700 snaps at left tackle over the last two seasons. Freeland worked with former 49ers left tackle Joe Staley during his preparation for the draft. The close personal relationship between Staley and Kyle Shanahan, the two are known to vacation together in Cabo, leads one to wonder what the 49ers may have heard that led them to go in another direction.

Pick 101: Cameron Latu, Tight End, Alabama

The tight end position was one the 49ers needed to address but taking Latu at 101 seemed like a reach. However, there had been a run on tight ends in round two and earlier in round three. This makes it questionable if Latu would have fallen to the 49ers next pick at 155. The answer is probably not considering the Tennessee Titans chose Josh Whyle at 147.

The goal here was to upgrade a tight end room which has been unproductive outside of George Kittle. Charlie Woerner struggles to catch the ball, dropping both targets in 2022 and although Ross Dwelley has terrific hands he struggles with blocking.

In Latu the 49ers get a player with similar collegiate production to Kittle who they hope can be the heir apparent.

Pick 155: Darrell Luter Jr., Cornerback, South Alabama

The selection of Luter makes it three consecutive drafts the 49ers have gone cornerback in the fifth round.

Luter fits what the 49ers look for at cornerback. He excels in press coverage and does a good job of contesting the catch point. This past season he forced ten incompletions on 65 targets.

During three seasons at South Alabama, Luter allowed a completion on just 45 percent of the passes which came his way while allowing only three touchdowns and coming away with four interceptions.

Look for Luter to compete with Ambry Thomas and Samuel Womack for a spot at the back end of San Francisco’s roster. If he makes it, Luter will also be looked upon to play on special teams.

Pick 173: Robert Beal Jr., EDGE, Georgia

Beal is quick, he ran a 4.48 40 during the combine, but he is more than just a speed rusher. The former Bulldog also holds up well against the run.

According to John Lynch, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart told the 49ers “someone’s going to get a really gifted and talented player if they just let this guy (Beal) go hunt QBs and set edges.” That is exactly how the 49ers ask defensive ends to play in their scheme.

Beal Jr. was a rotational piece at Georgia and will be fighting for a spot at the back of the 49ers edge rotation with recent free agent addition Austin Bryant. His speed and ability to make plays in the open field also make him a solid candidate to play special teams.

Pick 216: Dee Winters, Linebacker, TCU

Winters is an explosive player as evidenced by his 4.49 40 at the combine. His 1.56 10-yard split shows his burst, nearly matching the number posted by Christian McCaffrey.

Similar in size to Dre Greenlaw, Winters recorded 79 tackles including 14.5 for loss last season. His 7.5 sacks appear to make him a perfect fit for the blitzing style of new 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

Winters will compete for a spot on the 49ers roster with Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Marcelino McCray-Ball.

Pick 247: Brayden Willis, Tight End, Oklahoma

Willis struggled at times in college as an inline blocker. The former Sooner projects as more of an H Back in the 49ers system.

“He can play some tight end, play some fullback,” said Lynch when asked about what the 49ers saw in Willis. “He is a nice tool to move around and made a lot of big plays for Oklahoma. He’s a former quarterback and real smart, cerebral kid. You can put a lot on him. When he was still there it just made sense for us.”

Like Latue, Willis has an opportunity to push for a spot in the 49ers tight end room if he can outperform Woerner or Dwelley. If he falls short, Willis will likely be a prime candidate for the practice squad.

Pick 253: Ronnie Bell, Wide Receiver, Michigan

John Lynch described the Michigan receiver as a “real tough, physical and gritty player with the ball in his hands. He made a lot of big plays in big moments.”

San Francisco showed a lot of interest in Bell throughout the draft process. Last year he had 62 catches for 889 yards and four touchdowns. He also showed versatility as a runner and punt returner.

The 49ers top five receivers appear to be set. Bell will be competing with Tay Martin, Willie Snead and others for the final spot in the wide receiver room.

Pick 255: John Graham, Linebacker, Purdue

The 49ers were torn between Graham and Dee Winters at pick 216, ultimately choosing Winters. When Graham was still available at this spot San Francisco made the decision to grab the linebacker instead of possibly losing out on him in free agency following the draft.

