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49ers draft grades: How much better did the Niners get?

Experts believe San Francisco had one of the best drafts

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Washington Redskins clean lockers Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Does it make sense to grade a draft the day after the final selections happen? Of course not. Will that stop us from grading the draft anyway? See the previous answer. Let’s look at what Sports Illustrated,, and PFF all had to say about the San Francisco 49ers draft; then, you can assign a letter grade.

NFL Network gave the Niners a B+:

Draft picks: South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw (No. 14 overall), Arizona State WR Brandon Aiyuk (No. 25), West Virginia OT Colton McKivitz (No. 153), Georgia TE Charlie Woerner (No. 190), Tennessee WR Jauan Jennings (No. 217)

Day 1 grade: B

Day 2 grade: N/A

Day 3 grade: A

Overall grade: B+

Draft Analysis: GM John Lynch didn’t wait very long to find DeForest Buckner’s replacement along the D-line, selecting Kinlaw at No. 14 overall. He addressed the team’s receiver need later in Round 1 when he traded up six spots for Aiyuk. The deal for the Arizona State receiver, along with past trades for veterans Dee Ford and Emmanuel Sanders, sapped the Niners of any second-, third- or fourth-round selections.

Moving a fifth-round pick and 2021 third-round pick for Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, who’s expected to take over for the retiring Joe Staley, makes a strong offensive line even stronger. McKivitz, whom they drafted with the pick acquired from the Dolphins for Matt Breida, played tackle in college, but I think he could be a very good starting guard. The Niners continued dealing, moving Marquise Goodwin to the Eagles for a sixth-round pick, which they then used on Jennings — a big receiver who wins with physicality — not speed. Woerner was a very good blocker/receiver pick at tight end because the team needed depth behind stud George Kittle.

The Day 1 grade is fair. With what Kyle Shanahan asks of his receivers, Aiyuk is a great fit, and the team felt like he wouldn’t be available at pick No. 31. Playing the odds, and looking at history, losing a fourth-rounder isn’t a significant loss. I told Sigmund Bloom on Twitter that Aiyuk, like most prospects, is dependent on where he lands. On four to five teams Aiyuk can be a high-quality player and worthy of a first-round pick. Teams that move Aiyuk around the formation, run slants, posts, screens, and vertical routes are all areas where Ayiuk thrives. An offense that keeps it simple and gets the ball in Aiyuk’s hands. Does that sound familiar? Kinlaw was a top-10 player in this draft, in my opinion, so that was a no-brainer.

Let’s see what PFF thought about the Niners draft:

Day 1: The 49ers had a busy first round, with two selections and two trades. Moving back one pick to take Kinlaw at No. 14 with players like Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb on the board may not have been the optimal decision, but it’s not as if they reached. Kinlaw was the top interior defender and the 13th-ranked player overall on PFF’s Big Board. He’s a physical specimen with the kind of pass-rushing tools and production you love at the position, highlighted by an 18.1% pass-rush win rate in 2019 that trailed only Jordan Elliott in the class.

“This was a man who went from homeless to junior college and now to South Carolina, overcoming every obstacle in his way. Those are the kinds of players you bet on in the draft.” – PFF’s lead draft analyst Mike Renner

After the draft, there were reports that Aiyuk was WR1 on the 49ers’ board, and it’s not hard to see what they’d like about his skill set. He’s one of the best wide receivers in this class — a certified freak of an athlete who recorded nearly 11 yards after the catch per reception on 65 catches in 2019. There is reason to be worried about Aiyuk not doing much at all until his senior season, but he has well-defined strengths that should play well in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

Day 2: San Francisco was left without a pick on Day 2 after trading away their third-round selection as part of the Emmanuel Sanders trade and their second-round pick as a part of the Dee Ford deal. Those win-now moves helped get them to the Super Bowl last season, but they are now left without a pick until Round 5 in this year’s draft.

Day 3: The biggest news of the day for the 49ers was the retirement of their longtime fixture at left tackle, Joe Staley, and the resulting trade to acquire Trent Williams from the Washington Redskins. Staley has been underappreciated for just how good he has been — he has recorded overall grades of 80.0 or higher in each of the past eight seasons. Williams was the only option out there who could hope to match that kind of production. The former Washington tackle has put up eight consecutive seasons of 75.0-plus overall grades and is one of the top tackles in the league when healthy.

The other noteworthy move for the 49ers here is scooping up Jauan Jennings — the No. 70 overall player on the PFF Big Board — in the seventh round. With his after-the-catch ability, he could not have landed in a better spot. Jennings averaged over 7.5 yards after the catch per reception in both 2018 and 2019, and he forced a whopping 30 missed tackles after the catch last season. That will certainly play well in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

Draft Grade: B+

Kinlaw having that high of a pass-rush win rate and being labeled as “raw,” tells you all you need to know about his skillset. Watch him against North Carolina and Florida. Kinlaw terrorizes both offensive lines.

As Mike said, it’s a luxury to have a top-tier left tackle available when a Hall of Famer is walking away. Those opportunities are rare, and the 49ers’ persistence paid off. I’m not sure if this factors into the grade, but shedding the salaries of Matt Breida and Marquise Goodwin were huge wins for the Niners, as both players weren’t going to have much of a role on offense in 2020. San Francisco freed up over $7 million in cap space, which could be used toward George Kittle’s extension or a new contract for Williams down the line.

Finally, Sports Illustrated:

In a technical sense, a variety of trades left the Niners with just two meaningful draft picks (both first-rounders), but that’s not a bad thing when you’re a defending conference champion and do not have many weaknesses to correct. Plus, if you count ex-Washington left tackle Trent Williams as part of this class (he was acquired for a 2020 fifth-rounder and 2021 third-rounder, and will replace the retired Joe Staley), it’s a top-heavy haul of talent.

Many expected the Niners to find a replacement for departed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders at Pick 14 when every wide receiver save for Henry Ruggs III was still on the board. But that’s not how this organization thinks. Head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch understand that as long as they have quality route runners on the field, Shanahan’s play designs can win. Quality route runners can be found in Rounds 2-4. (Plus, the Niners are said to love 2019 third-rounder Jalen Hurd, who missed his rookie season with a stress fracture in his low back.)

The fact that the Niners traded up in the late first round to get Brandon Aiyuk says they must be smitten with the Arizona State star. Stylistically, he fits their offense. Scouts liked Aiyuk’s effectiveness operating on the move, which is a key characteristic in Shanahan’s timing-based offense. He also has shown he can align in a variety of positions.

As for how San Fran used that No. 14 pick … what Shanahan and Lynch understand is that, while their offensive system is not player-dependent, their defensive system is. Coordinator Robert Saleh’s scheme is predicated on having a potent four-man pass rush. The Niners rode that to a Super Bowl appearance last year. After financial constraints forced them to trade DeForest Buckner to the Colts, they needed to restock for this year. NFL draft expert Greg Cosell has said that Javon Kinlaw is not a flawless prospect, but his best-case scenario is to develop into a Chris Jones type of force. That’s a helluva best-case scenario, and the Niners believe they have one of the NFL’s best defensive line coaches in Kris Kocurek.

Grade: A-

I’m with Cosell. Kinlaw wreaks of Jones coming out. When you win as much in college as Kinlaw did, you excel in the NFL. The uncertainty about college football in 2021, plus the odds of San Francisco picking late in the third round being so high, makes the value of acquiring Williams a great trade. While Williams hasn’t played football in a year, he has been arguably the best left tackle in the game for years.