The San Francisco 49ers will be on the clock for the first time in the 2023 NFL Draft on Friday, currently holding the 99th overall pick. There’s uncertainty what direction the 49ers choose to go, with several needs to fill and almost two fulls rounds worth of players picked before the 49ers get a chance to make their first selection.
Even with the possibility of a move up the board, which need should the 49ers address first?
It’s no secret that the 49ers like to have a deep defensive line and will have their chance to add to their 2023 group this weekend. Since John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan took over in 2017, the 49ers have selected three edge rushers – Solomon Thomas (2017), Nick Bosa (2019), and Drake Jackson (2022) – with each selected with the 49ers’ first pick in their respective drafts.
When the 49ers signed pass-rushing defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, they strayed away from their usual preference of run stoppers on the interior of the defensive line. While they did sign Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant at the edge, there’s still room for improvement with the departures of Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu, and Jordan Willis.
Yaya Diaby (Louisville) and Byron Young (Tennessee) could be potential options if the 49ers continue their trend of edge rushers with their first pick.
With one year left on Jaquiski Tartt’s contract, the 49ers used the 180th pick in the 2021 draft on Talanoa Hufanga. Hufanga’s selection wasn’t about making a change in the 2021 season, but more about making sure there was a replacement for Tartt after his departure following the season. The move proved to work, with Hufnaga being named an All-Pro in 2022.
The 49ers have a chance to replicate the strategy – and ideally the quality of player – in this year’s draft. With Tashaun Gipson playing on a one-year deal after contemplating retirement after last season, the 49ers will likely try to grab Hufanga’s 2024 partner in the draft.
While Hufanga was a fifth-round pick, some names could be available by the time the 49ers make their first selection – Jammie Robinson (Florida State), Ji’Ayir Brown (Penn State), and Marte Mapu (Sacramento State) – that could be too good to pass up.
Mike McGlinchey, who signed with the Denver Broncos in March, started in 69 games over his five years. Jaylon Moore and Colton McKivitz, the current two options on the roster to replace McGlinchey, have a combined ten career starts. Not to say that either Moore or McKivitz can’t step in and be a quality starter, but the 49ers could look to add a third player into the mix just to have another option.
Allow me to join the party and mention that Blake Freeland out of BYU could be a potential fit.
With a tight end-heavy draft, the 49ers will be in the market to add to their group. The 49ers have three tight ends on the roster, George Kittle, Ross Dwelley and Charlie Woerner, and have carried at least three on their initial 53-man roster each year under Shanahan. To no surprise, George Kittle led the 49ers’ tight ends with 60 receptions in 2023, 53 more than Tylor Kroft, Dwelley, and Woerner had combined.
The 49ers could look for another receiving-first tight end to try to pair with Kittle. The best-case scenario would be Sam LaPorta out of Kittle’s alma mater, Iowa, if he drops to the 49ers.
I can feel the collective eye rolls from where I sit, but recent history has proved that Shanahan likes to draft running backs, specifically in the third round. The 49ers have drafted four running backs under Shanahan – Joe Williams, Trey Sermon, Elijah Mitchell, and Tyrion Davis-Price – with Sermon and Davis-Price taken in the third round in the last two years.
Running back is the least likely option on this list, but the 49ers did hold a private workout with UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet, according to Tom Pelissero. With Charbonet projected to go in either the second or third round and Shanahan’s history, taking a running back first can’t be ruled out.