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3 49ers to temper expectations for in 2023

Rohan Chakravarthi
May 22, 2023 at 3:20 PM

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The San Francisco 49ers experienced some significant change this offseason, as key contributors like Mike McGlinchey, Jimmie Ward, Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu, and Azeez Al-Shaair all departed in free agency, amongst others, leaving holes to fill on the roster.

Some areas of need, such as defensive tackle and nickelback, were filled in free agency via the signings of Javon Hargrave and Isaiah Oliver, but several contributors are players on the roster that will have to step up in 2023 with expanded roles.

However, there are also players whose expectations should be tempered for heading into the 2023 season, be it for a variety of reasons.

1. WR Danny Gray

Danny Gray was a draft favorite of mine in 2022, as his blazing speed would provide a good complement to San Francisco's current wide receiver room.

But, during my analysis of the Gray selection last year, I also mentioned how raw the wideout was as a prospect, specifically with his route tree, which was limited at SMU.

As a result, I saw Gray as a developmental prospect who could occasionally see the field early, but primarily be a special-teamer to begin his career.

After a limited rookie season, many believe that Gray could be poised for a bigger role in Year 2, as seen with several players under the Kyle Shanahan regime.

However, I see Gray as more of an impact player in 2024, as the wideout is still behind Jauan Jennings and Ray-Ray McCloud, both of whom had a specific role for the 49ers in 2022 that shouldn't change this upcoming season.

Jennings and McCloud are both free agents at the end of the year, providing a logical opportunity for Gray to step into a bigger role in the slot, especially if the 49ers part ways with one of their top wideouts.

Gray could see a breakout in 2023, but it appears to be too crowded of a receiver room, which thins out after the season.

2. CB Samuel Womack

Like Gray, Samuel Womack was a 2022 draft pick for the 49ers, and one that was in the spotlight more than others, as he earned the starting nickelback spot for a portion of training camp before Deommodore Lenoir took over to begin the season.

However, Lenoir moved to the outside after Emmanuel Moseley suffered a torn ACL in Week 5, while Jimmie Ward took over in the nickel following his return from injury.

Both Moseley and Ward elected to sign elsewhere this season, leaving a hole in the nickel, but the 49ers signed former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver to a one-year deal.

Last week, Oliver received high praise from defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who dubbed him as the top available nickelback on the market, a position that the 49ers were looking to improve in the offseason.

"Oliver is someone that I had an opportunity to go against, having been in that division," Wilks shared. "And we didn't know exactly what was going to happen in free agency with [DB] Jimmie [Ward]. And when that didn't happen (Ward left for the Houston Texans), we wanted to make sure that we sort of got the best nickel in free agency, and that's what we went out and did.

"So I'm excited about Oliver. He's long, he's physical, can tackle, can cover. He's going to be a good blitzer for us, everything that we do within this defense."

Womack appears to be another 2024 candidate for the 49ers, serving as a premier special-teamer for another season before competing to take over in the nickel.

3. TE Cameron Latu

The 49ers held three third-round selections in the 2023 NFL Draft, of which they used their third one on Alabama tight end Cameron Latu, a selection I felt was a reach at No. 101.

Still, the 49ers drafted Latu with the intention of potentially solving their No. 2 tight end issue, one they've looked to address ever since George Kittle broke out with a 1,377-yard season in 2018.

Latu will compete against Ross Dwelley and Charlie Woerner for reps, but I would temper expectations in Year 1 for the third-round selection.

Not only does Latu have flaws as a prospect, highlighted by his 11.1% drop rate in college, but the 49ers have prioritized blocking with their backup tight end to earn reps, where Woerner has the advantage in 2023, in addition to his knowledge of the playbook.

Latu should earn some playing time, potentially as a redzone threat, but his production likely doesn't jump off the charts for a rookie in a rotation at the second tight end spot for the 49ers.

With a strong offseason, Latu should definitely have the opportunity to catapult himself into the backup tight end position, but I would temper expectations early on for the third-rounder.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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