11 months ago, the San Francisco 49ers walked away from the 2017 NFL Draft with some question marks, but what appeared to be some solid playmakers. They entered with the No. 2 overall pick, but walked away with a pair of defensive starters in the first round, and their class netted them an A- draft grade by ESPN’s Mel Kiper.
We’re a month away from the 2018 NFL Draft, and Mel Kiper is back to re-grade each team’s draft class. In doing so, he included undrafted free agents and he looked at performance based on relative value, including contributing for a winning vs. losing team and if the contributions were unique to that team.
In his re-grade, Kiper gave the 49ers a B+. 11 months ago, he liked the risk of Foster at the end of the first round. He generally was fine with all the 49ers picks, although he did view C.J. Beathard in the third round as a puzzling pick. Here is what Kiper said this week in his re-grading of the class.
I had quarterback down as one of the 49ers’ top draft needs, but I thought they reached for C.J. Beathard in the third round. He ended up starting five games (and playing poorly) until John Lynch & Co. dealt for Jimmy Garoppolo at the trade deadline, and now Beathard is entrenched as the No. 2. After winning five straight to close the season with Jimmy G at the helm, the 49ers feel good about their future.
Elsewhere in Lynch’s first draft, top pick Solomon Thomas had 41 tackles and three sacks in 12 starts. I expect much more in Year 2. Reuben Foster, for whom the 49ers traded back into the first round, was an absolute stud when he was on the field, with seven tackles for loss and 72 total tackles in 10 games. He’s the reason the 49ers parted ways with longtime middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman, but Foster’s off-field issues could derail his career.
Tight end George Kittle had a heck of a first year, catching 43 passes for 515 yards and two touchdowns. San Francisco also got useful contributions from cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (two interceptions in nine starts), wide receiver Trent Taylor (43 catches, 430 yards, two TDs) and cornerback Adrian Colbert (32 tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception). And undrafted free agents Matt Breida and Kendrick Bourne played too. This is a deep class, but it’s not an A. Foster’s future and Thomas’ ceiling are still question marks.
I can see holding back because of Foster and Thomas. Even if Foster does not get released amidst his current off-field issues, there is no guarantee he’ll stay out of trouble in the future. It’s hard to assess his long-term value with this huge caveat lingering.
As for Thomas, he contributed as a rookie, and flashed skills, particularly in the run game. However, for the No. 3 overall pick, the 49ers will be looking for him to develop into a more consistent performer in both the run and pass game. The potential is there, but for grading purposes, it makes sense to wait and see.
As one would expect, Kiper glosses over some notable performers. He at least offered some statistics of note for George Kittle, Trent Taylor, and Adrian Colbert. But he gave short shrift to Matt Breida and Kendrick Bourne. I mean, it is a factual statement that Breida and Bourne played last season, but that kinda, sorta overlooks the value they brought to the 49ers and their projections moving forward.
Breida will be behind Jerick McKinnon on the running back depth chart, but he showed he can be a player in this league. He will have to fend off Joe Williams, but the momentum is on Breida’s side to be a solid complement to McKinnon.
Bourne saw little action early in the season, but starting in November, he became more of a regular contributor. He is competing with Aldrick Robinson for fourth on the wide receiver depth chart, and I have a feeling we see him supplant Robinson. I’m not saying that’s enough to bump up the 49ers draft re-grade, but it’s worth some kind of mention.