Why the 49ers Drafted Ricky Pearsall: It's All About the Traits

Kyle Shanahan targets his wide receiver skill profie at 31.

At the 31st pick of the NFL Draft big names were on the board, players the 49ers could not have expected to be there in Jer’Zhan Newton, Cooper DeJean, and A.D. Mitchell. Turns out who fell didn’t matter, Kyle Shanahan had already locked in on his target: 6-1/189, 23-year-old Florida wide receiver Ricky Pearsall.

Why Pearsall?

As always with the receiver picks it’s about what Kyle Shanahan values: separation, route running, setting up and coming out of breaks, changing speeds, reliable hands, and competitiveness. Pearsall checked all of the boxes but one, he’s not a great YAC receiver with just nine missed forced tackles this season.

Pearsall helped his cause in the Senior Bowl practices at Mobile.

“The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Pearsall was the receiver who caught my eye the most during Senior Bowl practices. One of the top route runners at the event, he is able to sink his hips and get in and out of his breaks, and he even flashed the speed to win vertically. There wasn’t a route that he couldn’t run this week, and defensive backs had trouble keeping the ball out of his hands.”
– Jordan Reid, ESPN, Senior Bowl Top Risers

The scouting report from NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah:

“Pearsall is a loose, smooth wideout with outstanding hands and toughness. He is quick in his release and he understands how to change gears as a route runner. He is fluid getting into and out of breaks. He has outstanding hands. He attacks the ball at the highest point and makes some circus catches. After the catch, he is quick to transition up the field and has the elusiveness to make defenders miss in space. He has a lean frame, but he plays with excellent toughness and competitiveness. Pearsall followed up an excellent 2023 season with a solid week at the Senior Bowl and should have a starting role from Day 1 for his drafting team.”

Shanahan also values testing numbers at the Combine and Pearsall was a standout in several categories, posting the fastest 3-cone time, along with a 4.41 40, 17 bench reps, and a 42 vertical.

Positives and Negatives

Pro: The hands. A 3% drop rate. One-handed circus catches and a 50% contested catch rate despite the thin frame. Smart routes, great at changing speeds, high points well thanks to the big vert. Competes well in big games with six catches for 99 yards vs. Georgia, seven for 103 against LSU. His season best was 10 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown against South Carolina. He plays with toughness and is a willing blocker. Pearsall also returns punts.

Con: The size. He’s too light at 6-1/189 and can lose to press man coverage and physicality. He lacks the physical leverage to win more frequently on contested catches. He needs to add to his core strength. Most of his catches were against off-coverage. Age is also a concern as he’s 23 and will need to see the field soon and develop quickly.

Was this a reach pick? He was projected for 35-45.

He was picked a little early. However, the Niners likely didn’t have an opportunity to trade down with the top-six quarterbacks already taken.

This was Shanahan’s choice out of the six receivers in the late first-early second group. It appears the Niners decided well before Pearsall was chosen that would be the position group and one of those six would be the pick.

Why wide receiver at 31?

With the Niners shopping Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel before the draft, wide receiver is an urgent need.

Why not the name players still on the board?  Newton has length concerns and the Niners have a body type they prefer on the defensive line. DeJean has tight hips and struggles to stay in phase, but at free safety he could have been optimized. A.D. Mitchell and Xavier Legette come down to Shanahan’s skill profile preferences. With Kool-Aid McKinstry there are effort questions.

What about center? As I said in my mock draft, center has a low position value, Shanahan prefers vets, and this center class is ten deep.

What would you have done?

I would have tried to trade up for Quinyon Mitchell or Terrion Arnold when they fell so far. Impact playmakers at a need position representing huge value that late. At 31, I mocked Legette, but Shanahan knows exactly what he is looking for at receiver.


Picking Pearsall at 31 indicates the team is looking to move on from Jauan Jennings and Deebo Samuel. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Niners are now taking trade calls for Aiyuk, Samuel, and Jennings. Another receiver pick could be coming.


Given his age and being picked at 31, Pearsall will need to get on the field in the near term to develop. While he has returned punts, he’s not elite at it and better returners can be had on Day 3 of the draft.

Pearsall has the routes, gear shifting, and hands to make an impact. Shanahan chose this specific chess piece with a plan in mind, we’ll see how it plays out.

Published |Modified
Tom Jensen