Grading the Draft: San Francisco 49ers

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

Even before the draft the Niners were winners, as general manager John Lynch -- whose hire was questioned by many -- left people guessing which direction the franchise would go on draft weekend.


Solomon Thomas




Reuben Foster




Ahkello Witherspoon




C.J. Beathard




Joe Williams




George Kittle




Trent Taylor


Louisiana Tech


D.J. Jones


Ole Miss


Pita Taumoepenu




Adrian Colbert


Miami (FL)

UDFA Signings: JP Flynn, OL, Montana State; Jimmie Gilbert, LB, Colorado; Lorenzo Jerome, S, Saint Francis; Erik Magnuson, OT, Michigan; Darrell Williams, OT, Western Kentucky; Zach Franklin, CB, Washburn; Bret Treadway, OL, Lamar; Noble Nwachukwu, DE, West Virginia; Tyler McCloskey, FB/TE, Houston; Malik Golden, S, Penn State; Evan Goodman, OL, Arizona State; Cole Hikutini, TE, Louisville; Donavin Newsom, LB, Missouri; Victor Bolden, WR, Oregon State; Matt Breida, RB, Georgia Southern; Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Mississippi; Kendrick Bourne, WR, Eastern Washington

The Niners started off with a bang, swapping picks with the Chicago Bears, getting a boatload in return and selecting Solomon Thomas with the draft's third pick.

While it was the third consecutive draft the franchise expended a first-round pick on a defensive lineman, Thomas immediately improves the talent, intensity and versatility of the unit. Though he's a smaller lineman and may not possess much growth potential, the quickness, speed and natural strength Thomas brings will help him develop into a three-down lineman.

The reasons for Reuben Foster's drop down draft boards were well-documented but when he tumbled into the very late part of Round 1, San Francisco traded up and grabbed him. My biggest concern on Foster is his injuries, something that plagues a number of Crimson Tide prospects. Moving up for Foster was worth the gamble, and if he stays healthy this move will be comparable to swapping picks with the Bears.

In the lead-up to the draft I thought Ahkello Witherspoon was underrated and overlooked. He has the size, speed and ball skills to start at the next level, and Witherspoon showed great progress in 2016. He's a bit of a different character and his personality did not mesh with every team, but the bottom line is that Witherspoon can play.

Prior to the season I thought C.J. Beathard was one of the better senior quarterback prospects in the country and graded him as a second-day pick. After his uninspired play last season I was not as sure and think the third round was a little early for his services, but Beathard comes with great intangibles and plays smart football. If he gets his game back on track and the Niners are willing to design an offense around him -- Beathard is more a game manager and lacks a vertical arm -- he could develop into the team's starter.

Joe Williams nicely projects as a third-down back who can take handoffs on the inside, run a toss sweep and catch the ball out of the backfield. His sudden but short-lived retirement last season concerns me.

George Kittle is a developmental prospect with terrific size and speed but very limited productivity. He has a great upside but needs a lot of work and playing experience.

Trent Taylor was one of the best route-runners from the receiver class in April's draft. He's a sure-handed pass catcher with poor size and speed. Taylor projects as a slot receiver and return specialist.

For a while some believed D.J. Jones could end up in the middle rounds, but where the Niners took him at the end of Round 6 was more representative of his talent. Jones plays athletic football for a big man, showing good change of direction and the ability to make plays down the line. He'll do well as a nose tackle or zero-technique lineman.

Pita Taumoepenu could find a home as a designated pass rusher while Adrian Colbert is a downhill strong safety type. Both players will have to make their marks on special teams.

The Niners signed a ton of free agents and came away with several good prospects. Receivers Victor Bolden and Kendrick Bourne have potential to nail down the fifth receiver spot or end up on the practice squad. I thought Jimmie Gilbert was a better fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but the bottom line is that the guy is a playmaker. Donavin Newsom was one of the most overlooked linebackers in this draft, and I would not be surprised at all if he makes the roster as a backup weakside defender.

Analysis: The Niners left the draft as a significantly improved football team. Lynch made terrific moves during the seven rounds and signed talented players after the draft. They chose defensive players with impact potential at the top, solid developmental players in the middle rounds and special teams prospects who can be situational players on the last day. Grade: A-