Graham played more of a safety role in Purdue’s system, something the 49ers have found success with in the past in Fred Warner and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles.

This article has 44 Comments

  1. Jack, your coverage leading into, during, and now after the draft has been exceptional, so thanks very much.

    Just a comment about Brown. There’s a Kyle Posey article today about Browns’ play speed during both games and practice. Perhaps you’ve already read it. The bottom line is that, on the basis of GPS tracking, he plays exceptionally fast with pads on. The link to the article is below.


    1. I agree George, Jack keeps getting better.
      I’m excited about Joey Fisher, he looks like a beast.
      I like Luter, he reminds me of a young Ronni Lott.
      And of course Dee will bust some moves.
      Overall it looks like they drafted for fast, explosive guys.
      Should be a fun year!

  2. Got to disagree with your takes on Moody and Latu. Just because Bill Belichick – an amazing coach, but very questionable personnel man – took a K shortly after, doesn’t mean it was a good move. Moody was the Niners’ second pick in a deep draft. They could have added a player at a premium position (tackle, cornerback, wide receiver, defensive end) who had starter potential a year or two down the road when we will inevitably start losing some legitimate stars. Instead, they took a specialist and a project TE with subpar on-field performance and measurables.

    As for Latu being there at 155, only one other player at the position went between our pick at 101 and our pick at 155. Unless Tennessee had the same TE board we did (Whyle was 156 on the consensus board to Latu’s 180; 200 on PFF’s big board while Latu didn’t make it; Dane Brugler’s 11th TE to Latu at 12), we would have had our choice of Whyle, Mallory, Durham, or Allen at 155. There is simply no argument that Latu was a good pick at 101. We could have gotten him or a comparable player two rounds later.

    I generally liked the other picks, but using 99 and 101 in the manner that they did absolutely tanked this draft as far as I’m concerned. Even if those two guys hit their absolute ceilings, they will not be worth the picks we used on them.

  3. George, that makes me feel a lot better about Brown. If speed isn’t going to be an issue…..then he’s the new Jimmy Ward.
    Luter jr the new mosley. And the 2 LBs replacing Azeez. I liked this draft in the sense that it served to replace good players that left for a big payday. That is good roster construction. The 2 TEs are an attempt to improve that room. Shanny got dragged and blamed for a TE missing a block in the NFCCG……So he tried to improve the group.
    All drafted players can contribute on special teams early…..and maybe replace some higher paid vets we brought in last year to improve the unit ( Burks, Odem) . Luter and Brown probably future starters….

    The Moody debate wont die…….. someone compared the best K to the 10th best…claiming it was a difference of 2 kicks,6 pts……. that’s poor perspective. First, any random K probably falls into the 20-32 range……..not the 10th best.
    second, Ks separate themselves by hitting or missing from 50+!

    The best K, Justin Tucker attempted 14 kicks from 50+ ( 4-5 other Ks attempted more than 10)…….Gould attempted 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Only 2 kicks from 50+

    Justin Tucker made 9 more kicks than Gould did, 54 points!!!!!!!!!!! From 50+. We punted or went for it……an utter no mans land…….

    As for the Oline, we got some REALLY athletic guys as URFAs……..guys that have a chance to eventually , not only contribute…..but be special! Fisher and Manning are the 2 fastest Olinemen out of all the rookies!

    Anyone who thinks an OT drafted at 99 is gonna start over the vets we have…….is insane! It’s like a true freshman starting over a senior! Its rare. If it were to happen……its gonna be a first round guy, not 3-4th round guy

    1. As to kickers, misses on there own, don’t mean much. Misses in clutch situations are what counts. A kicker could be 20-26 for the season but all of his misses were in games his team won by 10 or more but he kicked 4 game winners, thats what counts. I would use a 1st round pick on a guy who nails all of his clutch kicks as well as he has a strong leg. Moody’s nick name is Money Moody if that carries over to the pros then he is worth a 3rd round pick no problem. Lastly, as everyone here knows post draft grades are meaningless, Moody’s post season1, post season 2 and post 3 grades are the only ones that matter.

      1. OC, kickers are the only players that have to score every game. They better be good. This late 3rd round pick is akin to an early 4th round pick.
        If he works out, this is a steal!

