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Grading the 2023 Draft (spoiler alert: major disappointment)

S Ji'Ayir Brown Penn St. 5'11" 203
Plain and simple, Brown is a playmaker. He has a natural feel for the game, plays with his hair on fire, yet under control, and is a magnetic leader. He's got all the qualities of a potential Pro Bowl Safety except...he's got a very average athletic profile. Brown gets by on instincts which allows him to play faster than his 4.58 speed. You have to wonder whether his lack of physical gifts will hold him back in the NFL though Hufanga's success provides some reason for optimism. I would've preferred the Niners stayed put to grab him at 99, but clearly the organization loved him. I do wonder if they could've gotten far more bang for their buck by drafting someone like Jay Ward, Brandon Hill or Jordan Howden on Day 3...I guess we'll see in a few years.
Grade: B+

K Jake Moody Michigan 6'1" 209
Across the board Moody was considered the top K in the draft and by all accounts he's a stone cold killer with a big leg. But I still cannot wrap my head around using a top 100 pick on any specialist, particularly when there were plenty of starting caliber OLs (Saldiveri, Freeland, Warren), DEs (McGuire, Abdullah, Horton) and CBs (Ringo, Bennett) on the board. Yes the Patriots took another kicker about 10 picks later, so maybe Moody wouldn't have lasted, but honestly, who cares? I don't believe the delta between Moody and Zane Gonzalez is worth a top 100 pick. Let's put it this way, would the Eagles or Chiefs ever use a premium pick on this position? No, they're too busy drafting beasts on both lines and in the secondary. I get the need, but this is horrific value, plain and simple.
Grade: C-

TE Cameron Latu Alabama 6'4" 242
He can't run (4.78 40 and his 1.66 10 yard split would've been the slowest at the combine), he can't catch (11.1% drop rate) and he can't block, but besides that Latu is great! This pick is utterly dumbfounding. Yes, I know the 49ers were looking for a #2 TE, but Latu was the biggest reach of the draft. Most analysts expected him to go in late 5th / 6th round, and instead the Niners grabbed in round 3. What?!? I would die to know what the front office sees in this guy. Last year, I was similarly dismayed by the Ty Davis-Price pick and here's what I wrote then: "He was a fine RB at LSU, but never had a season where he averaged over 4.8 yards per cary. He's not particularly elusive, not particularly big and doesn't have any one special trait. So what did the Niners see here?" Once again, the Niners reached badly for an incredibly middling player. If the Niners wanted a well-rounded TE, why not opt for Josh Whyle who went nearly 50 picks later to Tennessee. If they wanted a good blocking TE, why not Payne Durham or Davis Allen who both went more than 70 picks later. If they wanted to bet on traits, then Will Mallory (162 overall), Elijah Higgins (197 overall ) or Zack Kuntz who's an absolute freak (7th round would've all been superior choices. Instead this team once again passed on a bunch of talent at CB, DE and OL to grab someone whow will be lucky to play out his rookie deal.
Grade: F

CB Darrell Luter Jr. Southern Alabama 6'0" 189
By far the best pick of the draft. Luter Jr. is long, explosive and sticky in coverage. He allowed comically low completion % and QBR and the only question he faces is quality of competition though he performed very well at the Senior Bowl. Luter reminds me of a more traits-y Emmanuel Moseley and he figures to eventually be a very solid #2 CB. The only reason this pick isn't an A is because I feel like there were some high upside players still on the board including CBs Cory Trice Jr and Terell Smith and DEs Nick Hampton and BJ Thompson (who both went shortly after to Rams and Chiefs, respectively). Overall, I feel the Niners may have another 5th round steal on their hands with Luter Jr.
Grade: A-

DE Robert Beal Jr. George 6'4" 247
When you look at Beal and his athletic profile, you think slam dunk first rounder. He's incredibly long, with over 34" inch arms, and he posted absurd 40, 10-yard split and broad jump numbers. But despite all these physical gifts he never cracked Georgia's lineup and failed to produce consistently. Beal doesn't have a refined pass rushing repertoire or much (any?) feel for the position. He also lacks strength, putting up only 14 reps on the bench. He'll need time in an NFL weight room and plenty of instruction, but he should be able to contribute as a pure, situational pass rusher where he comes screaming off the edge. Personally, I would've loved the 49ers to target Nick Hampton, BJ Thompson earlier, or even considered Jose Ramirez or Lonnie Phelps instead of Beal. This is a high risk / high reward bet that I like the Niners taking late in the 5th.
Grade: B

