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A look back at the UDFAs signed by 49ers under Lynch and Shanahan

The Niners have had some success in finding players who weren’t selected at the NFL Draft.

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers are getting set for the first day of their rookie minicamp. All eyes will be on how quarterback Trey Lance performs, but the remaining 12 prospects will also try and impress the coaching staff.

General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan made eight selections at the 2021 NFL Draft and added five undrafted players in the hours following the final round.

Here are San Francisco’s five undrafted free agents:

  • Tecnológico de Monterrey OL Alfredo Gutierrez,
  • Ohio State LB Justin Hilliard
  • Louisiana Monroe TE Josh Pederson
  • Kansas State LB Elijah Sullivan
  • UAB WR Austin Watkins Jr

The players listed above are the fifth set of UDFAs the Niners have brought in under Lynch and Shanahan. The 49ers have had some success in the UDFA market, and hope one or more of the new group will become contributors at the pro level.

Here is a look back at how the previous four groups of UDFAs did since Lynch and Shanahan took over in 2017.

With a depleted roster, the Niners signed a whopping 18 UDFAs in 2017:

WR Kendrick Bourne, Eastern Washington
QB Nick Mullens, Southern Miss
RB Matt Breida, Georgia Southern
FB Tyler McCloskey, Houston
WR Victor Bolden, Oregon State
WR KD Cannon, Baylor
TE Cole Hikutini, Louisville
OL J.P. Flynn, Montana State
OL Evan Goodman, Arizona State
OL Erik Magnuson, Michigan
OL Bret Treadway, Lamar
OL Darrell Williams Jr., Western Kentucky
DE Noble Nwachukwu, West Virginia
LB Jimmie Gilbert, Colorado
LB Donavin Newsom, Missouri
DB Zach Franklin, Washburn
S Malik Golden, Penn State
S Lorenzo Jerome, Saint Francis (PA)

Because of the previous regime (Thanks, Baalke!), Lynch and Shanahan had many holes to fill on the roster they inherited.

Bourne was a great find. He may have frustrated fans with his untimely drops, but he finished his time as a 49er with 137 receptions for 1,769 yards and 11 touchdowns in 58 games. That’s pretty good production for a player that went undrafted. Bourne was firmly entrenched as the No. 3 receiver from 2018-2020. He wound signing with the New England Patriots in free agency this offseason marking the end of his tenure in the Bay Area.

Mullens beat out former third-round pick C.J. Beathard for the backup job in 2018. Shanahan benched Beathard in favor of Mullens for the final eight games of the 2018 campaign after Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt in Week 3.

No one expected Mullens to set the world on fire once he took over, but he looked the part of a solid backup. Mullens went 3-5 to close out the 2018 season and overtook Beathard on the depth chart. He didn’t play any meaningful snaps in 2019 but was thrust into action after Garoppolo hurt his ankle early in the season.

The 26-year-old had a rough three-game stretch from Weeks 13 through 15, where he had seven turnovers that resulted in 34 points for the opposition. Pro Football Focus gave Mullens a 56.9 grade on the season, ranking 38th out of 40 eligible quarterbacks. His adjusted yards per attempt was 6.6, and he finished the year with a QBR of 44.4.

Mullens went 2-6 in his eight starts and wasn’t re-signed by the Niners this offseason.

Brieda also looked like a diamond in the rough early on. He had a great burst from the backfield and racked up 1,902 rushing yards and six touchdowns over three seasons. Breida averaged 5.0 yards per carry between 2017 and 2019 but fell out of favor due to fumbling issues.

Shanahan seldomly used Breida during the 2019 Super Bowl run, and he shipped to the Miami Dolphins for a fifth-round pick in 2020, which turned into OL Colton McKivitz.

The remaining players from the 2017 class failed to make their mark with the team.

The 49ers signed 13 UDFAs in 2018:

RB Jeff Wilson Jr, North Texas
CB Emmanuel Moseley, Tennessee
TE Ross Dwelley, San Diego
QB Jack Heneghan, Dartmouth
RB Ja’Quan Gardner, Humboldt State
C Coleman Shelton, Washington
DT Niles Scott, Frostburg State
S Terrell Williams, Houston
WR Steven Dunbar, Houston
CB Tavarus McFadden, Florida State
C Alan Knott, South Carolina
OT Jamar McGoster, Syracuse
DB Corey Griffin, Tennessee

Once again, San Francisco was able to get some production from three players in 2018. Wilson emerged as a powerful runner who should get plenty of opportunities out of the backfield next season.

