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5 players who could end up 49ers at the end of Day 2

Brian Renick
Apr 28, 2023 at 12:29 PM

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The first night of the NFL Draft is in the books, and it was a night that probably found most 49ers fans paying little attention. However, the team will finally get their opportunity to restock the roster with some fresh talent, with three of the last four picks in the third round: 99, 101, and 102.

It is doubtful that GM John Lynch will sit tight and use all three of those picks, at least where they are currently situated. Most front offices do not like successive picks because it makes it difficult to tier the players and make said selections. I expect them to package two of the picks and move up in the 3rd round, or trade one of them and move down into the 4th, especially considering they do not currently possess a pick in that round.

With that said, let's take a look at five players that could end up in Red & Gold by the end of the night.

Photo: Sacramento State athletics

Marte Mapu, S/LB, Sacramento State

Measurables: 6'3", 221 lbs., No Testing Numbers

Marte Mapu is an intriguing prospect in this year's draft due to his small school status and "tweener" size. Mapu was recruited to Sac State as a safety and played the "rover" position this past season, which was a hybrid nickel position. Mapu has excellent size for the safety position, and is very reminiscent of Fred Warner coming out of BYU. Warner (6'3", 236 lbs.) played the "star" position at BYU, which was a hybrid safety/linebacker role. Both players have excellent coverage skills, but are also willing and excellent tacklers. Mapu's role in San Francisco would likely be at the LB position, like Warner, and he could be a plug-and-play replacement for recently departed Azeez Al-Shaair. The team could also try him at safety to begin his career and transition him later if necessary.

Mapu was not invited to the Combine, and was not able to do any testing during the run-up to the draft due to a torn pectoral muscle in February that required surgery. The lack of testing info, his small school status, and questions about his best role in the NFL could lead to a drop to the 4th or even 5th round, but Mapu is a talented football player that teams will likely be willing to roll the dice on, so the 49ers may not be able to wait if they want him.

The 49ers hosted Mapu on a Top-30 visit.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

YaYa Diaby, EDGE, Louisville

Measurables: 6'3", 263 lbs., 4.51 40-yard dash, 33 ⅞" arms

The 49ers defensive line has been its best under Kyle Shanahan in 2019 when it had a healthy Dee Ford opposite Nick Bosa. They've been searching for a speed rusher in that same ilk since Ford's injuries derailed his career, most recently hoping Samson Ebukam could fill the role. While Ebukam played adequately, he still did not provide the same juice that Ford did.

Enter YaYa Diaby.

Diaby is an explosive athlete at the EDGE position, clocking a 4.51 40-yard dash and a very impressive 1.56 10-yard split (Ford's 10-yard split was 1.67). Diaby racked up 9 sacks and 14 tackles for loss during his final season at Louisville while also being stout against the run. His role for the 49ers would likely be as a pass rush specialist initially, but he has the profile and game to be an every-down player in the NFL. Diaby raised his game every season at Louisville, with his biggest jump in backfield production happening this past season. His development arrow seems to be pointing nowhere but up.

The 49ers hosted Diaby on a Top-30 visit.

Nick King-USA TODAY Sports

Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan State

Measurables: 5'10", 187 lbs., 4.45 40-yard dash

Reed is a smaller-framed player, and will likely need to add some weight once he's in an NFL nutrition and weight training program. Despite his size, he was a willing and aggressive blocker in the run game, which is a must in Kyle Shanahan's offense. Michigan State's offense struggled quite a bit in 2022, and Reed's numbers suffered because of that, but in 2021 Reed had 1,026 yards and 10 TDs on 59 receptions. He also had 46 explosive plays (20+ yards) over the past two seasons. Reed was also Michigan State's kick and punt returner, averaging 17.5 yards per kick return and 14.9 yards per punt return, along with three career punt return touchdowns.

Reed does have some drop concerns, but is an excellent finisher on contested catches, with strong hands and excellent ball skills.

The 49ers hosted Reed on a Top-30 visit.

Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Ji'Ayir (jeye-AIR) Brown, S, Penn State

Measurables: 5'11", 203 lbs., 4.65 40-yard dash

Brown was a versatile 2-year starter at safety for Penn State, with both single-high and box responsibilities within the scheme. He is a willing and punishing tackler but also has the speed to cover outside the numbers, a trait that shows up on tape despite his lackluster 40-yard dash time. There is a current member of the 49ers secondary that also had a lackluster 40 time that suppressed his draft stock: Talanoa Hufanga. You wouldn't know it by watching him play though.

Brown may not have the versatility to play in the slot, but he reminds me a lot of Jimmie Ward just in the way that he plays the position. He also has tremendous playmaking ability at the safety position with ten interceptions over the past two seasons, along with 18 passes defensed. His defensive coordinator described him as a "warrior" and the type of player you get to coach "every five years." Seems like a real "gold helmet" type player that the front office covets.

The 49ers hosted Brown on a Top-30 visit.

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa

Measurables: 6'3", 246 lbs., 4.59 40-yard dash

It seems like I have been pounding the table for the 49ers to bring in a viable, pass-catching TE2 since the one-year experiment with Jordan Reed ended in 2020. This is the draft that the team will finally do so, as multiple reports came out during the run-up to the draft that the 49ers have done a lot of work scouting this deep tight end draft.

If the 49ers do end up with LaPorta, it will likely be due to a trade-up because LaPorta is largely considered the last of the "top-tier" (or at the very least Tier 2) tight end prospects. However, with only one tight end going in the first round on Thursday, some prospects at the position could get pushed down within reach for San Francisco.

A three-year starter at current 49er George Kilttle's alma mater Iowa, LaPorta is the next in a long line of excellent, productive tight ends to come out of that school, joining Kittle, Noah Fant, and most recently, T.J. Hockenson. He could stand to add 10-15 lbs. of muscle once in the NFL in order to better sustain blocks in the run game, but just like any Iowa tight end, he is an efficient and willing blocker, which is a must in the 49ers offensive system. Iowa's offense was historically bad last season, but LaPorta still caught 58 receptions for 657 yards and 1 TD while being the only viable target in a passing offense that only totaled 2,037 passing yards (156 yds/gm) and 17.7 points per game.

LaPorta has the speed to exploit the seams in Kyle Shanahan's offense, and with time, could emerge as George Kittle's replacement (Kittle turns 30 this season and has two years remaining on his current deal).
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