Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

For The Record - 49ers’ Full Draft Evaluation

Justin Wong
Apr 28, 2020 at 7:30 AM5

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The 2020 NFL Draft is officially in the books as the San Francisco 49ers come away with five players to round out their draft class. The 49ers entered the draft with two first-round picks and not much else; previous trades for edge Dee Ford and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders gutted their day two picks. Many expected the 49ers to recoup draft capital in the mid-rounds via trade. 49ers general manager John Lynch was certainly active in the trading scene but not in the way most expected.

I recognize that instant draft day grades can grow tiresome year-over-year when the true value of these draft picks cannot be fully assessed until after a couple of seasons. However, it's important to understand the context as to why the 49ers drafted these players with respect to team needs--both in the present and future. More importantly, I enjoy analyzing the 49ers' draft selections because it reveals how they truly feel about their roster from position-to-position. For example, the Packers ignored their perceived need at wide receiver while the 49ers similarly ignored defensive back; it's likely they feel satisfied with their current roster at that position. I'll breakdown each 49ers' draft selections along with my thoughts on the overall roster.

Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina, 14th Overall

From my earlier 'For The Record' series:

Overall, Kinlaw comes off as a safe pick in a defensive tackle with the upside to get better rushing the passer. Like any NFL prospect, he needs to refine his technique but has ideal physical traits; it seems like the real X-factor upon his development will be his consistency. The San Francisco 49ers traded away DeForest Buckner and get his replacement in Kinlaw along with the 117th pick in what should be deemed as a cost-effective approach to managing their roster. They strengthen a strength by reinforcing the interior of the line. Out of last year's defensive starters, 10 of the 11 in the starting lineup return for 2020; Kinlaw looks to be the lone new starter if all goes well.

I think the legacy of this draft class will be defined by what the 49ers did at this spot. It was smart for the 49ers to trade down one spot to get an additional pick but anger by the 49ers' fandom ensued thereafter. The 49ers had the chance to select the top-rated receivers in either CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy--regarded as sure-fire blue-chip prospects--and they passed. They instead went for the safe choice in Kinlaw. Kinlaw is a greater prospect in his own right but the 49ers have lacked a true No.1 wide receiver for years.

What the pick represents is the 49ers believed there was a bigger drop off in defensive tackle than wide receiver when it comes to this year's draft prospects. Looking solely at Kinlaw, I actually like the value of the selection versus drafting a run-stuffing defensive tackle in the top-10 like what the Carolina Panthers did with Derrick Brown at No.7. Kinlaw has better mobility than Brown with a higher upside to rush the passer.

Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State, 25th Overall

From my earlier 'For The Record' series:

While 49ers fans, myself included, were hoping general manager John Lynch would pull the trigger on either CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy with the 13th pick, the 49ers instead get their guy with their other first-round pick in Aiyuk. Lynch mentioned that the Miami Dolphins were slated to nab Aiyuk the pick after at No. 26 so the 49ers decided to trade up to get their guy. It bodes well that NFL pundits compare Aiyuk to Sanders because the rookie must fill that void after losing Sander via free agency to the New Orleans Saints.

Personally, I view Aiyuk as a bit raw of a prospect; it will become increasingly difficult for him at the next level if our current COVID-19 situation continues to compromise the offseason. Wide receivers typically take longer to develop and losing out on invaluable reps might prove costly. Nonetheless, head coach Kyle Shanahan specifically wanted Aiyuk for his obvious ability to make plays after-the-catch in a similar mold to last year's rookie, Deebo Samuel. We'll see in time if their surprising trade-up was worth it--they enter the second day of the NFL draft with zero picks and currently don't make another selection until the fifth-round. Aiyuk certainly wasn't as touted in comparison to Henry Ruggs III but he actually led all receivers with a career 9.9 yards-after-the-catch.

If you don't know, now you know--the 49ers have a type at wide receiver. The 49ers don't seem to value speed as much as they do elusiveness. By bringing in Aiyuk, the 49es now complete the trifecta with YAC (yards-after-the-catch) monsters from three draft classes. Tight end George Kittle (2017) led the NFL in YAC; wide receiver Deebo Samuel (2019) was second among all receivers and the top rookie last season in YAC; Aiyuk was the top-rated YAC receiver in this draft class.

I have no doubt that 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has a specific plan in mind for Aiyuk. Imagine Aiyuk and Samuel being used interchangeably on screens, reverses, and all sorts of fun. Having said that, the 49ers traded three draft picks to nab 'their guy' in a loaded wide receiver class. The 49ers' track record hasn't been good in this scenario; like when they traded up for quarterback C.J. Beathard (2017) or wide receiver Dante Pettis (2018). Although nothing is certain when it comes to first-round wide receivers, it makes you wonder if they should have just nabbed the top-ranked guys in Lamb or Jeudy. It seems like the 49ers believe there isn't much variance between those aforementioned receivers and Aiyuk.

