After having a week to really dive deep on the 49ers draft class, the thing that ultimately impressed me the most from the draft week was the flurry of undrafted free agent signings made by the San Francisco front office immediately following the conclusion of the draft.
They came away with a handful of players who not only could have been drafted but should have been drafted much earlier on day three or even the tail end of day two. Names like Dohnovan West, Leon O’Neal, and Jason Poe were players the 49ers likely would have been applauded for selecting had they taken any of those players during the draft.
John Lynch and Co. managed to bring them in as priority free agents instead, capping off one of if not the most impressive free-agent classes from this 2022 prospect pool. With an already deep roster and nine selections made during the draft itself, it would appear to be a long shot that any of these undrafted signings end up sticking on the 49ers roster, right?
Not so fast. For most teams, that would probably be true. However, in the case of the 49ers, there is a very clear and distinct track record of having undrafted players making the roster and becoming pivotal pieces of the team in the process.
Let’s take a look back at some of the recent successes the 49ers have had with undrafted players.
Emmanuel Moseley -
signed as UDFA in 2018
Moseley is a player who went from not getting a single snap during his rookie season to now being a cornerstone of the 49ers' defense, locked into a starting corner position. Since signing as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, Moseley has quietly become one of the more reliable cornerbacks in the entire NFL, particularly when you account for the production relative to the cost of the player against the cap.
This is a perfect example of the 49ers getting a player in the building while allowing adequate time for said player to adapt to the speed of the NFL game and what it takes to be a pro at the next level. Moseley’s growth has been evident year after year, and he still is on an upward trajectory, which again is absurd value for the 49ers, considering they didn’t invest significant capital or cap space into Moseley during his time in San Francisco.
Signed as UDFA in 2019
Al-Shaair is a converted safety who came on after the draft in the same class that saw the 49ers net Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel. Al-Shaair had nearly 500 snaps over his first two seasons, but in year three, we saw him take a monumental leap to not only starting but being one of the most talented players on an extremely good defense.
Al-Shaair has blossomed into a bonafide difference-maker in just three short years, yet another success story when you account for the fact that he switched positions entirely upon entering the league. The 49ers sure do like their converted safeties at linebacker, and perhaps an undrafted free agent they signed from this class takes a similar path as Al-Shaair...
Jeff Wilson Jr.
signed as UDFA in 2018
Wilson was another tremendous value, being an integral part of some deep 49ers backfields in recent memory. The North Texas product has averaged over four yards per carry and nearly three yards after contact per carry during his NFL career.
This is a player who has proven they can be the guy when handed the lion's share of the load - think back to that game in New England in 2020 - and brings a tremendous amount of experience and dependability into his fifth season with the team in 2022.
signed as UDFA in 2019
While Givens doesn’t have the box score production to garner people's attention yet, his game film certainly has. The 49ers' deepest unit is their defensive line, so it’s easy to see how any rotational player or depth piece would be overshadowed and forgotten while being amongst such a talented bunch.
Since being drafted in 2019, Givens has shown an ability to get better year after year and give the 49ers quality snaps in a rotational capacity from the interior of the defensive line. I expect 2022 to be the year the stat sheet production really starts to mirror the potential and ability of the player himself.
These are players who were signed by the team and who are still on the team, in a prominent role. If we are talking success stories, Kendrick Bourne must be mentioned as well.
signed as UDFA in 2017
Bourne was a part of the current regime’s inaugural draft process and might be the best example of the 49ers truly maximizing value in the long term. Bourne was a player who saw his role and production trend upwards year after year before ultimately signing as a free agent with the New England Patriots for threes year and 15 million.
The 49ers got four solid years of production out of Bourne before ultimately allowing another team to foot the bill for the money Bourne had earned with his improved play. Bourne’s importance to the 49ers, particularly in 2019 and 2020, makes the capital they invested and the cap numbers accrued during his stint not only palpable but textbook for getting value out of a priority undrafted free agent signing.
Players like Dan Brunskill and Raheem Mostert both entered the league as undrafted free agents. While the 49ers didn’t sign either of those players out of college, they did manage to get the best level of play and production that we have seen from both players during their time in the NFL.
I mentioned Poe, O’Neal, and West, but another name to monitor is Jordan Mason, the running back out of Georgia Tech that the 49ers signed as an undrafted free agent. Mason is a player who has the skillset to have a great shot to land on the final 53 man roster when it’s all said and done.
While it’s not a given that history will repeat itself, there is a strong pattern suggesting that one or more of these players is going to have an impact on the 49ers both in the short and long term.