Wilson was thrust into action when the running backs ahead of him on the depth chard — Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman — were injured early in the season. Veteran Jerick McKinnon struggled to find his form, which benefitted Wilson.

He finished the season with 600 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Wilson averaged 4.8 yards per carry, which ranked 16th out of all NFL running backs. He also showed some receiving skills, hauling in 13 passes for 133 yards and three.

The Niners rewarded Wilson with a one-year deal worth $2.05 million for next season.

Moseley has also turned into a pleasant surprise. He only appeared in one game in 2018 but found himself with an increased role in 2019. Moseley overtook the struggling Ahkello Witherspoon on the depth chart and played most of the snaps at corner opposite Richard Sherman during the 2019 playoffs.

Moseley gave up a completion percentage of 58.9 when targeted last season and 12.7 yards per completion in 2020. He wasn’t as good as he was in 2019 but did deal with injuries that kept him out of the lineup for four games. San Francisco re-signed Moseley to a two-year contract worth $9.3 million and is hoping he can lock down one of the starting corner spots next season.

Dwelley has been a solid pro for the 49ers. He’s not known for his pass-catching abilities but does have 350 reception yards and three touchdowns since joining the team. Dwelley will need to improve his blocking to secure a long-term future in the Bay Area. Pro Football Focus graded Dwelley as one of the bottom-tier tight ends in pass and run blocking. The Niners re-signed Dwelley to a one-year deal worth $1.6 million this past offseason.

The 49ers signed 10 UDFAs in 2019:

DL Kevin Givens, Penn State
LB Azeez Al-Shaair, Florida Atlantic
S Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Arizona
S Cameron Glenn, Wake Forest
DE Jamell Garcia-Williams, UAB
OG Ross Reynolds, Iowa
TE Tyree Mayfield, Wyoming
WR Shawn Poindexter, Arizona
WR Malik Henry, West Georgia
QB Wilton Speight, UCLA

Givens has shown flashes on the defensive line, especially against the run. He played 37 percent of the total defensive snaps last season and finished with 19 tackles, a sack and seven total hurries. He faces some legal troubles after being charged with second-degree assault following an incident in Baltimore in March.

Al-Shaair has appeared in 31 games over the past two seasons. He started five games in 2020 and was given more snaps following Kwon Alexander’s trade to the New Orleans Saints. The defensive staff appears to believe in Al-Shaair. He should challenge for the starting SAM linebacker position in 2021.

Al-Shaair finished last season with 35 tackles and a QB hit. He gave up 171 receiving yards in coverage and also surrendered 10.7 yards per completion when targeted.

Flannigan-Fowles remains on the roster and appeared in 11 games last season. He only played 6 percent of the defensive snaps and had nine tackles.

The 49ers signed 10 UDFAs in 2020:

RB JaMychal Hasty, RB, Baylor
FB Josh Hokit, Fresno State
S Jared Mayden, Alabama.
LB Jonas Griffith, Indiana State
DL Darrion Daniels, Nebraska
QB Broc Rutter, QB, North Central
RB Salvon Ahmed, RB, Washington
TE Chase Harrell, Arkansas
WR Chris Finke, Notre Dame
CB DeMarkus Acy, Missouri

Hasty got some playing time in 2020 due to the abundance of injuries to San Francisco’s running backs. The Baylor product had 39 rushing attempts for 148 yards and a touchdown and will be a part of the team’s crowded backfield again in 2021.

Hokit, Mayden, Griffith and Daniels remain on the roster and could prevail as depth pieces next season. Ahmed was good a signing who couldn’t break through the deep pool of running backs the Niners have under contract. He signed with the Miami Dolphins and finished the 2020 season with 319 rushing yards and three scores.

Going into the 2019 season, 30.9 percent of NFL players were undrafted, per Over the Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald. The Pro Football Network says roughly 12-15 players on each NFL team’s roster weren’t selected at the draft, and the Niners are around that range.

Undrafted players are on cheap contracts, which helps keep the salary cap figures down. Finding talent once the draft wraps up enables general managers to keep their costs in check.

It’s extremely difficult to find top-level talent in the UDFA pool, but there are currently 20 players in the Hall of Fame who didn’t hear their name called at the NFL Draft.

Which of this year’s UDFAs do you think has the best chance at having a successful NFL career?