49ers mid-season rookie review: It’s been a redshirt year for most of the rookies
By Site Staff|Published On: November 2nd, 2023 at 11:03 AM|
Update on Each 2023 Pick Midway through the Season.
It’s that time of the year when people get together to discuss the winners and losers through the midpoint of the NFL schedule (which has no importance or bearing on end-of-year results, but ’tis the season).
In the other four major North American professional sports leagues, they have the all-star break to help identify how teams and players have stacked up through one half of their schedules.
With the shift to a 17-game, 18-week season, there isn’t a specific middle in the NFL. But with the Niners on a bye between Week 8 and 9, there’s no better time to do a quick recap of the rookies’ performance so far.
San Francisco did not have selections in the first two rounds of the 2023 draft, due to their trades for Trey Lance in 2021 and Christian McCaffrey at the deadline in 2022. Obviously, the Lance situation didn’t work out, so the loss of that first round pick stings, but the optimist in me still believes it was the right process, wrong result.
McCaffrey has been worth every bit of the trade capital spent to get him, which includes the Niners original second, third, and fourth round pick and a 2024 fourth rounder. He is unquestionably the most valuable Niner through eight games, leading the league in both touches and yards for running backs.
ROUND 3, PICK 87: Ji’Ayir Brown, Safety, Penn State
With an already loaded roster, the Niners made a pick for the future with the former Nittany Lion, Brown. San Francisco actually traded up to this spot with Minnesota in exchange for a third, fifth, and seventh round pick later in the draft.
Brown has mostly served on special teams, where he has 120 snaps amongst all units. He’s credited for one special teams tackle and three missed tackles. Talanoa Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson have held down the backend for the Niners D, playing the second- and third-most snaps, respectively, on that side of the ball.
Brown has seen 27 total defensive snaps, 18 in coverage, and nine against the run. He’s lined up as a deep safety for the majority of those snaps. He has logged two tackles. Obviously, it isn’t a big enough sample size to make a judgment on Brown’s play yet, but it would be great to see him relieve Gipson more often in the second half of the year.
Notable players taken after this pick: RB Tank Bigsby (JAX), LB Dorian Williams (BUF), WR Michael Wilson (ARZ), DT Kobie Turner (LAR)
ROUND 3, PICK 99: Jake Moody, Kicker, Michigan
Putting aside the missed game-winner against Cleveland, Moody has been successful for rookie kicker standards. He has knocked down 12 of 15 field goal attempts and 26 of 26 extra point attempts this season. The expectations for the former Wolverine were massive as he was tasked with replacing Robbie Gould and was the highest-drafted kicker since 2016.
Moody has also taken over kickoff duties, which was a welcomed sight, as Mitch Wishnowsky wasn’t a comfortable long-term solution. Moody has struggled a bit compared to his peers around the league in this area. His yards per kickoff is 30th among kickers with 10+ attempts. He also has the fifth-highest return percentage, meaning he isn’t getting the ball deep into the end zone with the same consistency as his contemporaries.
A few slots after Moody, San Francisco surprisingly took Latu with their compensatory pick awarded to them after the departure of Mike McDaniel to Miami. Latu was placed on IR following a meniscus injury and will miss the entirety of his rookie campaign. Latu was slated as the third tight end behind George Kittle and Charlie Woerner on the depth chart before his injury.
Notable players taken after this pick: CB Jakorian Bennett (LV), OT Blake Freeland (IND), OT Dawand Jones (CLE), RB Roschon Johnson (CHI), EDGE Nick Herbig (PIT)
ROUND 5, PICK 155: Darrell Luter Jr., Cornerback, South Alabama
Per John Lynch, Luter, along with second-year corner Samuel Womack, are “on the verge of having their practice windows opened”. Luter went on the PUP in July with a hyperextended knee that resulted in a bone bruise. Having Luter, but moreso Womack, back in the cornerback room will hopefully strengthen the competition amongst the group, which has been disappointing during the recent three game skid.
John Lynch said that 49ers DBs Darrell Luter Jr. and Samuel Womack III “are on the verge of having their (practice) windows open” to return from injury lists
Notable players taken after this pick: WR Dontayvion Wicks (GB), CB Terell Smith (CHI), LB Henry To’oTo’o (HOU)
ROUND 5, PICK 173: Robert Beal Jr., Edge, Georgia
In late August, Beal hit the IR with a hamstring injury that the front office and coaching staff wanted him to fully recover from in order to have a real shot at the final 53.
After clearing the four-week minimum that he had to sit, Beal is eligible to come off IR to join the team at any time, although it looks unlikely at the moment. With the trades for Randy Gregory and Chase Young, it is more plausible that Beal is given a redshirt season and makes his Niners debut in 2024. Beal will be 25 years old before the opening kickoff next year.
Notable players taken after this pick: WR Puka Nacua (LAR), CB Kei’Trel Clark (ARZ), WR Trey Palmer (TB)
ROUND 6, PICK 216: Dee Winters, Linebacker, TCU
Winters was picked in hopes of giving some competition for the weakside linebacker spot left by Azeez Al-Shaair in free agency. Although undersized (5’11, 227), Winters has speed (4.49 40) and has mostly been a contributor on kickoff, kick return, and punt return. He has tallied two tackles in 18 defensive snaps. The former Horned-Frog got picked on a bit in the Arizona game, allowing five catches on seven targets in coverage.
Willis was added to a deep tight end room in April’s draft, but found a way to make the active roster. He’s listed as the third tight end along with Ross Dwelley on the 49ers depth chart. Willis has logged six total snaps on offense, and another three on punt return. Like most seventh round picks, making the roster was a big success and hopes are he and his classmate, Latu, can be the fixtures in the tight end room behind George Kittle for the foreseeable future.
ROUND 7, PICK 253: Ronnie Bell, Wide Receiver, Michigan
Bell has been a pleasant surprise for a seventh round selection. It’s not easy for a player drafted so far down the board to find playing time, let alone stand out while on the field, but Bell has made the most out of his opportunity.
On offense, he has logged 95 snaps. With the injury to Deebo Samuel, it would be nice to see more chances for Bell, who only has three catches on four targets so far, but gave all of us something to celebrate with his first career reception against the Giants.
As mentioned, with the departure of a starting linebacker it was important for San Francisco to target the position and promote competition with free agent signee Oren Burks. The Niners list Graham as the third-string Middle Linebacker behind Fred Warner and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. He has not logged any playing time yet and has been inactive for most of the San Francisco games this season.
It would be great to see Graham or Winters perhaps fill in as a big-nickel, with their versatile athletic profiles. However, it is unlikely we see either of the linebackers drafted this year carve out a role in the defense this late into the year.