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3 49ers draft picks among ESPN’s biggest steals of the past decade

Jul 3, 2023 at 9:41 AM--

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While NFL teams hope to be more likely to hit on first-round picks, finding talent in the later rounds can often be more hit-and-miss. Sometimes you can find a future star who went overlooked.

ESPN's Matt Miller and Jordan Reid examined the past decade of drafts to determine the 50 biggest steals—the premier talent acquired in later rounds. The list doesn't include any first-round picks, obviously. Also, players must have been drafted at least 15 spots later than they should have been.

And it goes without saying that there aren't any 2023 draft picks on the list, as those players have yet to take an NFL snap. The list looks at NFL drafts from 2013 until 2022.

Three San Francisco 49ers made the list. They are listed below.

TE George Kittle

Rank: 8

The Niners made tight end George Kittle a fifth-round draft pick (No. 146 overall) out of Iowa in 2017. He has developed into one of the league's best tight ends, proving to be among the NFL's most well-rounded players at the position. Like the other 49ers on this list, Kittle is a fierce competitor. He is just as good at blocking in the run game as he is at hauling in passes in the open field.

"Kittle is one of the best fifth-round picks and most versatile tight ends in NFL history," wrote Reid. "He was primarily known as a blocker coming out of Iowa. There wasn't much of a receiving sample size, yet it only took him two seasons to establish himself as a premiere offensive talent; he broke out for 88 catches, 1,377 receiving yards and 5 TDs in 2018.

"A staple of the Kyle Shanahan offensive attack, Kittle is not only a overwhelming presence in the run game but also the type of pass-catcher who can line up anywhere prior to the snap."

Kittle has caught 395 receptions for 5,254 yards and 31 touchdowns in his six NFL seasons. He is a first-team All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowl selection.

LB Fred Warner

Rank: 9

Fred Warner, a third-round pick (No. 70 overall) out of BYU in 2018, has become the leader and heart of the 49ers' top-ranked defense. The linebacker has amassed 633 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and four interceptions in his five NFL seasons. More importantly, his work ethic and intensity—even in practice—is an example for younger players looking to make a name for themselves in the league.

"Warner entered the NFL as a lightly heralded prospect from BYU who ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash at 230 pounds," wrote Miller. "He ultimately was the ninth linebacker drafted in the 2018 class. Warner quickly outplayed that third-round draft spot and has arguably been the NFL's most consistent linebacker since arriving in San Francisco. He hasn't missed a start in five years and is a two-time first-team All-Pro."

Warner is also a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

WR Deebo Samuel

Rank: 14

San Francisco made Deebo Samuel a second-round pick (No. 36 overall) out of South Carolina in 2019. The wide receiver had a breakout season in 2021, amassing an impressive 1,770 total yards and 14 total touchdowns while proving to be a threat both catching passes from quarterbacks and carrying the football out of the backfield.

"Samuel was the most versatile prospect of a talented 2019 receiver class, but he was a late bloomer during the pre-draft process," wrote Reid. "He battled injuries throughout his four-year career at South Carolina, but a dominant senior season -- including a standout showing at the Senior Bowl -- helped his stock tremendously.

"As a pro, Samuel has posted a 1,400-yard season (receiving) and rushed for 6.4 yards per carry, occasionally lining up in the backfield."

Samuel has caught 223 receptions for 3,230 yards and 12 touchdowns in his four NFL seasons. He has also racked up 782 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns on 232 carries. While Samuel admits that 2022 was a disappointment when it comes to his production, the receiver remains one of the most versatile offensive weapons at head coach Kyle Shanahan's disposal.


While the 49ers did not draft Javon Hargrave, the defensive tackle joined the roster this offseason via free agency. Miller and Reid have the former Philadelphia Eagle and Pittsburgh Steeler listed at No. 41. The Steelers made Hargrave a third-round pick (No. 89 overall) out of South Carolina State in 2016.

"Hargrave was knocked hard in the NFL draft process for short arms, small hands and an FCS level of competition at South Carolina State," wrote Miller. "But he has emerged as one of the premier defensive tackles in the game, adding 11 sacks and 30 pressures to his résumé in 2022 alone. Hargave just cashed in with an $84 million contract with the 49ers, further solidifying his status as a legendary draft steal."

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