Analysis: The 49ers' Plug-and-Play Draft

Solid taent, particulalry in the secondary, but a whiff at tackle may prove costly.
Sep 16, 2023; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Jacob Cowing (2) celebrates a
Sep 16, 2023; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Jacob Cowing (2) celebrates a / Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports

Drafts are characterized by the team goal entering it. For the Niners, the goal was a modest one, to add versatile depth hoping a few players can become starters in 2025 and beyond.

Was that the right call? Picking 31st in a draft that was thin in the first, combined with the top-six quarterbacks coming off the board, left the Niners with pick their receiver a little early, or deal down and risk losing hm. So with only one path left they took Florida’s Ricky Pearsall as a complementary piece to Brandon Aiyuk.

1st Round: Ricky Pearsall (Florida) WR

The Pearsall pick was criticized as a reach and a low-value pick, which takes me back to Bill Walsh. When he was told a player would be a low value pick Walsh said that’s for scouts and meaningless to him, he only cared about the player’s value to the team.

Taking Walsh’s approach, Pearsall will deliver value, Kyle Shanahan can optimize his traits. Two receivers that can separate, run great routes, change speeds, and catch will move the chains.

Pearsall needs to add core strength, but he has everything else. Pearsall is the football equivalent of a gym rat with vacuum cleaner hands and a 10-speed gear shift, he’ll work his way to targets and a role in 2024, and a starting job in 2025. I think he will be an impact starter, but only for four years. More on that in the draft pros and cons column next.

2nd Round: Waiting for Rosengarten

The second round saw the overconfident Niners expect Washington right tackle Roger Rosengarten to be gift-wrapped to them at 63 only to see Baltimore take him at 62.

This should not have come as a surprise, several national mocks had the Ravens taking a tackle at 62, with some mocking Rosengarten to them. A move up a few spots would have solved that.

Why do I think Rosengarten was the pick? The private workout trip to Seattle, his working with Joe Staley, and trading out after Baltimore picked him, a telltale sign of a lost target in the draft.

Another key, no tackle taken in the draft. My theory is they weren’t prepared to pick another tackle, because they assumed they would get Rosengarten, and the tackle class thinned after him. Final point, after losing Rosengarten due to passively waiting, they dealt up in the 3rd and the 4th. That's reacting to a mistake.

Reeling after losing Rosengarten, the Niners improvised into a fortunate accident. A DB picked earlier than the third for the first time in 20 years.

Renardo Green (Florida State) DB

Defensive back was a need on two fronts, the lack of a proven 3rd corner, and most of the secondary being a free agent next year.

Green is an aggressive press man corner with proven success against the top receivers in the country, holding first round WRs Pearsall and LSU’s Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. to a collective quarterback rating of 28.7.

Green is not as effective in off-coverage, so the Niners may be looking to use him in a spot role.

The concern with Green is he’s handsy. Six penalties this season including four pass interference calls. He’ll have to be coached out of that, which is why I don’t expect Green to land a starting role early, but he can be utilized more later in the season.

3rd Round: Dominick Puni (Kansas) OG

Puni shined in the practices at Mobile, including snaps at center. He has great feet for his size, is a violent striker, pulls well, and mirrors well. I don’t think he starts early but does compete at RG as he’s groomed to replace Aaron Banks at LG next year.

4th Round (124): Malik Mustapha (Wake Forest) S

This is the lone rookie who could start, in my view, their best pick of the draft. Mustapha fits simulated pressure, he had four career sacks. He diagnoses quickly, plays sideline-to-sideline, and finishes with good closing speed. 51.7% completion rate against, with 20 PBUs and three picks career.

4th Round (129): Isaac Guerendo (Louisville) RB/KR

Guerendo is a track guy, a 10.5 sprinter and 24-5 long jumper in high school. His 4.33 speed will be utilized as the primary kickoff returner and on gadget plays. Guerendo is another pick aimed at replacing Deebo Samuel.

4th Round (135): Jacob Cowing (Arizona) WR/PR

This pick served play design over the team. How many touches is Cowing going to get? Even after they move on from Samuel? An indulgent kid in the candy store pick from Shanahan. I believe in Cowing, he’s a threat-to-score player and will help on punt returns, but will his collective contribution outweigh a pick in the trenches here? No.

6th Round: Jarrett Kingston (USC) OG

What you should do in the 6th, pick traits and athleticism, and then coach him up.

7th Round: Tatum Bethune (Florida State) LB

A special teams ace that fit the team position profile as an explosive downhill filler with coverage skills. He blitzes well, with 33 pressures and eight sacks career.


I like the Drake Nugent signing, Michigan OLs are coached well and he’ll have a chance to be the future center. Evan Anderson of FAU may stick as a needed run stuffer. Terique Owens is worth a dice roll, 12th in the country in yards per catch at 18.9.

Tom Jensen