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Niners Draft: A Half-Empty Bag With a Few Plums

May 9, 2024 at 7:55 PM

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The Niners went grocery shopping in the NFL draft and came home with a half-empty bag.

Cornerback and safety were priority needs, and they indeed improved their secondary with the selection of Renardo Green and Malik Mustapha. However, the greater, glaring, and pressing need—the must-have—was a plug-and-play tackle. And by that measure, they whiffed.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Niners' offensive line was good in the run game but ranked 24th in pass protection. Left tackle Trent Williams excelled, but the line's right side needed improvement. The Chiefs exposed that deficiency in the Super Bowl.

Many thought the Niners would target a tackle in the first round, even if it meant bundling picks to trade up and get a top-tier player. Those opportunities vanished when tackles went off the board in six of the first eighteen picks. Eight tackles were selected before the Niners were on the clock.

Was there a path for the 49ers to move up to the middle of the first round and grab a starting tackle? Possibly. But that likely required the team parting with Brandon Aiyuk, an option they were unwilling or unable to pursue. So, they grabbed a versatile wide receiver and waited for the second round. Presumably, the Niners had their eyes on Washington tackle Roger Rosengarten.

Rosengarten anchored the right side of college football's best offensive line. During his junior and senior years, he protected southpaw quarterback Micheal Penix's blind side. Aside from being the fastest tackle in the draft, Rosengarten was adept at the Niner's zone-blocking scheme. Better still, he prepared for the draft under the tutelage of Forty-Niner great Joe Staley.

Rosengarten could compete immediately with Colton McKivitz at right tackle, then move to the left side when Trent Williams called it a career. Those dreams evaporated when the Ravens took Rosengarten one spot ahead of the Niners scheduled second-round selection.

Kinglsey Suamataia was still on the board. The Niners passed. Instead, they flipped picks with the Chiefs, who immediately selected the BYU tackle. The Niners then grabbed Florida State corner Renardo Green.

Subsequently, San Francisco traded up in the third round and drafted Dominick Puni, a positionally versatile left tackle from Kansas. Puni yielded zero sacks and zero quarterback hits last year. While he may play tackle in the pros, scouts think he is better suited to play guard or center.

Had the Niners drafted Rosengarten, they still might have traded up to grab Puni. We'll never know.

The draft may have fell differently than the Faithful wanted, but the team did come away with several plums. The Niners' first six picks all have a chance to make both the 53-man and game-day roster. In order of selection, they are:

Ricky Pearsall, WR (Florida)
  • He is an excellent route runner and sure-handed receiver who runs the entire route tree and can play across the formation. Pearsall could also contribute as a punt returner.

Renardo Green, CB (Florida State)
  • He is a pugnacious press corner who led the SEC last year in pass breakups. Green shut down LSU's All-America wideout Malik Nabers in last year's season opener. Nabers went sixth overall in this year's college draft. Green has the versatility to play corner, nickel, or safety.

Dominick Puni, G (Kansas)
  • Puni is a positionally versatile guard/tackle who may be best suited for center. He has excellent movement skills and is an outstanding pass protector who gave up zero sacks or quarterback hits from his left tackle position last year.

Malik Mustapha, S (Wake Forest)
  • He is a hard-hitting safety with outstanding range and discipline. Mustapha is terrific in run support and has experience as a gunner on special teams.

Isaac Guerendo, RB (Louisville)
  • He is a 220-pound burner who excels in blocking and receiving. Guerendo transferred to Louisville from Wisconsin, where he was stuck behind future NFL rushing leader Jonathan Taylor. Guerendo could contribute immediately as a kick returner.

Jacob Cowing, WR (Arizona)
  • Cowing is a quick, explosive, instinctive, and highly productive slot receiver. He has a smallish frame but plays big and is a matchup nightmare. Former Niners general manager Scot McCloughan describes him as a "bolt of lightning." Cowing could earn his way onto the roster as a punt returner.

The weeding-out process begins with rookie training camp.
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