The San Francisco 49ers are slated to have nine picks in the 2021 NFL Draft and will try and address a few positions of the need. The one thing we know is that the Niners will be selecting a QB with the third overall selection, but we don’t know which signal-caller it will be.
San Francisco originally helped the No. 12 pick in the first round but made a blockbuster deal with the Miami Dolphins to move up nine spots. After picking their QB, the 49ers will need to focus on plugging holes in the secondary and could use some depth on both the offensive and defensive lines and linebacker.
The 2021 Draft will be the fifth under general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. The pair was hired before the 2017 season and have done a good job finding bonafide NFL talent in the later rounds.
Lynch and Shanahan have had some misses as well. The two first-round picks they made in 2017 are no longer with the team. Only two players remain with the organization from the 2017 draft.
Here’s a look back at the first draft under Lynch and Shanahan’s watch.
Round 1, pick 3: DL Solomon Thomas
Round 1, pick 31: LB Reuben Foster
Round 3, pick 66: CB Ahkello Witherspoon
Round 3, pick 104: QB C.J. Beathard
Round 4, pick 121: RB Joe Williams
Round 5, pick 146: TE George Kittle
Round 5, pick 177: WR Trent Taylor
Round 6, pick 198: DL D.J. Jones
Round 6, pick 202: LB/DL Pita Taumoepenu
Round 7, pick 229: S Adrian Colbert
Kittle was obviously a home run pick for the organization. The tight end is one of the best overall players in the game, and it looks like he will spend at least a decade with the franchise. Not bad for a fifth-round pick.
The 27-year-old has 264 receptions for 3,579 yards and 14 touchdowns. But, his impact goes beyond catching passes. Kittle’s blocking ability makes him so valuable to the 49ers’ running game. He’s also one of the leaders of the squad and is by all accounts beloved by his teammates.
The 2019 campaign was the best of Kittle’s career. Pro Football Focus gave him an overall grade of 95.0, and he was named the Stephenson Award winner, which PFF gives to the best overall player in football. Kittle signed a five-year deal worth up to $75 million prior to the 2020 season that should keep him in the Bay Area through 2025.
Defensive lineman D.J. Jones has turned into a solid contributor for the team. He has started 25 games over the past two seasons had has 70 career tackles. Jones has been an underrated part of the defense and will continue to have the opportunity to make a splash in 2021. The 49ers re-signed him to a one-year deal.
Lynch did well garnering three additional picks from the Chicago Bears for trading back one spot from No. 2 to No. 3. It was no secret that the Niners were interested in Thomas leading up to the draft, where they wound up selecting the Stanford product. Thomas never looked fully comfortable with San Francisco.
He was used in various spots along the line and lacked the expected production from a third overall pick. Thomas played in 48 games and racked up 95 tackles (16 for a loss), 23 QB hits and 6 sacks during his four seasons with the 49ers. He dealt with personal tragedy after the death of his younger sister, which he admitted hindered his on-field performance. The team didn’t pick up his fifth-year option and let him walk in free agency this offseason.
Foster was another precarious selection. No one could argue with his production on the field. He won the Butkus Award as the top linebacker in the nation during his senior season and was the best available inside linebacker, according to several draft pundits.
But off-the-field concerns with Foster were a major red flag leading up the draft. First, he was sent home from the combine after getting into an argument with a student health care worker while receiving treatment. Following that incident, it was revealed that Foster had a diluted urine sample, which resulted in an automatic positive drug test. Still, he was considered one of the best linebackers available at the draft.
The incidents scared off other NFL teams, and Foster fell down the draft board as a result. He was still available with just two picks left in the opening round, so Lynch pounced on the opportunity and sent second-and-fourth-round picks to the Seattle Seahawks to move up and pick Foster. Lynch was elated to get Foster, who he says one of San Francisco’s top-three rated players in the draft.
“I can tell you right off the bat that what we had on the board was just under 200 players, and in terms of how we rated them, we got two of our top three players,” he said, per ESPN.com’s Nick Wagoner. “We were able to do that, and we’re thrilled. We’re ecstatic. We think these guys have a lot of traits of what we want to be about as a football organization.”
After suffering an ankle injury in Week 1, Foster missed five games but returned with some impressive performances. He was excellent in his rookie season, playing in 10 games and finishing with 72 tackles, 5 QB hits and was given an overall grade of 90.7 by PFF, the second-highest out of all rookies.
It looked like the 49ers had found an anchor piece for the defense, but once again, off-the-field issues plagued Foster. He missed the first two games of the season after being suspended due to weapons and drug charges he faced from the offseason. Then he was arrested on domestic violence charges following a Week 12 loss that led to his release from the team. Foster was picked up by the Washington Football Team but suffered a serious knee injury in May of 2019 and hasn’t played in another regular season game.
Both of the Niners’ third-round selections stayed with the team for four years before hitting free agency this offseason. Witherspoon had all of the physical tools to be a successful NFL corner, but he couldn’t find consistency on the field. He started nine games as a rookie and had some nice moments. Witherspoon finished with 32 tackles, seven passes defended and two picks in his first year and was given an overall grade of 74.5 by PFF.
Witherspoon was one of the 49ers’ starting corners in 2018, alongside veteran All-Pro Richard Sherman. He played in 14 games and gave up a 55.1 completion percentage to opposing QBs before injuring his knee in Week 15.
On the 2019 NFC-winning team, Witherspoon fell out of favor with the coaching staff and was replaced by Emannuel Moseley as the starting corner. Witherspoon was taken out of the Divisional Round win over the Minnesota Vikings after getting burned for a touchdown by Stefon Diggs. He didn’t play another snap in the final two postseason games.
Witherspoon got back on to the field in 2020 only after injuries ravaged San Francisco’s secondary. He played well over the final four weeks of the season, but the Niners let him walk in free agency, where he signed a deal with the Seahawks.
The 49ers moved up to take Beathard in the third round, and although he started five games for the team in his rookie season, his limitations were obvious. He started five more games in 2018 after Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt but was taken out of the lineup in favor of UDFA Nick Mullens. Beathard was tough in the pocket, but he didn’t have the arm strength or processing speed that would allow him to be a dependable QB. He started in the Week 16 win over the Arizona Cardinals last season, which was a nice sendoff after his brother was killed in an incident outside a Nashville bar in December of 2019. Beathard signed a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars during the offseason.
Taylor and Colbert had their moments for the Niners. Taylor looked to be on his way to being a sneaky-good slot receiver after putting up some solid numbers his first two seasons. Unfortunately, Taylor suffered a Jones fracture that kept him out for all of the 2019 campaign after requiring five additional procedures to correct the issue. He didn’t look the same in limited playing time in 2020 and remains a free agent.
Colbert had a fine rookie year in 2017. He started six games and appeared in 14 total, racking up 37 tackles and five passes defended. Colbert was the team’s starting free safety in 2018, but he took a step back in his development.
Colbert gave up 20.4 yards per completion, and opposing quarterbacks had a 132.4 rating when targeting him in coverage, per Pro Football Reference. He suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 7 of the 2018 season and never played in another game for the 49ers.
Taumoepenu and Williams never gained any traction with the Niners and are both currently not on NFL rosters. Williams was a guy Shanahan, and running backs coach Bobby Turner targeted, but he never played an NFL game for San Francisco.
The 2017 draft wasn’t a strong one for Lynch and Shanahan, but getting a talent like Kittle and a solid contributor like Jones makes it a little more palatable.
Four years later, how would you grade the 2017 49ers’ draft picks?
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