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Evaluating every 49ers rookie’s role in 2023

Rohan Chakravarthi
May 25, 2023 at 4:00 PM


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The San Francisco 49ers had a unique draft, making nine selections, but making their first selection in the third round.

However, they made three third-round selections, including a trade up to No. 87 for Penn State safety Ji'Ayir Brown.

With a good number of selections, but only starting in the third round, how will the 49ers utilize their rookies in 2023?

S Ji'Ayir Brown


The 49ers' top selection was Penn State safety Ji'Ayir Brown, who the team moved up 15 spots to take.

Brown was a draft favorite of mine, as he possessed good instincts and ball skills in coverage, as well as his quick close speed.

He profiles as a similar athlete to Talanoa Hufanga, and could be a contributor in Year 1, as he's the most pro-ready rookie the 49ers have on their roster.

However, San Francisco has veteran Tashaun Gipson to start alongside Hufanga, limiting the chances for Brown to hit the field.

Still, in Steve Wilks's aggressive scheme, as well as San Francisco's usage of three-safety sets over the past two years, I expect Brown to be utilized in packages with both of the starters.

That would allow Hufanga to play closer to the box, where his instincts provide a significant benefit to the 49ers' defense.

While I don't envision a starting role for Brown this season, he could take a part of the responsibility that Jimmie Ward left, with Gipson also having the versatility to play the big nickel role at times.

K Jake Moody


While I certainly had my reservations about the Jake Moody selection, the Michigan kicker has the clearest path to playing time for the 49ers in 2023.

With the unprecedented selection of a kicker in the third round or earlier for the first time since 2016, Moody should receive the starting job Week 1.

Whether results come early or not obviously are yet to be seen, but Moody should be the starting kicker for the 49ers in 2023, barring any unforeseen circumstances.

TEs Cameron Latu and Brayden Willis


The 49ers did significant work on tight ends in this draft, and selected one in the third round: Alabama tight end Cameron Latu.

Like Moody, I wasn't high on Latu in the third round, but he joins the 49ers as a candidate to backup George Kittle as the No. 2 tight end.

However, San Francisco's seventh-round pick, Brayden Willis, should poise a threat to Latu and incumbent Charlie Woerner for the backup role.

Latu or Willis could very well eclipse Woerner for the backup role, but I'd expect the veteran to begin the season as the No. 2 tight end.

Why?

The 49ers have been looking for a multi-dimensional option to complement George Kittle, but in order to hit the field, tight ends and receivers both need to be able to block.

Woerner is the best blocking option of the trio at the moment, which could keep his spot to begin the year.

But, once either rookie can prove to block effectively, their overall skillset should earn them more playing time.

CB Darrel Luter Jr.


Despite being a fifth-round pick, Luter could push for playing time early on as a depth piece in the secondary.

The 49ers entered the offseason with depth concerns at the position after Jimmie Ward and Emmanuel Moseley both left in free agency.

The team signed Isaiah Oliver to fill the nickelback role, but looked to the draft for another depth piece, where they took Luter, who was good value in the fifth round as a solid coverage corner.

With Ambry Thomas on the verge of getting cut, Luter and Womack are the logical backups at cornerback.

One of them will likely see the field this season, given Charvarius Ward's injury history in the past, and the 49ers could prefer Luter, depending on the position, if he flashes this offseason.

LBs Dee Winters and Jalen Graham


The 49ers were deciding between two linebackers in the sixth round, and eventually got both of their targets in Michigan's Dee Winters and Purdue's Jalen Graham.

While both have certain flashes to their games, it doesn't seem likely that both linebackers crack the 53-man roster, and there's a chance that neither player remains after training camp.

The 49ers have significant depth at the position, headlined by Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, and Oren Burks, who are all likely to make the 53-man roster.

Then comes veteran Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, who was on the 53-man roster in 2022 and has been a special-teams ace for the 49ers over the past few years.

In addition to the two rookies, the 49ers also have linebacker Marcelino McCrary-Ball, who was an undrafted standout last offseason and should be in the mix for a roster spot.

Overall, it's clear there'll be a strong competition at linebacker for the 49ers, who have carried five at the position in the past, with the players not making the roster likely being candidates for the practice squad.

WR Ronnie Bell


Ronnie Bell was another potential steal in the seventh-round, with his route-running and hands standing out during his time at Michigan.

Once again, it's tough to envision a role for Bell on the 53-man roster, as the 49ers have each of their five receivers from a season ago in Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Danny Gray.

However, Bell, 2022 undrafted free agent Tay Martin, and veterans like Chris Conley could serve as competition, just like wideouts Malik Turner and Willie Snead were a season ago.

Still, I envision Bell as a practice squad player with the chance to compete in 2023 when Jennings and McCloud hit free agency.
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