5. Draft Picks
- 14th overall: Javon Kinlaw (B)
- 25th overall: Brandon Aiyuk (B-)
- 153rd overall: Colton McKivitz (A-)
- 190th overall: Charlie Woerner (C+)
- 217th overall: Jauan Jennings (A)
Overall Grade: B
For the second consecutive year, 49ers brass showed confidence in their secondary and doubt in their receiving corp. Both position groups have faced questions surrounding young talent that has yet to turn flashes of strong play into sustained success.
Veterans Richard Sherman and Emmanuel Sanders led groups that performed well last season, but clearly have concerns going forward. Sanders, of course, signed with New Orleans this offseason, and Sherman’s contract is set to expire after next season.
Entering the draft, it was fair to assume the 49ers believe Deebo Samuel is strong enough to become the team’s number one wide receiver. However, the rest of the roster lacks a likely starting-caliber player.
The needs in the secondary appear less imminent, but an ill-timed injury to Sherman or starting safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt could spell disaster for the team’s defense.
As good as Sherman was last season, given his age and injury history, the team needs to be wary of who their top corner is going to be going forward.
Selecting Aiyuk is the biggest indictment on Dante Pettis. The second-round pick in 2018 was expected to take a larger role in the offense last season and instead finished in coach Shanahan’s dog house.
On the other hand, by not selecting a defensive back, Niners brass expressed trust in Ahkello Witherspoon (third-round pick in 2017) and Emmanuel Moseley (undrafted free agent in 2019) at cornerback. Only time will tell if they were right to do so.
Aiyuk felt like a reach given the depth of this year’s wide receiver class. Especially without any mid-round picks, was sacrificing a fourth and fifth-round pick worth taking Aiyuk over someone like Michael Pittman Jr. or trading down for more capital and Denzel Mims?
Again, that’s impossible to know right now.
It’s important to distinguish the difference for San Francisco in this draft to previous ones though. Roster spots are going to be at a premium for a team loaded with talent.
Fans should expect at least a player or two who fails to make the cut with the 49ers to recoup a pick from someone else. Without a dearth of talent, more draft picks were less valuable than picking players who fit what the coaching staff wanted to do.
Aiyuk is an exciting player and has amazing upside within Shanahan’s system that prides itself on finding open-field playmakers favorable matchups.
With only one very good season at the Division-I level, Aiyuk had less tape than most other prospects and there are legitimate concerns about Aiyuk’s willingness to make catches in traffic over the middle.
The Kinlaw selection isn’t particularly sexy and further investing capital in the defensive line seems somewhat questionable. After all, the team should not be chasing a strong defensive line if it comes at the expense of other spots on the roster.
At the same time, the 49ers were in an uncomfortable spot with the 13th selection. Tristan Wirfs would’ve been a fantastic selection with the 13th overall pick, but it’s hard to criticize them for ending up with Trent Williams and not wanting to draft a tackle in the top-15 to sit for a year.
There were no defensive backs worthy of selection at that point in the draft and the depth of the wide receiver class made it easy to justify passing on prospects like CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy at that point.
They could have doubled down on offense, pairing Lamb with Aiyuk would’ve transformed the depth of weapons on offense, but that does seem redundant.
Kinlaw was one of the best players left on the board and gives the team the potential to maintain a certain performance from their defensive line.
Without Buckner, the team will no longer have the same interior presence, but if Dee Ford is able to stay healthy (big if) and Nick Bosa can take another step (another questionable, but plausible assertion) the team’s pass rush could be as dominant.
Kinlaw enters a great schematic football situation, but a difficult surrounding environment. At South Carolina, Kinlaw was the primary focus of offensive lines, receiving many double-teams, which quelled his statistical production.
Now presumably beside Armstead, Ford, and Bosa he’ll get many opportunities to produce. If he doesn’t perform quickly though, pressure and expectation could mount.
Ironically, Kinlaw will have an easier football challenge, but a harder mental one than the average defensive line pick of his caliber.
The rest of their draft comprised a pair of very good values and a third player with a clear roster niche.
Jennings is the “steal” of the draft for San Francisco. With a normal class of wide receivers it’s hard to see him slipping past the fifth round and while the character concerns are legitimate, Jennings was a third or fourth-round talent that the 49ers do not expect to rely on.
The competition to make the roster is going to be intense at wide receiver.
Samuel and Aiyuk are obviously locks, Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, and Jalen Hurd all seem like staff favorites, which leaves someone like Jennings a huge uphill battle against Pettis, Benjamin, and the rest of camp invites.
He seems well suited for the intensity required to play special teams and that will probably be necessary
McKivitz did play tackle in college but is more legitimately a swingman prospect, best at guard and capable of filling in on the outside.
He was very good value (expected by most to go in the fourth round) and beefs up a quietly deep group of lineman. If there’s one group most likely to see a depth piece moved for a pick it’ll be a group that currently looks as followed.
- Starters: Trent Williams, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Daniel Brunskill, Mike McGlinchey
- Reserves: Shon Coleman, Justin Skule, Colton McKivitz, Ben Garland, Tom Compton
While there are some other players on the outside looking in, it’s hard to envision any of them supplanting a veteran or a draft pick. At the moment, Coleman and Compton seem like the most obvious players that will lose out.
Woerner is the least exciting offensive weapon out there: a blocking tight end. However, after losing Levine Toilolo it made sense for the 49ers to add another positional specialist.
While they were unable to add a receiving tight end to help spell Kittle, Ross Dwelley showed flashes as a receiver. Another thing to keep an eye on with Woerner is the potential for him to be a long-term option at fullback.
A number of draft scouting websites listed him as a legitimate fullback prospect and with Kyle Juscyzyk currently counting $6.7 million against the salary cap and is set to be a free agent after next season. It’s hard to envision the 49ers continuing to invest so heavily in the position going forward.
Overall no choice stands out in either direction. There doesn’t seem to be any pick that’s an obvious reach, but nothing that seems like an obvious game-changer.