The previous two draft classes from the 49ers were without a first round pick. Drake Jackson was selected toward the end of the second round in 2022, while the Niners didn’t have a selection until the 80s in 2023.
When that’s the case, immediate contributors are difficult to come by. But that hasn’t stopped San Francisco from getting production in year’s past.
In 2021, Talanoa Hufanga was a part-time player as a rookie, before exploding into an All-Pro last season. There are several examples during the Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch tenure, of Day 3 draft picks becoming quality, if not star players.
Today, we ask, which draft class will be more productive in 2023 between ‘22, led by Drake Jackson, or ‘23. Let’s start with 2022.
It’s all about Action Jackson
The 49ers let Charles Omenihu and Samson Ebukam walk in free agency due to money, gaining a compensatory pick, and Drake Jackson. He’s in an ideal situation, playing alongside three Pro Bowl level talents.
The Niners also selected Tyrion Davis-Price in the third round, who missed a chunk of his rookie season due to injury. Jordan Mason, an undrafted free agent from the same year, did more with his opportunities, and you’d think is higher on the depth chart heading into this season.
The other third rounder, Danny Gray, felt like a complement to Trey Lance. His role remains in question, as Jauan Jennings is firmly ahead of Gray in the wide receiver pecking order. Gray’s training camp will be something to keep an eye on. How he’s being used will tell us a lot about Shanahan’s plans for the second-year wideout.
The success of this class hinges on the production of the former USC Trojan. That is, until you remember Mr. Irrelevant. How could you forget? Spencer Burford is a rock solid starter at right guard, but Brock Purdy will get all of the headlines at quarterback.
Purdy played better than anyone could have imagined. So, for the sake of debate, we’re cheating and crossing Purdy’s name out. Because if we didn’t, the 2022 class would win in a landslide.
They still might, and probably should.
We know Jake Moody will be a regular contributor as a rookie. The 49ers traded up for Ji’Ayir Brown, so there’s likely a plan to get him on the field in some capacity in Year 1. Cameron Latu and Brayden Willis bring versatility that Charlie Woerner and Ross Dwelley lack at tight end as pass catchers, so there’s hope for those two, too.
It doesn’t stop there, as you could make an argument for both of the linebackers who were drafted, Dee Winters and Jalen Graham, could win the SAM linebacker position. After all, the other players they’re competing against weren’t draft picks.
There’s a whole cast of fresh faces in this class. Darrell Luter Jr. is competing for the same spot as Samuel Womack, based on the first week of OTA practices. Robert Beal Jr. is unlikely to steal snaps from Jackson, but if he’s as good as his former head coach Kirby Smart believes, it’ll be tough for Kris Kocurek to keep Beal Jr. on the sideline.
There are always wild cards. If Ronnie Bell is more consistent down to down, he could take Jennings role before Gray. This rookie class comes with more projection than the 2022 class, but as we’ve seen before, all it takes is one opportunity.
Purdy aside, which draft class do you believe will have more of an impact for the 49ers this season?