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ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. grades the 49ers draft

Marc Adams
Apr 28, 2024 at 2:00 PM

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Mel Kiper, Jr., of ESPN, has covered the NFL Draft for decades. Each year, he hands out his draft grades after the draft is over, grading each team on how well they performed, in his estimation. There were a couple of moments in the 2024 draft in which Kiper said the San Francisco 49ers reached for a player. I expected Kiper's opinion of the 49ers' draft to be lower than the B- he gave them. But a B-, while it isn't great, isn't terrible either.

You can't genuinely grade a draft before the class has a chance to play even one game. It takes time to see what each player will do. That said, fans seem to enjoy reading about how well each team performed. So let's take a look at what Kiper liked and didn't like about the 49ers draft.

Not drafting a right tackle

Kiper believed, as did many fans, that the 49ers should have added an offensive tackle to upgrade over Colton McKivitz. If the 49ers had been drafting earlier, they very well might have drafted a tackle. But at 31, the top tackles were gone. So the 49ers decided to go with a wide receiver, Florida's Ricky Pearsall.

Kiper wrote, "The 49ers' roster is solid from top to bottom, but I would have liked to see GM John Lynch bring in competition for right tackle Colton McKivitz, who allowed 11 sacks last season and also was a below-average run-blocker."

I get it. McKivitiz is more of a backup. I just don't think the 49ers liked any of the available tackles who were still available in round one.

Reaching for WR Ricky Pearsall

Kiper also believes that, in addition to not taking a tackle, the 49ers reached on Pearsall by taking him in the first round. "That [offensive tackle] was San Francisco's biggest need in Round 1, in my eyes," added Kiper. "Lynch went a different direction, reaching a little bit for Ricky Pearsall (31), my 10th-ranked wide receiver. Pearsall has great hands and will be an asset in the run game as a blocker, but there were better players available at the end of Round 1."

In the end, if Pearsall is a difference-maker for the 49ers, no one will remember that he was taken a little early. Except maybe Kiper.

Reaching for CB Renardo Green

Kiper said the 49ers again reached for a player, this time in the second round when they drafted cornerback Renardo Green. He thought the 49ers reached more than any other team in round two. Kiper added, "Then, the 49ers had the biggest reach of Round 2, selecting my No. 21 cornerback Renardo Green (64) about two rounds too high. That was a confusing one, as there were still some good corners on the board."

This may prove to be true, but Green is feisty. He's physical and some say he was the best press corner in the draft. He seems to be a good fit for the 49ers. And isn't the draft more about finding the best fit for your team? That doesn't always mean the most talented. Trey Lance is more talented than Brock Purdy, according to Kiper and other draft experts. That doesn't mean he's better.

Drafting Dominick Puni, a potential starting guard

But Kiper didn't dislike everything the 49ers did during the draft. He liked the 49ers pick of offensive lineman, Dominick Puni. "I do like what Lynch & Co. did after that, though. Dominick Puni (86) has the potential to be a starting guard in time," Kiper wrote. "Snagging Puni keeps the 49ers' grade out of C territory, though I do think Pearsall will be a good pro."

At least he had some good things to say about Puni and Pearsall. And I agree that Puni can be a starting guard. With Aaron Banks and Jon Feliciano in the last year of their deals, Puni may find himself competing for a starting role in 2025.

Drafting other talented players

Kiper ended his grading of the 49ers by pointing out some other picks he liked, namely safety Malik Mustapha and running back Isaac Guerendo. Kiper added, "Safety Malik Mustapha (124) is impressive in coverage and will be a dynamo on special teams. Running back Isaac Guerendo (129) ran a blazing 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the combine and averaged 6.1 yards per carry last season, though he had only one year of steady production. The 49ers traded Nos. 173 and 176 to get Gurerendo, so they must like him a lot."

I would have been interested to see what Kiper thought about the wide receiver Jacob Cowing, who they took in the fourth round. Mustapha seems made for special teams, but he has a chance to be more than just a special-teamer.

In all, a B- isn't too bad of a draft grade, considering the 49ers did some things early in the draft that no one had predicted. Again, it's way too early to grade a draft class, but it's fun to discuss.
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