Colton McKivitz, OT, West Virginia, 153rd Overall

From my earlier 'For The Record' series:

While I'm sure many 49ers fans were taken aback by the Breida trade for this draft selection, let's consider the context. Breida boasts a career 5.0 yard per carry average but he also fell out of favor in the 49ers' running back rotation due to injuries and fumbles. The undrafted free agent rookie from 2017 was an excellent find by the 49ers' front office and they parlayed that into a fifth-round draft pick. I wish Breida all the best in Miami; he should have more opportunity to compete for a team in need of playmakers.

The lowdown with McKivitz is that his massive 6'7" frame and skillset didn't necessarily translate well on the field; he struggled against speed pass rushers. While McKivitiz was used primarily as a tackle in college, I think his best chance at seeing the field lies at guard. His toughness should bode well at the right guard spot where he can compete with Tom Compton and Daniel Brunskill while also serving as a potential swing tackle with Shon Coleman and Justin Skule. I'm glad the 49ers were able to trade back into the fifth-round and address depth on a position that welcomes more competition.

The 49ers have been particularly fortunate when it comes to hitting on their fifth-round picks (i.e. George Kittle, Dre Greenlaw) so perhaps they found another gem in McKivitz. Addressing the offensive line was right up there with wide receiver when it comes to team needs. McKivitz shouldn't be seeing the field in the immediate future but instead fortifies both tackle and guard depth this upcoming season. Keep in mind how the 49ers' offensive line has been hampered in recent years from injuries. Based on the scouting reports, he seems to be above-average in every department and needs some refinement at the next level. He already describes himself as a "prick" on the field which bodes well for toughness in the trenches.

Charlie Woerner, TE, Georgia, 190th Overall

From my earlier 'For The Record' series:

To the casual fan, trading wide receiver Marquise Goodwin raised eyebrows considering he nearly had a 1,000-yards receiving just two seasons ago. Injuries and inconsistencies have hampered Goodwin in recent years and has been the subject of trade rumors for weeks. The 49ers were likely to release him if they were unable to find any suitors on draft day so I would consider this a bonus. They dump his salary while moving up 20 spots in the sixth-round to address a position in need of an upgrade outside George Kittle.

While Woerner only had 34 catches in his four years at Georgia, his bread-and-butter skill set comes in the blocking department. I've heard nothing but great things about his ability to contribute in the run game which is an immediate prerequisite for any Shanahan-led offense. The 49ers have been open about their intention to keep Kittle fresh this upcoming season, especially with the retirement of Garrett Celek. Woerner has a decent chance to compete against the likes of Ross Dwelley and Daniel Helm at tight end but more importantly, his versatility at either fullback or H-back gives him a good chance to make the roster this season. Nonetheless, his excellent blocking would be a welcomed asset if he's able to match Kittle in that department when the star tight end comes off the field.

The other day, someone asked me via Twitter if Woerner could be the next Kyle Juszczyk. Considering how rare it is to find someone like Juszcyk, I doubt it but perhaps that was the 49ers' thought process. Last season when Juszcyk was injured, the 49ers called on tight end Ross Dwelley to play that H-back role. Woerner certainly has the physical traits to be versatile and for his sake, that could be his ticket for playing time.

The 49ers also lost a great deal of depth at tight end this season so he already fills an immediate vacancy with the losses of Garrett Celek and Levine Toilolo. If Woerner's reputation as a plus blocker holds true, he should immediately climb up the depth chart. Woerner comes off as a glue guy who can remain relevant both in the present and future. While he didn't catch many passes at Georgia, he is certainly a capable enough receiver; he might even be a better pro at the next level under Shanahan's offense.

Jauan Jennings, WR, Tennessee, 217th Overall

From my earlier 'For The Record' series:

With the 49ers' final draft selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, they certainly sent a message to the other 49ers wide receivers to step up their game. Consider that the 49ers had few draft picks this year and instead of addressing other positions like cornerback or safety, they double downed on another wide receiver prospect. The 49ers have an obvious type when it comes to receivers and their ability to create yards-after-the-catch; it's something Samuel and Sanders strived in last season and that continues to be a trait between Jennings and fellow rookie receiver, Brandon Aiyuk.

