Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Zierlein: George Kittle and D.J. Jones likely to exceed expectations in 2017

May 21, 2017 at 1:26 PM--

The critics loved the San Francisco 49ers' most recent draft – the first by general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. Not only did they like the draft class itself, but they also liked the moves that the 49ers made last month to acquire those rookies and the picks that they gained along the way. Lynch looked like anything but a rookie general manager, who with the help of his experienced staff, wheeled and dealt through the three-day selection process with what looked like expertise.

High selections receive much of the spotlight as far as coverage from the media. After all, the selections used to acquire those players are valued higher than those in the later rounds. Those players also carry a good deal of expectations as they begin their NFL careers.

There are also gems that can be found in the later rounds of the draft. NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein named five late-round draft picks who are likely to exceed expectations in 2017. Two of the five players named were from the 49ers' most recent draft class.

The first was tight end George Kittle out of Iowa, who was selected by the 49ers in the fifth round with the 146th overall pick. Here is what Zierlein had to say about Kittle:

Kittle shares some similar traits with Owen Daniels when he was coming out of Wisconsin in 2006 and I doubt that is lost upon new head coach Kyle Shanahan, who was on the Texans' staff when Daniels was thriving. In fact, with Shanahan as a play-caller in 2009, Daniels was on pace for a 1,000-yard, 10-TD season before tearing his ACL after eight games. Kittle is a quality zone-scheme, in-line blocker with the athleticism to race off the line and uncover as a pass-receiving threat. Kittle could be an early contributor and should become a quality starter in Kyle Shanahan's offense.

The second rookie was defensive tackle D.J. Jones out of Mississippi, who was selected by the 49ers in the sixth round with the 198th overall pick. Here is what Zierlein had to say about Jones:

Jones' issue is that he is a little bit squatty and doesn't always play with consistency. There are also questions about how he will handle NFL power at the point of attack from a power standpoint. However, Jones is a quick, disruptive interior lineman with the type of foot quickness that can give offensive linemen problems when he's rushing the quarterback. I saw flashes against SEC competition that made him look more like a third-rounder than a sixth-rounder and if he plays to his ability, he could become an early contributor and eventual starter.

It's pretty impressive that out of every player selected in the later rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft, Zierlein identified five and two of those five happen to be 49ers rookies. Of course, it will take years to fairly evaluate this draft class. But for now, the critics continue to like what Lynch, Shanahan, and the 49ers accomplished in April.

(h/t to Patrick Tulini for the find)

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