The San Francisco 49ers made some big strides with their day 3 draft class a year ago, but this year things are a little slower developing. Pro Football Focus put together a list of the best 2018 day three draft pick for each team, and it was not a difficult choice for the 49ers. Defensive back D.J. Reed got the nod.
D.J. Reed is the only rookie on the 49ers’ roster drafted outside of the third round that has played any special teams snaps or defensive snaps, making him the top choice by default, unfortunately. He has earned one of the lowest grades as a special teamer (29.9) and just a 52.2 overall grade across his 119 defensive snaps. He has also missed three tackles already.
Reed has been the team’s primary kick returner, returning ten kicks for 302 yards. He has a 90-yard return, which could have been a touchdown had he not grabbed an opponent’s face mask on the return. His longest return other than that is a pair of 29 yard returns the past two weeks.
Three weeks ago, Reed got a chance to play free safety after Adrian Colbert suffered a hip injury. Reed played 51 defensive snaps that week, and then got the start the following week against the Los Angeles Chargers, playing 68 defensive snaps. Philip Rivers did not test him all that frequently, instead taking advantage of shorter passes to chew up the 49ers defense for stretches. Akash Anavarathan broke down Reed’s performance in a film breakdown.
Reed will stick with special teams work exclusively when the rest of the secondary is healthy, but he is at least getting a regular opportunity. The rest of the 49ers day three picks are either on an injured list or getting little work. Safety Marcell Harris and defensive lineman Kentavius Street are out for the year due to injuries. Wide receiver Richie James has been active twice now and snagged his first career reception this past week. Defensive lineman Jullian Taylor has been inactive all five weeks thus far after a solid showing in the preseason.
A year ago, the 49ers saw two of their day three picks get starting opportunities, one earning close to a starting role, and another getting some limited work. Tight end George Kittle joined Garrett Celek in the starting lineup, and Adrian Colbert claimed the starting free safety role. Wide receiver Trent Taylor technically wasn’t a starter, but played significant snaps as the team’s primary slot receiver. Defensive lineman D.J. Jones did not play a lot of snaps, but did get more opportunities than we’re seeing from some of the day three rookies this year.
The 49ers welcomed Victor Bolden back last week from his four-game suspension, and he quickly moved into a starting role in place of Marquise Goodwin. James got some work, but it was fairly limited. If Goodwin is out again this week, James would likely see a similar role against the Packers. But if Goodwin can play, James stands a good chance of being inactive on game day.
Jullian Taylor is a guy I would love to see get some kind of opportunity before the season ends. He had a solid preseason, with a standout performance in the first game. The team might not think he’s ready to contribute, but in a season where it is likely more about evaluating for 2019 than anything else, I would hope he gets an opportunity soon.