LB Dee Winters TCU 5'11" 227
Winters is blur at LB. With 4.49 speed, he's is the quintessential sideline-to-sideline LB and had great success on blitzes. He's definitely on the smaller side but has decent arm length. In addition he was a team captain at TCU and a special teams standout; I imagine he may have been one of the Niners' scouting departments gold helmet guys. He'll play a key role on ST next year and I suspect the Niners will start grooming him to replace Dre Greenlaw in two years.
Grade: B

TE Brayden Willis Oklahoma 6'3" 241
Willis a high-effort player who's a good blocker in space and willing to stick his nose in-line as well. He's not refined receiver by any stretch, but he's good after the catch and shows some burst in the open field. All in all, I think he's at least as good a prospect as Latu though I don't anticipate either will be the long-term solution at TE; the difference of course is that Willis was taken ~150 picks later.
Grade: B

WR Ronnie Bell Michigan 5'11" 191
Bell is an intriguing prospect who won't wow you in any one dimension but he does everything well. He's a natural route runner, tough as nails, has good short-area quickness and has some explosiveness to boot (38" vertical). He also has some value as a kick-returner. I expect him to challenge for a roster spot this year and he could even push for playing time. Bell is a football player.
Grade: A-

LB Jalen Graham Purdue 6'2" 221
Graham is a long, physical LB who plays with a ton of energy and has strong instincts. It'll be tough for him to make the 53-man roster given the depth the Niners have at LB, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him push for a roster spot in a year or two.
Grade: B-

Summary:
For the second year in a row, you really have to wonder what the 49ers' decision making framework is for the draft. As teams like the Eagles, Seahawks, Chiefs load up on elite talent at DL, OL, CB and key skill positions, the Niners are taking Kickers and reaching for TEs and RBs with valuable top 100 picks. Besides Brown who should be a solid playmaking S and future starter, the rest of the 3rd Round is laughable. Passing on potential starting OTs like Nick Saldiveri and Blake Freeland and CBs like Keelee Ringo for a K and likely #3 TE is criminal. The Niners made up for it slightly later in the draft, betting on toolsy players at important positions with Luter Jr. and Beal Jr. but the Latu pick in particular sticks out as the worst in recent memory. I fully expect Willis - who was taken nearly 150 picks later to outplay him; this is going to ben exactly like Trey Sermon vs Eli Mitchell. We'll see if Latu can make it to year 2. While their biggest rivals were busy loading up, Niners brass were cracking jokes about taking a kicker in the 3rd. The hubris of this front office is stultifying and portends very badly for a team that desperately needs to replenish talent at key positions to maintain the competitive balance of power. Despite not drafting until late on Day 2, the Niners had plenty of opportunities to add key depth and talent in important positions; time and again they failed to do so. This makes me very worried about the fate of this roster beyond the 2023 season.
Final Grade: C-

And here's who I would've drafted if I were pulling the strings...
99: OL Nick Saldiveri Old Dominion
101: CB Kelee Ringo Georgia
102: DE Isaiah McGuire Missouri
5th: DE Nick Hampton Appalachian St.
5th: TE Davis Allen Clemson
5th: WR Andrei Iosivas Princeton
6th: TE Zack Kuntz Old Dominion
7th: OL Jake Witt Northern Michigan
7th: S Anthony Johnson Jr. Iowa St.
7th: CB Rezjohn Wright Oregon St.
7th: LB Ivan Pace Cincinnati
An observation: The 49ers picked from big schools (except Luter Jr) whereas you have a lot of small school players.
I like our draft way better than yours.
A few things stood out to me. One was the, as you mentioned, joking about taking a RB. The other was them saying there was a run in OL early and it made it so there was no one left, yet that's exactly what happened at TE and they took Latu anyway
Latu was a reach, but he's not a bad player at all. He was solid at Alabama and had almost 800 yards with 12 TDs the last two seasons as like a 5th receiving option. He also had a big game in the National Championship game. He's also a good blocker. Some of you act like he didn't do anything. Some kind of deep personal hatred for him because they didn't take Saldiveri.

Also, Beal did crack Georgia's starting lineup and lead the team in sacks (more then Travon Walker) in 2021.
[ Edited by btthepunk on Apr 30, 2023 at 12:56 AM ]
There is a thread on this in NinerTalk.
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