Grading 49ers’ first three draft picks

© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports


The first two rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft have concluded, and the 49ers have added three new players: Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, and Jalen Hurd.

Here is how we graded the selections:

Nick Bosa, No. 2  overall

Grade: A

Last year, when the 49ers beat the Seattle Seahawks for the first time in their previous 11 matchups, forward-looking fans feared San Francisco had lost out on a more substantial prize: Bosa. Widely considered the best player in the 2019 NFL Draft, Bosa was undoubtedly going top-three, if not No. 1 overall.

Then, the Cardinals hired offensive-minded head coach Kliff Kingsbury and ultimately drafted Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray with the top pick Thursday, leaving Bosa available for the 49ers at No. 2 overall. This was the home-run pick.

It says something that Bosa’s status as a top prospect didn’t change despite missing all but three games in his final college season due to a core muscle injury. One year earlier, Bosa was named to the first-team All-Big Ten team after amassing 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2017. Bosa — viewed as a carbon copy of his Pro-Bowl brother, Joey — will elevate the 49ers defense immediately.

Last year, the 49ers defensive ends tallied 14 total sacks. The 49ers set all-time NFL lows with seven turnovers and two interceptions, largely traced to the lack of pressure. The No. 1 priority, from a personnel standpoint, entering 2019 was adding multiple edge rushers.

Now, the 49ers have added a Pro Bowler (Dee Ford), alongside the most polished defensive end prospect in at least the past two drafts (Bosa). The Ohio State product will play the big end spot, with Ford lining up primarily at the LEO (weak-side edge) position. The 49ers now have five first-round draft picks — featuring Bosa, Ford, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Solomon Thomas — on the defensive line, turning a weakness into one of their greatest strengths.

Deebo Samuel, No. 36 overall

Grade: A

A common complaint of the 49ers offense is its lack of a big-bodied, red-zone threat. Shanahan doesn’t endorse these prototypes. He’d rather have a receiver who can run every route and gain separation at will, rather than someone who physically overwhelms opponents.

The 49ers had the opportunity to take the former type, with Iowa State’s Hakeem Butler, Stanford’s J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, and Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf available at No. 36 overall. Instead, Shanahan chose Samuel, a sub-six-foot receiver who is much more polished than freaky.

Samuel is arguably the top receiver in this draft for all of the little things. He’s a complete route runner who can line up all over the field. He rarely loses at the line of scrimmage. He’s a yards-after-the-catch monster who compares his game to Golden Tate. He’s sure-handed. And he has a nose for the end zone, catching 11 touchdowns in 2018 despite inconsistent quarterback play.

Samuel and the 49ers have longstanding mutual interest. They coached Samuel at January’s Senior Bowl, met with him one month later at the NFL Combine, and invited him for a pre-draft visit earlier this month. Samuel has complimented Shanahan’s scheme and route concepts. He foresees himself thriving in them.

If you trust Shanahan as an offensive mind, you should trust his receiving evaluations, given that’s the position he played and coached as he broke into the NFL. He has now drafted a receiver in the second round of the past two drafts. Both Dante Pettis and Samuel are polished, versatile receivers who can line up everywhere.

Samuel has proven he can dominate against top competition. He went for 10 catches, 210 yards, and three touchdowns against Clemson, perhaps college football’s closest semblance to an NFL defense. He amassed 62 catches for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018.

Samuel will naturally fit at the “Z” spot, where he played when the 49ers coached him in January’s Senior Bowl. He replaces Pierre Garcon, who was released in January.

The team’s biggest weaknesses entering the draft were at big end and “Z” receiver. In the first two rounds, the 49ers filled those needs, with arguably the draft’s top options at both.

Jalen Hurd, No. 67 overall

Grade: B-

For a team picking No. 2 overall, the 49ers don’t have many glaring needs aside from edge rusher and receiver. This draft was all about nailing the first two picks and fleshing the rest of it out with high-potential, versatile players who could blossom into difference-makers down the line. Last year’s third-round pick, Tarvarius Moore, is a good example of this line of thinking — the 49ers drafted him with the plan to switch him from safety to cornerback. He graded as one of the most elite athletes in last year’s draft.

Hurd fits that billing, too. He is far from the polished prospect that Bosa and Samuel are, which has something to do with his backstory.

The 6-foot-4 Hurd was a five-star running back recruit coming out of high school, earning Tennessee’s Mr. Football as a senior. He committed to Tennessee and led the team in rushing his freshman year. When coaches didn’t grant his request to switch positions as a result of concussion concerns one year later, he transferred, then redefined himself at Baylor. He became a receiver-running back hybrid in 2018, winning the Pac 12 Newcomer of the Year Award after compiling 69 catches, 946 yards, and four touchdowns in 2018. He added 48 rushes for 209 yards and three touchdowns.

The 49ers have a bit of everything in mind for Hurd. He is a receiver, first, but will also see some carries. Shanahan will likely use Hurd in specific packages and find ways to get him operating in the open field.

“If (Hurd) would have stayed at running back, I believe he would have been drafted as an NFL running back,” Shanahan told reporters. “If he tried to play tight end, I think he could have gotten drafted as an NFL tight end. I don’t remember being able to say that about any player I’ve studied before.”

Throughout this offseason, Shanahan has added dynamic playmakers, even if there wasn’t a major need for them. The 49ers signed Tevin Coleman despite retaining the speedy backfield of Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida. But Coleman just poses another dangerous, recyclable option, similar to Hurd. Shanahan will find ways to use them.

You could argue the 49ers need to add secondary depth, but they simply haven’t given us any reason to believe they would use a high pick on a cornerback or safety. Adding a high-upside player like Hurd was a solid choice.

 

Win!

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