      2. So if a kicker misses 2, 30 yard field goals in the second and 3rd quarter it doesnt matter as long as he makes one one when its clutch? What happens if his misses are what created the need for the clutch kick or after kicking the go ahead clutch kick, they still lose because of those early misses perhaps a deep kickoff return and field goal?

        All I want from a kicker is consistency, if he nails everything from 45 yards and in and has a decent amount of touchbacks Im happy. I dont need him hitting 50 plus yarders I just need the team to know where they need to get the ball to for it to be automatic.

        1. Shoup,
          Can you name a single kicker in the history of the game who consistently made game winners but missed a high number of his early in the game not important at the time kicks. I can almost guarantee you that the kicker who consistently makes the game winners at the gun will also consistently make his kicks early in the game but the reverse is not always true.

        2. I hear you, Shoup.
          But what we remember after a situation you just described is the win.

          Not many people remember the many dropped passes by T.O in a playoff game against the Packers. What we do remember is the winning catch in the endzone. I believe that Montana threw around 3 Int’s in a playoff game and still won. There are countless instances where a player has an overall bad game, but makes a play to win the game.
          It’s winning that matters and what fans typically remember most.

          1. OC,
            I think kickers are generally headcases… they normally make everything or suddenly start missing and when they do they miss a lot, similar to golfers and hitters. Even the good ones have this issue from time to time… thats why Gould was dismissed by Chicago.

            I think the Montana game you are referring to was The Catch game. Dallas had no business being in that game. SF beat them something like 45 to 14 earlier that year but in that playoff game SF committed 6 turnovers and Montana accounted for 4 of them, 3 ints and fumble. Were it not for that miraculous play he likely would have been the goat of the game… and not the good GOAT.

            1. Agree, Shoup.
              That’s why I believe that winning is all that matters whether a player looks bad throughout the game, but then makes the winning play.

    2. “Anyone who thinks an OT drafted at 99 is gonna start over the vets we have…….is insane! It’s like a true freshman starting over a senior! Its rare. If it were to happen……its gonna be a first round guy, not 3-4th round guy.”

      We dont know that and even if that were true, are injuries no longer part of the game?

      Im not even against drafting the kicker… but this team didn’t win a superbowl and they clearly have areas that they need to improve so lets not act like it would have been impossible to find better players.

      I think there were at least 6 players had the potential to start for this team to be had in round 4.

  4. Echo George’s comment about Jack’s coverage, which has been terrific.

    USA Today rates the Niners No. 20 of 32 teams and gives them a C+ with most others I’ve seen doing the same.

    1. BTW. USA Today gave its highest draft rating, A+. to the Eagles. Philadelphia’s picks, the paper says, will help drive the Eagles to another NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance next year. 2nd highest rating, A, went to the Seahawks.

      1. Rob,
        The Eagles and Seahawks drafts are perfect examples of why the 49ers need to let Lance develop. Having 2 top QBs is how teams end up with the kind of picks in the draft that both the Eagles and Seahawks ended up with.

    2. Rob,
      I agree that most draft analyst gave the 49ers a C grade. Long time draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. also gave the 49ers a C grade.
      But he, along with others have based their mid-grades on the fact that the 49ers didn’t draft until the late 3rd rd, which makes their grade somewhat askewed, imho.

  5. Good topics at bar table. 1st and 2nd rounders deserved high expectations but for 3rd to 7th, we won’t know the final verdict until 3-4 years later. Even after year 4th, no one can tell if Javon Kinlaw will turn out to be Reggie McGrew or Dana Stubblefield.

  6. It appears the 49ers treated this draft as a depth amassing exercise which is all they really could do with the lateness of the picks. Normally I’d be disappointed with a Kicker being taken that high but if the guy turns out to be a long term answer at the position for us then it’s all good. There were no starters being drafted with these picks and they obviously liked the young OL on the roster more than what was available on day 3 so complaining about the players they selected is missing the point imo.

  7. Another thought on the K……I think it will be good to try to draft, develop and go with a young K! The last 2 been in the same mold…….old guys at the end of their careers, dismissed by original team…..and although they played well here……..it was short term, they had weaker legs ( nothing over 50, lucky for a touchback) and worst of all……being established, accurate and reliable ……..they made a lot of $$$$! The other K being Joe Nedny ( spelling?)

