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Adam Peters reveals which 49ers draft picks earned rare “gold helmet”

May 9, 2023 at 11:47 AM--

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The San Francisco 49ers will designate about 15 to 20 prospects as "gold helmet" players heading into the draft. The designation is reserved for players considered "exemplary" in several areas, including performance, leadership, and intelligence.

The 49ers landed one of those players in 2021 when they drafted safety Talanoa Hufanga in the fifth round. He became an All-Pro and Pro Bowl player in just his second season.

According to assistant general manager Adam Peters, San Francisco landed two "gold helmet" prospects in this year's draft. They were Penn State safety Ji'Ayir Brown and Oklahoma tight end Brayden Willis.

"They call him 'The Voice' because he was the voice of the defense, the leader of the defense," Peters said of Brown during a discussion with Matt Barrows of The Athletic. "And it's not just what he says, it's how he plays. Like one of my notes was, 'He plays every play like it's his last.' He plays really, really hard."

The Niners made Brown their first selection, acquiring him in the third round with the No. 87 overall pick. The team added Willis in the seventh round with the No. 247 overall pick. He was the second tight end drafted by the 49ers, following the selection of Alabama's Cameron Latu in the third round.

"We loved his run-after-the-catch (rate)," Peters said of Willis. "That was backed up by our R&D guys. He had the highest broken-tackle percentage of all the drafted tight ends."

The executive acknowledged Willis's similarities to Penn State tight end Brenton Strange, who was drafted in the second round. However, Willis' wingspan is nearly five inches longer than Strange's.

"He had more value to us on the line of scrimmage than Brenton Strange did as a true Y tight end," Peters told Barrows. "(Willis) doesn't seem like he's that big when you look at him on tape. But he's 245 pounds with long arms. So he certainly has the size to do that. And he certainly has the mentality to be a physical player."

Head to The Athletic to read about Barrows' entire conversation with Peters.

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