The San Francisco 49ers struggled to get much out of their day three draft picks in 2015 and 2016, but last year, that changed. George Kittle (5th round) has emerged as a starting tight end, Trent Taylor (5th round) was a productive slot receiver, and Adrian Colbert (7th round) eventually became the team’s starting free safety.
Joe Williams (4th round) spent the season on injured reserve, but will get a chance to compete behind Jerick McKinnon. Defensive lineman D.J. Jones (6th round) got some rotational work, and will get a chance to earn more time in the base defense this season. Pita Taumopenu (6th round) saw little playing time, but it was a development year for him, and he will be competing for SAM and Leo work this season.
The best teams find important depth on day three, and John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan seemed to do that last year. But what about this year? The 49ers made five selections on day three of the 2018 NFL Draft. Defensive lineman Kentavius Street (4th round) is likely to spend the season on the NFI list rehabbing his torn ACL, but what about the other five?
DB D.J. Reed
He played cornerback in college, and has been projected as a slot corner in the NFL. However, he got time at free safety during the team’s offseason workout program. The better this roster gets, the more versatility players are going to need to show. For now, K’Waun Williams is the starting slot corner, and Adrian Colbert is the starting free safety. Jimmie Ward is playing outside cornerback for now, but could get some opportunities at free safety if injuries create issues.
Reed’s best chance to make an immediate impression might be as a returner. Trent Taylor was solid but not spectacular as the team’s punt returner. Dante Pettis is one of the best punt returners in NCAA history, but Reed could get a shot as the team’s kick returner.
S Marcell Harris
Harris suffered a torn Achilles last summer, and missed the season. He is expected to be back for training camp, and given the summer nature of the injury, I would be surprised if he spent any more than a day or two on the NFI list, if even that. He is best suited as a strong safety, and given the 49ers have no significant depth behind Jaquiski Tartt, that could be an important role. Harris’ best chance to contribute will be on special teams, but given the limited safety depth, he has a chance to end up with the most non-special teams snaps among this group.
DT Jullian Taylor
The 49ers have invested heavily in the defensive line, but we could see more of a rotation this year. Arik Armstead is playing the strong defensive end role, while Solomon Thomas will be on the weak side. Taylor’s primary competition for an opportunity is Ronald Blair. Given Armstead’s injury history, there is a decent chance the backup sees some playing time.
WR Richie James
The 49ers wide receiver depth chart is kind of busy right now. James has the build of a slot receiver, which puts him behind Trent Taylor, Aldrick Robinson, and potentially Victor Bolden on the depth chart. Second round pick Dante Pettis will likely get some work in the slot as well, but has been getting work at several different receiver positions thus far.
Taylor missed the offseason workout program due to back surgery, but will be back for training camp. If James cannot supplant Taylor as the team’s slot receiver, it’s going to be a tough battle for a roster spot given the depth at the position. He very well could surprise us, but there are a lot of bodies around that could overshadow him.