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Why these numbers are a valuable tool to predict what the 49ers will do in the 2023 Draft

Looking at the most valuable traits at each position in the draft

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San Francisco 49ers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

As we inch closer to the 2023 NFL draft, one of my main goals is to provide as many resources as possible that can assist with getting a better gauge on whom the 49ers will look to target in the upcoming class.

Given this will be the seventh draft of the John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan regime, we have a solid amount of data to fall back on that shows specific tendencies or patterns at a given position, which can help guide us as we attempt to predict who they have their eyes on with this current group of prospects.

That includes athletic testing data, which can tell us a significant amount about what specific traits the 49ers front office likes to target at each position.

Arjun Menon of Pro Football Focus put together a fantastic tool that allows you to see the weighted averages of these athletic testing scores for each position group under their current general manager.

After poring over these numbers, I highlighted the one that is the most important for each position and why it is the best indicator of what the team might do in the coming draft and beyond.

Running back

Testing number that stands out: 10-yard split

The 49ers have taken four running backs in the draft under Lynch, with three of those picks coming in the last two drafts. The most prominent testing number among this group is the 10 yard split, which gives a good idea of the kind of burst a player possesses.

At 1.53 seconds, these backs ranked below the league average of 1.58 seconds, with all three of the backs taken in the last two years having scored under 1.54 seconds in this drill. If there is any testing metric that the 49ers have made it clear they prioritize when evaluating backs, it is without a doubt the 10 yard split.

Also, important to remember, this short area burst isn’t exclusive to blazing fast backs, Trey Sermon and Tyrion Davis-Price are both physical north to south runners who scored exceptionally well in their respective 10 yard splits.

Wide Receiver

Testing number that stands out: Short Shuttle

The 49ers have selected eight wide receivers under John Lynch, taking one in all but one of the six drafts they have conducted, with 2021 being the outlier. With home run picks like Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, the team has had considerable success drafting at the position.

What stood out the most about the athletic testing averages was the short shuttle, a drill that highlights the explosiveness and change of direction ability a player possesses. The wide receivers the 49ers have drafted under Lynch averaged a time of 4.12 seconds in this drill, a faster time than all but four of the other 32 NFL franchises under their current general managers.

Tight End

Testing number that stands out: Three Cone

The 49ers have selected three tight ends under Lynch, with two of them still on the current roster. The most notable athletic testing number from the average of those three is the three cone time, which came in at 6.97 seconds. The NFL average was 7.12 seconds, and there were only four teams who averaged a faster time in that drill for tight ends under their current general managers.

With the 49ers likely to add a tight end in the upcoming class, filtering out the prospects who ran a sub seven second three cone might be a valuable tool to help get a good gauge on whom a realistic target would be for the team.

Offensive line

Testing number that stood out: Height

The 49ers have selected seven offensive linemen under Lynch, and they all generally have the same thing in common. They are tall.

Their average at the tackle position is 79.1 inches (6’7), which is taller than all but three other teams and noticeably higher than the league average of 77.7 inches. The average at the guard position is 77.2 inches, which is the highest number in the NFL and well above the league average of 76.2 inches at the position.

If you are looking for a measurable that is a good indicator of which offensive line prospects the 49ers might be interested in, height is a fantastic place to start.

Edge rusher

Testing number that stood out: Short Shuttle

The 49ers have selected four defensive ends under the current regime, which is shocking considering the amount of production they have managed to get from the position over the course of six seasons.

The number that stands out about this group is the short shuttle, which should come as no surprise given how important explosion and agility are when working off the edge in a Kris Kocurek defensive front.

This group averaged a time of 4.23 seconds, which is well below the league average of 4.38 seconds. When evaluating edge players in the 2023 class, take a closer look at the guys who have a quicker short shuttle.

Interior defensive line

Testing number that stood out: Arm length

There have been a total of four selected under the current regime, and the averages tell us that reach is the physical trait that has been the common denominator among this group. At an average of 34.2 inches, this group of interior defensive linemen was noticeably longer than the league average of 33.3 inches.

When looking at prospects in the upcoming class, take an extra look at the defensive linemen who have the ability to utilize their arm length to out leverage their opponents.


Testing number that stood out: 40-yard dash

The 49ers have taken three linebackers under Lynch, with two of them making a strong case to be the best duo at the position in the entire NFL right now. The number that stood out here was the 40 time, but not for the reason I expected.

Given how athletic Dre Greenlaw, Fred Warner, and Reuben Foster are, I would have expected the 49ers to rank above league average in a test that measures the straight line speed of such gifted athletes.

Not only was the 4.67 second average lower than the league average of 4.62, it was among the slowest in the league at the position among current general managers.

The big takeaway here? Don’t worry about the 40 time when scouting potential linebacker fits for this 49ers squad. Based on the averages of these three players, the 49ers are more than comfortable selecting a player who doesn’t have elite athletic testing numbers.

If they aren’t hung up on those numbers, neither should any of us trying to get a sense of who they might select at the position.


Testing number that stood out: 40-yard dash

Take everything we just applied to the linebacker position and do the exact opposite for cornerbacks. The 49ers have selected seven cornerbacks under John Lynch, and they all have one common theme. Straight line speed.

These seven had an average 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds, which was among the fastest in the league at the position among the current general managers. The league average is 4.46, so it might be a good idea to keep an eye on any cornerback prospects who run a sub 4.45 40-yard dash.


Testing number that stood out: Consistency with league averages

The safety position was especially interesting because it was one of the few that the 49ers didn’t seem to have a particular blueprint that differed from the rest of the league. They have drafted four safeties since 2017, and they scored at or very close to the league average in arm length, short shuttle, 40-yard dash times, and a couple more.

The reason I think this is noteworthy is it helps us understand that there isn’t a specific archetype that has been consistent with what they have targeted year after year, which is the case with plenty of other positions on the roster.

Makes things more difficult to project their plans moving forward, but also opens the door to more possibilities without plausibly ruling out any prospects based solely on measurements.


Testing number that stood out: S2 cognition test

Nothing in particular stood out about the athletic numbers for the three quarterbacks the 49ers have drafted under the current regime. So, instead I thought I would end this by focusing on the test that has been a far better indicator of not only who the 49ers will target at the position, but also who has a better chance of succeeding as a quarterback in the league in general.

The S2 cognition test is a great way to gauge a prospects' ability to process the game from the quarterback position, essentially weeding out the guys who can’t adapt to how fast the game is at the NFL level. Matt Barrows of the Athletic wrote a fantastic piece about this test and why it is such a valuable tool for teams evaluating quarterback prospects.

Both Brock Purdy and Trey Lance were reported to have scored in an elite percentile on this test, providing a common denominator between two players who could not be more different from a physical traits' standpoint.

The tricky part about the S2 test is the results are not as readily available as the testing numbers you see from the Scouting Combine or a pro day. However, this information still has a way of getting out, as we recently learned Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener scored in the 97th percentile on this test.

It remains to be seen if quarterback is a pressing need for the 49ers in this upcoming class, but if it is, I would put far more stock into reported S2 results than any kind of athletic testing data we have for the prospects at the position in this class.