After one week of free-agent moves, the 49ers have welcomed back some old faces and new ones. Javon Hargrave, Sam Darnold, Clenin Ferrell, and Isaiah Oliver joined the team. Jake Brendel, Kevin Givens, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, T.Y. McGill, and Tashaun Gipson, Sr. returned to the team.
Hargrave was the splash signing, but that’s hardly a surprise considering the 49ers’ pattern of signing targeted players immediately when free agency opens. Mooney Ward was the big fish last season. Others include Malcolm Smith, Jerick Mckinnon, and Kwon Alexander from previous years. The names don’t match, but the pattern does.
A veteran QB was all but certain even before Lynch stated so at the combine. The move isn’t a surprise, but the name is a bit of a surprise. Many people had Jacoby Brissett, Teddy Bridgewater, and Andy Dalton in mind. Looking at Darnold’s contract, the 49ers have their quarterback for camp but view Darnold as a “Geno Smith” type acquisition. Darnold is someone the organization has coveted for a while.
Kris Kocurek has quite a reputation with defensive linemen in Santa Clara. He’s turned traits that have failed with other teams into paydays with new ones (IE: Charles Omenihu, Kerry Hyder in 2021, Samson Ebukam). Ferrell is the latest acquisition that has a chance to grow from the Kocurek stimulus package. That’s not a surprise, either.
I suppose a surprise could be in the money fetched by Omenihu and Ebukam. The 49ers braced to lose both if they moved outside their market, but both deals were well out of reach for the 49ers. Mike McGlinchey moving on wasn’t a surprise, and boy, did he get paid?
The final remaining acquisition is the biggest surprise. Isaiah Oliver flew under the radar in Atlanta. Draft enthusiasts everywhere knew the name. Oliver played opposite Akhello Witherspoon (remember him?) at Colorado. So, it’s a fair bet that the 49ers watched him while they watched Witherspoon.
What makes this a surprise? Oliver’s speed isn’t eye-popping, but his length is what the 49ers covet in a cornerback. The surprise is the name and how well Oliver has defended the run from the nickel corner. Covering opposing receivers from the slot is a part of being an effective nickel, but I would argue defending the run is the most important.
Looking back to last year, Oliver accumulated an 81.5 grade in run defense, per PFF. 2021 was a lost year due to injury, but in 2020, Oliver finished with a 77.0 with 28 defensive stops. This move insulates the 49ers with a proven starter, with hopes that Samuel Womack continues to develop.
At the very least, this is a competition. The best-case scenario is the 49ers have a solid nickel corner. The surprise isn’t addressing the position. It’s the name and potential to be the most underrated addition in free agency for the 49ers.
The 49ers continue to build this roster with players who possess the traits to succeed and fit in seamlessly. Steve Wilks, as defensive coordinator, has a chance to help Oliver reach another level of his game. Oliver might be an addition that makes other teams wonder how they overlooked him.