If you look at the 49ers roster right now, there isn’t a glaring hole at any one particular position. While they’ve done a solid job addressing any needs that existed via free agency, there is always room to improve and insulate depth in the present with an eye towards more prominent roles in the future.
Here are the five positions that will be the most important for the 49ers to address during the 2023 NFL Draft.
5. Wide Receiver
Players currently under contract: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Danny Gray, Ray-Ray McCloud, Tay Martin, Dazz Newsome, Tyron Johnson
The 49ers are loaded at the top with two legitimate number one options in Samuel and Aiyuk, but beyond this season, there isn’t much proven depth under contract. McCloud is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2024 and Jennings will be a restricted free agent, who might price himself out of the 49ers budget if he continues to ascend at the rate he has in recent seasons.
Younger players like Gray and Martin show some promising upside, but overall, this wide receiver could lose countless NFL snaps in a short amount of time within the next year. The 49ers would be wise to attack this a year ahead of time, add some depth to a position that will always be a premium in the pass - happy modern NFL.
Players currently under contract: Charvarius Ward, Deommodore Lenoir, Isaiah Oliver, Samuel Womack, Ambry Thomas, Myles Hartsfield, Tre Swilling, Qwuantrezz Knight, A.J. Parker
Similar to the receiver position, the starters at the top are solid, but there is a large amount of unproven depth on the backend. Oliver is an intriguing signing but is only inked to a one-year deal, and we haven’t seen enough of a sample size from players like Womack to have a strong gauge on what their roles on the team will be moving forward.
Just like their counterparts on the offensive side of the ball, it’s always a wise move to invest in a position that is going to play such a pivotal role in the outcome of games, given how frequently teams are airing out the football. Adding a cornerback or two in this class with the ability to redshirt one or both could pay huge dividends in 2024 and beyond.
3. Tight end
Players currently under contract: George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Ross Dwelley
Having a superstar in Kittle has long masked the fact that the 49ers have never really had another dynamic player at the position during Kyle Shanahan’s tenure with the team. Looking for an upgrade behind Kittle has to be a priority, and this draft class is poised to be one of the deepest at the tight end position in recent memory.
Beyond just finding a player to compliment Kittle in the present, this also offers an avenue to grab a player who might be able to be the succession plan at the position a few years down the line.
I enjoy watching Kittle play football as much as anyone, but the reality is he will turn 30 years old this season and has put his body on the line year after year. Hopefully, it’s something the 49ers don’t have to worry about for some time, and Kittle continues to be a superstar for years to come. However, you have to prepare for any scenario, and that includes acknowledging Kittle might not be around for as long as we would all like.
2. Edge rusher
Players currently under contract: Nick Bosa, Clelin Ferrell, Drake Jackson, Austin Bryant, Alex Barrett:
The 49ers have the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and a second year player they have tremendous confidence in. Beyond that, they have veteran pieces on short-term deals, which offers little to no long-term security cloaked with the uncertainty of how they will perform moving forward.
History tells us it will be difficult to find an every down edge in the range the 49ers will be picking, but that doesn’t mean they can’t target a player who they can develop and slot into a specialized role.
San Francisco also has an ace up their sleeve with Kris Kocurek, which would hypothetically give them the ability to take a chance on an athletic edge who has the traits but who fell in the draft due to lack of production at the collegiate level.
Given the uncertainty beyond Bosa, it wouldn’t be the worst strategy if they took a dart throw on a couple of edge guys with desirable traits on day two or three of the upcoming draft.
1. Right tackle
Players currently under contract: Colton McKivitz, Matt Pryor, Jaylon Moore, Alfredo Gutierrez, Leroy Watson:
Mckivitz and Pryor have a decent sample size of snaps at the NFL level, but beyond that things get thin very fast at the tackle position. The 49ers fortunately have the luxury of having the greatest left tackle of all time to help mask whatever depth deficiencies currently exist at the position, but with the departure of longtime starter Mike McGlinchey they cannot afford to take a major step back on the right side.
Watson and Gutierrez both have incredible athletic traits, but it’s unknown how or when they can be expected to contribute significant snaps at the position. While I don’t think the 49ers picking at 99 overall puts them anywhere close to landing a sure fire tackle prospect they can plug and play immediately, they still have the ability to draft a player with traits they like who won’t have the pressure of needing to start right away.
It appears to be McKivitz’s job to lose at the moment, and he has shown he is more than capable of holding his own at the NFL level. However, he is also only under contract through 2024, so the 49ers could give themselves some insurance by drafting another tackle should McKivitz either not pan out or price himself out the way McGlinchey did this past offseason.