    If Moody works out, he could be around for 15-20 years. Either way, he makes chump change for the next 4 years…….and that alone is worth the early 4th round pick we used. Not to mention…..it allows us to cut Gonzalez and owe Carolina nothing!!! Saving us 1-2 7th round picks next year. No one wants to factor that in while panning the pick.

    you wanna know whats far worse than spending pick #99on a K?????? spending 155 on a worse K, who cant beat out ZG………so then we cut the drafted K this year, wasting that pick……..and still owing Car. the pick(s) next year…….and then having ZG cost us games this year ( maybe playoff games)…….and still be in the market for a K NEXT YEAR!!!
    Thats a scenario that could cost us 4 draft picks instead of the one we made ……in addition to games , and entore season or seeding.

    1. Spot on in your observation……it seems that no matter how the Shanahan-Lynch team approach personnel, there’s always gonna be some detractors who think they know better…because a player has a higher draft rating, doesn’t make him a shoe-in to be an instant starter, or immediate impact player…they all have ‘baggage’ that they drag along with them, and we as fans aren’t sitting in on the one on one interviews the teams have with these guys…we don’t know what their college coaches had to say about them on a personal, work ethic level……though combine numbers and film clips can be impressive, the fact remains that jumping from NCAA football to the NFL is a big step…there have been countless ‘can’t miss’ prospects that failed, and failed miserably…I’m just gonna wait and see how these rookies pan out, before I make an armchair assessment

  8. The Eagles and Seahawks drafts are perfect examples of why the 49ers need to let Lance develop. Having 2 top QBs is how teams end up with the kind of picks in the draft that both the Eagles and Seahawks ended up with.

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  10. Now on to the next subject. Which FA will the 9ers sign, using the cap space they created by renegotiating CMC’s contract. I think it will be an Edge. There are quite a few quality edges out there.

  11. Moody was a terrible pick for 2 reasons.

    1. Moody had a 62% accuracy rate in the 40-50 yard range. You can sign a guy off the street who can do the same.
    2. 49ers need O-line help. Brendel, Burford, and McKivitz are a bottom 5 o-line segment in the NFL. Instead you drafted a kicker who would have ranked as the worst kicker in the NFL at the 40-50 range last year.

    Makes no sense. Then to follow that up with Latu who was rated as a 5th round prospect is a real head scratcher. Wonder if the departure of Ran Carthon was a bigger impact to the personnel dept than anyone realized.

    1. Pat,
      Maybe the site I looked at isn’t accurate but they have Moody career 40-49 at 76%. Last year 40-49 88%. Important to remember Blocks and or mishandled/bad snaps are not taken into account so Moody’s Avg could even be higher if you disregard mishandled/ bad snaps and blocks (blocks can be the fault of the line or the kicker)

        1. The site I went to shows him career 13 of 17 from 40-49 yards which by my terrible math is over 76%. I have no idea which site is more accurate but would he even have been considered as a 7th round draft kick at 62%?

        2. 1.6 You do realize I hope that Moody was regarded as the best kicker in the country. After extensive research, the Niners came to the same conclusion. Maybe it’s time to let him prove it on the field.

          1. The difference between a top rated kicker and a bottom rated kicker equates to 6 points over an entire year when you look at accuracy percentages. I don’t care if Moody was the next coming of Morten Anderson. Picking a 3rd round kicker is a stupid strategy.

    2. Pat, what are you talking about!!?? Brendal was a pro bowl alternate in his first year as a starter!!!!! By definition, thats top 5 at his position!!!!!!!
      How can you make an outlandish claim he’s bottom 5?
      Burfurd looked decent as a rookie……, Banks couldn’t even get on the field as a rook, but was a stud 2nd year. Throwing him in the bottom 5 seems disingenuous too……..but at least its not a completely ridiculous claim such as the one made against Brendal.
      Colton has not played…..so lumping him into the bottom 5 is simply projection based on nothing ! Not data, not the eye test…….NOTHING!
      Shany said it best……they got 9 o linemen already, mid to late round draft picks would have been unlikely to beat them out…….THE END
      Personally, i love the 3 undrafted kids! They mesh the sweet spot of ……possibly contributing this year/ in the future/being hidden on the practice squad.

