Recently, Kyle Posey wrote a piece on which 49er draft pick was a favorite that didn’t pan out. Everyone agrees the draft is a crap shoot and an imperfect science. “Can’t-miss” prospects fail to produce, and seventh-round picks become all-pros and Hall of Famers.
Analysts and fans have players they love and ones they aren’t as enthusiastic about. Being proven wrong about players is a pleasant surprise, especially when those players contribute to your favorite team.
My first inclination for a player who surprised me was Frank Gore. That seemed too easy, considering his injury history at Miami. Sliding to the third round confirms the risk the 49ers took and cashed in on.
I’ll speak about a player I didn’t have high hopes for and who turned into a productive 49ers player.
In the 2014 NFL draft, the 49ers used their fourth-round selection on defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga. Attending the University of Hawaii for his junior and senior years, Sopoaga racked up 70 solo tackles, four sacks, and 11 QB pressures.
There was no denying Sopoaga’s strength, as evidenced by his combine performance, where he did over 40 lifts at the 225-pound bench press. But the concerns were about how his power was negated by pad level and hand technique.
Initially, Sopoaga was viewed as the fourth-best defensive tackle in the draft. Many projected a second-round selection for Sopoaga. The 49ers getting Sopoaga in the fourth round is a value. Many teams passed on Sopoaga.
His 2014 season was lost due to an injury for Sopoaga. From 2005-2007, Sopoaga would start eight games in total. It wasn’t until 2008 that his role changed from rotational to a starter.
In his early years, Sopoaga rotated between defensive and nose tackle. His impact changed when he moved to left defensive end in 2009 and 10. Per Pro Football Reference, Sopoaga’s AV (approximate value) was seven in his first three years combined. From 2008 to 2011, his AV was 29 combined.
Impacting the run defense was Sopoaga’s bread and butter. His success is proof of how much patience and coaching impact a player’s path.
Considering the investment of draft capital, this draft pick paid off. That’s the beauty of the draft process. Finding players who contribute to wins is the goal.
Isaac Sopoaga is the biggest surprise draft pick for the 49ers in quite some time.