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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports


A Look at the 49ers 2017 Draft Class

Al Sacco
Jan 11, 2018 at 10:01 AM0


What if I told you that, in their first season together, San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch and his lieutenants would hit a home run in the NFL Draft? Would you have been able to imagine Lynch, his staff, and head coach Kyle Shanahan working in lockstep to acquire what appear to be six long-term starters? Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Well, that's exactly what the new regime did. The 2017 draft helped lay the foundation for a rebuild that was greatly accelerated by the arrival of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and now it seems like a team that was destined for a long grind back to the top is primed for a playoff run next year. With the season now in the rear-view mirror, here's a look at how the draft class did, and what we might expect from them moving forward.

DT Solomon Thomas, Round 1, Pick 3
*PFF Grade: 53.2

While Thomas didn't have the overall impact you'd hope from a player taken third overall, he showed signs of being a productive piece to the puzzle. The Stanford product was stout against the run, grading out at 79.3 per Pro Football Focus, and recorded five tackles for a loss. He did struggle to rush the passer though (46.5 grade), and while his three sacks were tied for second on the team, it's a total lower than some had anticipated. You have to remember though, Thomas was learning a new position in his rookie year, as playing on the outside was foreign to him. Overall, of the 693 snaps Thomas played in 2017, 492 of them were on the edge. Defensive line takes time to learn, and it's not a stretch to think that Thomas could make a significant jump in 2018.

LB Reuben Foster, Round 1, Pick 31,
*PFF Grade: 90.7

Teams were hesitant to invest high draft capital in Foster because of injuries and off the field concerns, but when the 49ers had an opportunity to move back into the first-round to select the ultra-talented defender, they didn't hesitate. Early returns were outstanding, as Foster enjoyed one of the best rookie campaigns in the entire league. When healthy, Foster looked like a missile flying at the opposition, recording 72 total tackles in 10 games. As long as he can stay on the field, the sky's the limit in year-two and beyond. Health is an issue though, as Foster missed six full games and seemed to be on the ground in pain every week. There will be injury concerns with Foster until he proves otherwise, but he's still a cornerstone piece for the defense moving forward.

CB Ahkello Witherspoon, Round 3, Pick 66
*PFF Grade: 81.1

Inactive to start the season, it seemed like Witherspoon might be a project pick, which was concerning considering the issues the team faced at cornerback. In the end though, the 49ers were right in letting Witherspoon sit and develop early on, as he hit the ground running once he was inserted into the lineup. Witherspoon ended up starting nine games and was a standout playing primarily on the left side. His coverage was solid, especially when you consider the burden he had to carry because of Dontae Johnson's struggles across from him. Witherspoon also showed a knack for making plays on the ball, as he tied for the team lead in interceptions with two. He'll be penciled in as a starter next year, and looks to be everything the team hoped for at this spot in the draft.

QB C.J. Beathard, Round 3, Pick 104
*PFF Grade: 68.5

When the 49ers traded up to select Beathard, the move seemed like a bit of a head-scratcher. It wasn't so much that Beathard wasn't a good choice, but more that he most likely could have been had later in the draft. Still, it's hard to argue with Shanahan when it comes to quarterbacks, so there was some optimism about Beathard's future. While we know now that Beathard will be nothing more than a backup to Garoppolo, the grit he showed over five starts in 2017 should give the team confidence should they need to call his number again. Along the way, Beathard provided flashes of good play, especially during a 288-yard performance in a Week 10 win over the New York Giants. His toughness is unquestioned, as he took a beating week in and week out, although some of that was due to his tendency to hold the ball and run into pressure. At this point he provides adequate insurance should Garoppolo have to miss a game here and there.

RB Joe Williams, Round 4, Pick 121
*PFF Grade: N/A

Williams was placed on injured reserve prior to the season with an ankle injury and didn't see any action in 2017. He'll have every chance to make an impact next season, but will have to earn his way into the lineup. Nothing is a given.

TE George Kittle, Round 5, Pick 146
*PFF Grade: 63.4

Kittle didn't get much of an opportunity to show off his receiving skills in college, as he was rarely targeted at Iowa and only caught 48 passes in his collegiate career. What the 49ers saw in him was promise and a good system fit, and both proved to be true. Kittle finished tied for seventh in rookie receptions (43) and was second amongst rookie tight ends, trailing only Evan Engram's 64. Kittle caught a pass in every game and finished the season with 515 receiving yards. To put that yardage number into perspective, it took Vernon Davis four seasons before he eclipsed that mark, and it's the most yards a 49ers' tight end has had since Davis' 850 in 2013. Kittle will be a vital piece of the offense moving forward and was a late round steal.

WR Trent Taylor, Round 5, Pick 177
*PFF Grade: 71.6

Who was the person tied with Kittle for seventh overall in rookie receptions? That was none other than his teammate, the 5'8 Taylor. In fact, out of rookie wideouts, only Cooper Kupp and JuJu Smith-Schuster had more catches than Taylor, who proved to be a reliable option in the slot. Overall, Taylor hauled in 71.7 percent of his targets, but that could be the tip of the iceberg. With Garoppolo under center, Taylor's catch percentage jumped to 85%, as he caught 17-of-20 balls thrown his way. Like Kittle, he'll play a significant role in the offense and looks to have a stronghold on the slot position.

DL D.J. Jones, Round 6, Pick 198
*PFF Grade: 51.2

While the arrival of Sheldon Day pushed him off the active roster, Jones showed he could play in the league when given an opportunity. In 147 snaps, his play against the run was strong, and Jones looks like he could be an eventual successor to Earl Mitchell. Development will be key for him over the next year or so, and while he may not see the field much in 2018, that doesn't mean he won't be part of the defensive line rotation in the near future.

LB Pita Taumoepenu, Round 6, Pick 202
*PFF Grade: N/A

A project pick in every sense of the term, the 49ers are hoping to groom Taumoepenu as the years go on. While talented, Taumoepenu has only been playing football for a handful of years, as he didn't take up the game until he was 17-years old. A native of the island of Tonga, football was completely off his radar until he came to the United States and took an interest in it as a senior in high school. He'll have an uphill battle to stick around, but the talent is evident.

S Adrian Colbert, Round 7, Pick 229
*PFF Grade: 77.6

In one of the best stories of the season, Colbert went from being on the roster bubble to having a shot at upending Jimmie Ward as the starting free safety for the 49ers moving forward. Colbert was sensational in six starts, recording 24 tackles and breaking up five passes. Colbert's speed and range make him perfect fit as the high safety in Robert Saleh's defense, and his hard-hitting style helped him earn the nickname, "The Punisher." Even if Ward does win a possible camp battle next year, it's hard to imagine Colbert still not playing a significant role in some way, especially given Ward's injury history.

*All grades courtesy of Pro Football Focus

Al Sacco is the Senior Writer for 49ers Webzone and has had his work used by national outlets such as ESPN and USA TODAY. In addition to his writing duties, Al is also the co-host of the No Huddle podcast. If you'd like to reach Al with a media request, please contact him via Twitter @AlSacco49 or at [email protected].
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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