San Francisco 49ers Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Danny Gray, WR, SMU – Round 1
The 49ers are in a difficult situation with veteran wide receiver Deebo Samuel. Even if Samuel signs an extension to remain in San Francisco, the team could use a third starting receiver to go with Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Gray is a good fit as a speed receiver to stretch defenses vertically and serve as a weapon out of the slot.

The 6-foot, 186-pound Gray has enough size to play on the inside or outside along with serious speed, as illustrated by his 4.33-second time in the 40-yard dash. As a senior, Gray made 10 starts and had nine touchdowns over those games while catching 49 passes for 803 yards. He showed the potential to be a good contributor at the pro level once he develops improved route-running and technique.

If San Francisco is forced to trade away Samuel, Gray could be an instant starter to go with Aiyuk. Even if Samuel remains, Gray is a great fit for Kyle Shanahan’s offense because his speed will provide a deep threat across from Samuel and Aiyuk.

2021: Trey Lance, QB
2020: Jauan Jennings, WR
2019: Deebo Samuel, WR
2018: Fred Warner, LB
2017: Reuben Foster, LB
2016: Joshua Garnett, G
2015: Jaquiski Tartt, S
2014: Marcus Martin, C
2013: Tank Carradine, DE

Most Likely To Bust

Without a first-round pick thanks to the Trey Lance trade, the 49ers ended up having only one pick in the top-90 selections. Players drafted that low rarely pan out, so a selection cannnot be a true bust because many players have future backup grades at that point of an NFL draft. Thus, I really don’t see a selection who is most likely to be a true bust in San Francisco’s 2022 draft class.

2021: Ambry Thomas, CB
2020: Brandon Aiyuk, WR
2019: Jalen Hurd, WR
2018: Dante Pettis, WR
2017: Solomon Thomas, DE
2016: Rashard Robinson, CB
2015: Eli Harold, OLB
2014: Chris Borland, ILB
2013: Eric Reid, S

Potential Boom Pick

Drake Jackson, DE, USC – Round 2
The 49ers were not desperate for more immediate defensive line talent, but Jackson was an excellent value late in the second round. Arden Key played really well for San Francisco during the 2021 season, but he left in free agency and veteran Dee Ford is entering the last year of his contract. Hence, Jackson could start out in the rotational backup role that Key occupied and then develop into a starting replacement for Ford.

Jackson has a NFL starting skill set with size, quickness and athleticism. He shows quality instincts and vision on the edge to adjust to the offense, plus the upside to get better. As a pass rusher, Jackson has talent and upside to improve as he gains experience. He has good size to take on tackles and an impressive burst to close on the quarterback. Helped by his quickness, Jackson does a nice job of darting to the inside, and he shows a quality rip move to work the inside shoulder of offensive tackles. Jackson is not a pure speed demon off the edge, and he needs to improve his get-off for the pros. Jackson is not the first defender to get upfield off the ball, so improving his speed will help him to be a more effective rusher in the NFL. Along with improving his first-step, Jackson should continue to use refinement of his pass-rushing moves.

In the ground game, Jackson needs to show improvement as a pro. As a sophomore, there were times when he looked like he was doing the minimum and disinterested. Jackson, however, looked better in his junior year, playing harder and showing more effort. He flashed the ability to be a quality run stuffer, but has to get better at stacking his block, shedding the offensive lineman, and flowing to the ball.

Jackson has some versatility on the edge and showed comfort playing in space at the USC. The Trojans used him as a defensive end lined up with his hand on the turf and as a standup outside linebacker dropped into coverage. In space, Jackson moved pretty well for a bigger edge defender, and he showed quality vision to disrupt passing lanes. Jackson also displayed nice recognition to adjust to covering check downs in the flat and not allowing the quarterback to have an open outlet receiver. As a pro, Jackson will be used more as a rusher on the San Francisco defensive line, and he has the flexibility to rush from end or tackle.