      1. I know a lot of people were high on Brendel. My theory is people expected him to be the worst Center in NFL history so when he was only the 30th ranked Center in 2022 people were pleasantly surprised. I form my opinions based on what I see on the field. When Brendel was able to combo block on 1 techs he wasn’t God Awful. He was just merely below average. When Bendel was forced to block 0 techs or 1v1 on 1 techs he got absolutely destroyed on a regular basis. Go watch the video of Trey Lances injury. Al Woods threw Brendel around like Brendel was a piece of lint on a cashmere sweater. And I specifically didn’t mention Banks. Williams/Banks is a respectable combo. Brendel, Burford, McKivitz is horrible. The 49ers can not win the Superbowl with those guys as their starters on the O-line. D Coordinators will figure out schemes to absolutely destroy that side of the line.


        1. No one expected him to be the worst center ever.
          Many didn’t trust him to be good but lets not over exagerate to such an extreme.

          1. Brendel was the 30th ranked Center according to PFF. That’s not an exaggeration. Brendel was not good.

            1. “Jake Brendel
              According to Pro Football Focus, Brendel closed out the 2022 season as a top 20 center, allowing just one sack and three quarterback hits during the 49ers NFC Championship run. He will hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent.”

              This was reported by PFF in late February 2022.meabs
              There’s a reason why the 49ers FO re-signed him for 2023. When a SB ready team re-signs a player to remain as a starter, it usually means that they were very satisfied with his play.

              I look at Brendel as an emerging player who is only going to get better at his position.

      2. J, somehow he’s emotional invested in his opinions and no amount of common sense or facts is going to change his opinion.

    3. I hate the pick, but that’s bad info. Over the past three years, Moody went 11 or 15 from 40-49 yards, good for 73%. More importantly, this past year he went 7 for 8.

      I think this is looking at all of his 40+ attempts throughout his five-year career. In that metric, he is 17 of 27, or 62.9%. But I don’t know how useful that really is. He only attempted 24 kicks total in his first three years. In terms of pure percentages, he attempted more long kicks than most college kickers do, and he improved this past season as the year wore on. He missed his first three 50+ attempts, then went 3 of 4 to round out the year.

      For those who are curious, his long-range misses were:

      From 57 yards against Ohio State, Michigan leading 31-20.
      From 50 yards against Rutgers, Michigan leading 14-17. From 50 yards again at the end of the half, Michigan trailing 17-14.
      From 62 yards against UConn at the end of the first half, Michigan leading 38-0.

      He hit from:

      54 against MSU, Michigan leading 19-7.
      52 against Maryland, Michigan leading 7-3.
      59 against TCU to end the first half, Michigan trailing 21-3.

  12. Ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous, that of the 39 offensive lineman picked over the weekend, not one should have come before and been drafted ahead of Moody. But Shanahan believes he is the smartest guy in the room, and he knows when, how, and whom to pick in the draft. Just ask him.

    1. Does it occur to you that of the O linemen available at the end of the 3rd round, none of them were capable of replacing anyone on the roster in the collective opinion of the experts on the Niners staff?

      1. They clearly think that… I just disagree.
        However, they also thought you had to be pretty good to beat out Cassius Marsh.

        Keep in mind they Cut Mckivitz, hes not exactly a sure thing even in their eyes.

      2. Because why bring in competition for incredible talents like Colton McKivitz, Jaylon Moore, Matt Pryor, and Jon Feliciano ? It’s not like our starting LT, arguably the best player on the roster, could retire in a year or two, and our RT is basically unproven.

        No one should be expecting an OT taken in the late 3rd round to start right off the bat, but it’s certainly possible. The Bears got great OT play from pick 168 last year, and we got solid OG play from Burford at pick 134.

        The starting group on this team can rival any team in the league. We’re thin at lots of positions, though. We are relying on guys like McKivitz and Jackson or Ferrell to start at key positions, and our depth is pretty shaky. Why not use our most valuable picks in a deep draft – granted not very valuable – on guys who have a shot at filling starting roles a couple years down the road?

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