Jennings led all receiver prospects with 30 missed tackles; most of his catches were off slants as a big slot receiver. The more I looked into Jennings, the more I thought of last year's third-round pick, Jalen Hurd. Hurd not only played for the same college at Tennessee early in his career, he was also heavily featured as a slot receiver on slant routes. Perhaps the 49ers are trying to hedge themselves with the uncertain health status of Hurd? Nonetheless, I like the value with this selection--his draft stock fell mightily with a slow 4.72 40-yard dash time--and can appreciate the 49ers getting another possible red zone target in Jennings.

As 49ers Webzone writer Levin Black suggested, the draft selection of a second wide receiver means Richie James Jr. is likely out of the rotation. Not only is Aiyuk capable of contributing on kick and punt returns, but the current number of receivers on the totem pole is also getting up there. Right now I count eight wide receivers and they're probably only going to keep six between Samuel, Aiyuk, Bourne, Taylor, Hurd, Pettis, James Jr, and Jennings. Having said that, there's one common theme among all three late-round draft selections to round out the class--toughness. Between McKivitz, Woerner, and Jennings they're all physical at the line of scrimmage with enough toughness to hopefully stick on the roster.

Final Thoughts

It was a different draft approach compared to previous years because coming off a Super Bowl appearance, the team is now in a different mindset. They're not excited just to win, they expect to win. Considering the ascension in the NFC this offseason (see: Buccaneers, Cowboys, Cardinals), the 49ers couldn't afford to stand still. They entered this offseason with tough decisions in managing the salary cap along while finding immediate contributors with the departure of Sanders, Buckner, and Joe Staley. The draft doesn't necessarily improve the team but it should sustain it at those positions. It also comes with the expectation that players such as Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, and Samuel continue to ascend and fill in those talent gaps. Many were surprised the 49ers didn't get a defensive back but I think the 49ers remain under the discipline that a strong pass rush will supplement everything else. People forget that the 49ers were second in the league in quarterback pressure rate (28.7%) and were the top-rated pass defense as they allowed just 169.2 passing yards/game. The 49ers' philosophy remains committed to strong trenches on both sides of the football along with receivers who can force missed tackles. For better or worse, the 49ers remained true to their identity.

I didn't understand it during the draft but I get it now. The 49ers are a win-now team with few roster spots for developing players. First-round picks Kinlaw and Aiyuk should be expected to contribute immediately; the remaining draft selections have a good chance to stick to the roster because of their toughness and versatility. Only time will tell on whether they handled their two original first-round picks correctly as Aiyuk's legacy will be tied to Lamb/Jeudy while Kinlaw will compare to Buckner as the latter's replacement. Nonetheless, the 49ers were aggressive in getting their guys while trimming off some salary for more fun this offseason.
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.


  • Dr. Kessler
    When you look at what the 49ers had to bargain with they hit a HR. Sure Baltimore did better but look at what they had to work with. Lynch gained quality replacements for Buckner, Sanders & Staley meanwhile liquidating Breida & Goodwin to free up cap numbers to pay Kittle the money he deserves. Not to mention he robbed the hapless Dan Snyder of a 7 time pro bowl LT lol. Yea others did better on the board but when you measure value against what they had to work with the 49ers stole the show. Nice work Justin, keep up the the good work.
    May 9, 2020 at 8:16 AM
  • Paul Bacik
    Excellent article. I can't understand why experts are so sure that Lamb/Judy are guaranteed to be stars, you only have to look back at previous drafts to see how many 1st round wr's wash out. Additionaly how many these top no. 1 receivers have won a super bowl lately. One point though, Kyle Juszczyk was replaced by Dwelley when he was injured. Helm's first game wasn't until week15.
    Apr 28, 2020 at 11:32 AM
    Response: You got me Paul, adjustment made. Thanks for the feedback!
  • Mike M
    Excellent article, Justin. Like you, it took me a while to appreciate the decisions in this draft, but I am now fully on board. Thanks for a great analysis of the entire thought process of Lynch/Shanahan.
    Apr 28, 2020 at 9:59 AM
    Response: Thank you Mike! Let’s see how they round out the offseason
  • tlhcash
    You mentioned that the Niners did not improve, that they maintained their level. My question would be what if they had taken Lamb or Juedy, then traded down at 31 picked up a extra pick and still could of drafted a decent defensive lineman. Would that strategy have improved the team instead of just maintaining status quo? I might mention that 49er rival in the NFC picked up Lamb as a steal. They now have one of the best WR tandem in the league with Cooper and Lamb.
    Apr 28, 2020 at 9:52 AM
    Response: I think that’s the money question we’re all asking as to what would have been the better approach. Only time will tell but based on their comments, it seems like Lynch/Shanahan view Aiyuk and Lamb in the same tier.
  • Jeremy L
    Great article, thorough explanations
    Apr 28, 2020 at 8:31 AM
    Response: Thank you, much appreciated!

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