With excellent defensive line talent around him in Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Javon Kinlaw, Jackson is in a great situation to see constant single blocks. Bosa will face the majority of the double-team attention, while Jackson has the versatility to move around and rotate on the inside with Armstead and Kinlaw. While Jackson was held back somewhat at USC, he could be a boom pick for the 49ers because he has a good skill set and a ton of upside.

2021: Aaron Banks, G
2020: Javon Kinlaw, DT
2019: Nick Bosa, DE
2018: Mike McGlinchey, OT
2017: Akhello Witherspoon, CB
2016: DeForest Buckner, DE
2015: Arik Armstead, DE
2014: Carlos Hyde, RB
2013: Marcus Lattimore, RB

Future Depth Player

Tyrion Davis-Price, RB, LSU – Round 3
The 49ers use a heavy rotation among their running backs, and they already have some good talent in the backfield with Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell. Davis-Price (6-0, 210) is a tough runner who has speed, quality size, and some natural instincts. He may not beat out Mitchell, but San Francisco will use Davis-Price as a rotational back with Sermon. Davis-Price is a superb scheme fit for Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking system as a one-cut downhill runner. While Davis-Price may never be a starter, he could be a good backup and rotational back for the 49ers.

2021: Trey Sermon, RB
2020: Colton McKivits, OT
2019: Kaden Smith, TE
2018: Kentavius Street, DE
2017: Joe Williams, RB
2016: Jeff Driskel, QB
2015: Mike Davis, RB
2014: Bruce Ellington, WR
2013: Vance McDonald, TE

Walt’s 2022 NFL Draft Grades:

61. Drake Jackson, DE, USC – B+ Grade
It’s not a surprise that the 49ers are addressing their pass rush, given how much Dee Ford has fallen off in recent years. Jackson is a solid prospect and I mocked him to the 49ers in my re-draft at this spot, so I like this selection.

93. Tyrion Davis-Price, RB, LSU – D Grade
The 49ers have done some sketchy things with running backs during the John Lynch-Kyle Shanahan era, and this is another instance of that. The 49ers may think that Tyrion Davis-Price will provide a hand in the backfield, but he’ll just be dwarfed by the competition. He’s a tough runner, but I thought he belonged in the sixth or seventh season, I mean round.

105. Danny Gray, WR, SMU – B- Grade
Danny Gray is a threat after the catch, so… Deebo Samuel insurance? It sure seems that way. I think this is a tad early for Gray, but it’s not an egregious reach by any means. This is a fine selection to close out Day 2.

134. Spencer Burford, OT, Texas-San Antonio – B+ Grade
It makes sense for the 49ers to find some tackle insurance because Trent Williams is in his mid-30s and could regress at any time. Burford provides nice value – I had him earlier in this round – and he could eventually be a starter for San Francisco.

172. Samuel Womack, CB, Toledo – C Grade
Another prospect who wasn’t on my board at all. Samuel Womack was a productive cornerback at Toledo, but I don’t think he projects well into the NFL. Still, he could potentially fill a big need at corner for the 49ers.

187. Nick Zakelj, OT, Fordham – B+ Grade
Another tackle pick may seem redundant, but the 49ers are making a great value choice because I thought Nick Zakelj could have easily been chosen in the fourth round. It’s nice that San Francisco shored up its offensive line depth.

220. Kalia Davis, DT, Central Florida – B+ Grade
Kalia Davis is a big run-stuffer, which is key for the 49ers as they try to combat the Rams and Seahawks. Davis is coming off a torn ACL, causing him to drop in the 2022 NFL Draft. At this point, he’s worth the risk.

221. Tariq Castro-Fields, CB, Penn State – A- Grade
Wow, this is quite the fall for Tariq Castro-Fields, who used to appear in the second round of my mocks. Castro-Fields, however, had a horrible 2021 campaign. Perhaps he’s been exposed, but he could rebound and perform like he did prior to 2021. I like this gamble.

262. Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State – B Grade
Brock Purdy has no chance of becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL, but he might be a quality backup. He can compete with Nate Sudfeld behind Trey Lance once Jimmy Garoppolo is traded. I would have preferred Carson Strong though.

2022 NFL Draft Team Grade: B-. Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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