2023 NFL draft a good time for 49ers to flip script on past mistakes
The 49ers since general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan arrived in 2017 have put together some strong draft classes thanks in part to their ability to find quality starters in the later rounds. While their overall success in the draft has helped them remain contenders despite an unsteady quarterback situation and will ultimately help define their first six years in the Bay Area, there are a number of high-profile misses mixed in.
This year’s draft is a crucial one, and the team’s continued run of winning could hinge on Lynch and Shanahan flipping the script in an area where they’ve really struggled.
With no first or second-round picks in the 2023 draft, the 49ers front office will have to lean heavily on its third-round picks to kickstart their search for long-term answers at a handful of positions.
They still need a free safety and a third linebacker. They might need a right tackle. The list could continue, but three feels like plenty for our purposes. Also running back is not on the list. They should by no means draft a running back in the third round.
Ideally San Francisco would be able to snag a player like that with one of their trio of compensatory third-round selections. The problem is the third-round has been an issue for Lynch and Shanahan.
In Round 3 since they took over in 2017 they’ve selected cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, quarterback CJ Beathard, linebacker Fred Warner, defensive back Tarvarius Moore, wide receiver Jalen Hurd, running back Trey Sermon, cornerback Ambry Thomas, running back Tyrion Davis-Price and wide receiver Danny Gray.
Warner is the only player to receive a second contract so far. Neither Beathard, Hurd, nor Sermon finished out their rookie deals in San Francisco. Witherspoon and Moore both struggled to close out their 49ers careers and exited in free agency after their rookie contracts ran out. Sermon was cut before his second season with the club. Thomas fell out of favor in his second year and was relegated mostly to special teams work, and Davis-Price and Gray were mostly non-factors as rookies.
If Thomas, Davis-Price and Gray all stay on their current trajectories, the 49ers will be one-for-nine in finding a long-term, starting-caliber player in the third round.
Ideally they’d change that in a year where their first three picks – Nos. 99, 101 and 102 – are all in Round 3. They hold eight selections after that and have had success in later rounds, particularly the fifth. However, existing in a world where they continue to miss in the back end of Day 2 then make up for it on Day 3 is risky.
San Francisco took some big swings that left them without a first-round pick in 2022 and 2023, and without a second-round selection in 2023, and they stayed afloat with a couple of trips to the NFC championship game. Continuing this run will require them to hit on some earlier draft picks at some point though, and finding previously unforeseen success in the third round this year would go a long way toward helping their winning ways continue down the line.
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