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49ers Mailbag: Are Ronnie Bell and Danny Gray in jeopardy of losing their jobs? Which rookie will have the most impact in year one?

Marc Adams
May 1, 2024 at 9:51 AM

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The San Francisco 49ers have a new draft class. Some liked what the team did. Some did not. But that's to be expected.

The 49ers draft class, along with undrafted rookie free agents will be preparing to go to rookie minicamp soon. They also have a handful of others they have invited to the minicamp as a tryout. So we hope to get plenty of news about the new rookies in the coming weeks.

For now, we've opened another edition of the 49ers Webzone Mailbag. Let's jump in and take a look around.

What are your thoughts on getting "your guy" versus "draft value"? The internet has been reacting accordingly over Pearsall's perceived draft value. - Justin

I think getting the player you want is more important than draft value. Especially when that value is based on the opinions of draft evaluators. Brock Purdy was the last pick in the draft in 2022. If that draft was redone, Purdy would be one of the top picks. But some of that has to do with where he was taken. If Purdy had been drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2022, he wouldn't have enjoyed the success he's had so far, on a talented 49ers offense with Kyle Shanahan as his coach and play-caller.

That's not to say Purdy wouldn't be great somewhere else. But your situation has an impact on who you become. Take a look at the Trey Lance pick. He was chosen number three overall in 2021. He has the talent, but the pick wasn't right for the 49ers, who needed a quarterback they could immediately win with. Is Lance more talented than Purdy? Probably in some ways. Was his value and potential higher than Purdy's? Again, I think we'd have to say it was. But Purdy is a much better fit for the 49ers offense,

So getting the right guy is better than draft value or where others say a player should be drafted. There are exceptions, like taking a player who we all know will be a star versus a player who might be a better fit. For example, if Justin Jefferson, the Minnesota Vikings wide receiver, is available, you take him, regardless of fit. But most of the time, fit is better than value.

Do you think Ronnie Bell and Danny Gray will be out since drafting Ricky Pearsall and Jacob Cowing? - Sasha R.

I tend to believe that if Danny Gray fails to stand out in the offseason practices, which a wide receiver with his speed should do, and if he doesn't look good in training camp, he could be out. I think Ronnie Bell will get another season since he was a rookie last year. Gray has the physical tools, he just needs to put it together and stay healthy.

The thing that Bell and Gray need to work hard on is their blocking. We've discussed before that Shanahan demands his wide receivers be willing (and effective) blockers. Ricky Pearsall and Jacob Cowing are both known for their willingness to do that. If they can do it at the NFL level, and if Gray and Bell can't, the two rookies may push them off the team. Then again, with the uncertainty at the receiver position beyond 2024, they may have more time to develop than we might think.

But Gray is the most likely to be replaced. I hope not. I hope he turns a corner. But if not, he may not make it to the regular season.

Which rookie will have the most impact in year 1? - John P.

I want to say Pearsall, but I think it will be Renardo Green. The Florida State cornerback has a chance to be the third corner on the field, which would come in nickel situations like Ambry Thomas did last season. The 49ers believe Green can play inside or outside, but he's mostly played on the outside. So in those situations, he would come in to play on the opposite side of Charvarius Ward, and Deommodore Lenoir would slide inside.

One interesting thing I've seen is that some believe Green could also end up being that deep safety the 49ers haven't really had for some time. I doubt that would happen as a rookie, but if it did, that would give him an even better chance at making an impact.

If it's not Green, then I predict it will be Malik Mustapha, the safety out of Wake Forest. Mustapha looks like he can be a standout on special teams, and depending on what happens with Talanoa Hufanga's recovery from his torn ACL, Mustapha could play a lot on defense. I also wonder that if Dre Greenlaw doesn't come back soon enough from his torn Achilles the 49ers might go with some three-safety looks, and play Mustapha more like a linebacker.

Do you feel like the Niners really know what they're doing when it comes to the draft? Yes, we've hit on some pretty big players since Lynch and Shanahan have taken over, (Kittle, Warner, Deebo, and others, and it feels like Purdy is going to be a franchise QB and a star as long as he can stay healthy) but there's been some big whiffs too (Solomon Thomas, Ruben Foster, Trey Lance, Javon Kinlaw). I'm just worried they reached for Pearsall when there were better receivers still on the board, they probably could have traded back and still got him and I would have REALLY liked to see them trade UP for a right tackle because I think McKivitz is a big liability. Thoughts? - Brian T.

Well, I would look at it this way. They've missed on some players, just like every other team does. But they've also been able to build the best roster in football.

I would imagine most 49ers fans think highly of Scot McCloughan. He was the 49ers Vice president of player personnel from 2005-2007, and GM from 2008-2009. He built the team that Jim Harbaugh had so much success with. He drafted players like Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, and more. But he also had his share of misses. Remember Kentwan Balmer? How about David Baas, Manny Lawson, or Chilo Rachal? Or how about the fact that he was part of the group that chose Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers?

My point is, he missed on some, as well. It happens. Even Bill Walsh missed on some players. (Todd Shell, anyone? Or how about Terrance Flagler?) But if we look at their body of work, it speaks for itself.

My guess is if we made a list of Shanahan and John Lynch's misses and compared it to their hits, we'd see they've been better than we might think.

In your opinion, did the 49ers accomplish or fall short of their draft goals this past weekend? What, if anything, should have been done differently? - Ed H.

I would have liked to have seen them take a tackle in the first round. I just don't believe Colton McKivitz is the answer. Now to be fair, McKivitz has only started one season, so maybe he can improve.

I'm sure they didn't pull the trigger in the first round because they didn't have a first-round grade on any of the tackles who were available at pick 31. And they likely knew that would be the case, especially when the first 14 picks were on the offensive side of the ball. I would assume the 49ers will say they accomplished what they wanted to accomplish, but if we were to inject Shanahan and Lynch with truth serum, they might admit they wish they had drafted a tackle. Then again, they haven't done so since 2018 (Mike McGlinchey in round one), and Shanahan seems to be happy with his offensive line. I don't recall him saying anything about the offensive line after the Super Bowl. But he did talk about receivers not being able to get open.

So there's that.

Do you think the Niners got "sniped" on several of their picks (i.e. Xavier Worthy, Christian Haynes, Rosenberg)? - Justin

Possibly. It's hard to say how much they liked those players, but there were a couple of times a trade was made that allowed another team to come in front of them and take a player the fanbase thought the 49ers might take. Were the 49ers ready to take those players and got "sniped," as Justin put it? If that did happen, they won't admit it anytime soon.

That's all for this edition of the 49ers Webzone Mailbag. We'll be back at different times throughout the offseason.
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