The highlight of the 2017 NFL Draft for most 49ers fans was the first round. Rightfully so after the team selected DE Solomon Thomas at #3 (via trade with Chicago) and LB Reuben Foster at #31 (via trade with Seattle) After the hype of the first night was over, the 49ers also brought in some really intriguing prospects on day two and three of the draft that can help rebuild this roster.
The 49ers were smart to go heavy on the defensive side early in this draft after having one of the leagues worst ranked units in 2016. At the same time, I don’t think the defense was as bad as it played last year which was mainly due to the terrible scheme that was ran by former DC Jim O’Neil. This offseason, new Head Coach Kyle Shanahan hired Robert Saleh who will be transitioning the team into a 4-3 defense. Just like the rest of the roster, there has been a huge overhaul this offseason to acquire players who correctly fit that scheme.
(3rd Round 66th Overall)
Witherspoon is an athletic corner that has outstanding size (6’3) and speed (4.45 40 at the Combine). His speed and quick feet translates very well as his long strides help him to close rapidly on the ball. Ahkello is able to break up a lot of passes due to his length and leaping ability (40 1/2 vertical). He ended last year with a nation leading 23 passes defensed. The area that I like most is that he has great awareness, he doesn’t seem to bite on many double moves. While he has many great attributes to get excited about he still has some serious flaws that need to be worked on. The one area that stands out most is his tackling ability or lack of effort in trying to make them. Witherspoon will need to also add some bulk to compete with the more physical receivers in the NFL. One of the teams biggest needs going into the draft was at cornerback, while they have added depth at the position there are a lot of question marks.
Best Case Scenario- Ahkello ends up as the number two starting cornerback on the team opposite of Rashard Robinson.
Draft Grade- B
Pro Comparison- Richard Sherman (If he learns to be more aggressive and tackle)
DT Ole Miss
(6th Round 198 Overall)
DJ Jones (6 feet 0, 321 pounds) was a top-five junior college recruit in 2015 and had 30 tackles and two sacks in 2016 for the Rebels. Jones is a stout, disruptive nose tackle who has a great combination of power and athleticism. Using his agility, balance and good motor he is able to track down the ball carrier. I like how he plays with a low pad level which gives him leverage. Jones has rare lateral quickness for an interior player with a solid spin move. While the spin move is good asset, he will need to develop more variety than just that to be effective in the NFL. Just like many late round picks it will be hard for him to make a team, especially with the 49ers who have invested a lot recently on the d-line.
Best Case Scenario- DJ will be a rotation player in his first year and he develops more of a pass rush ability to receive playing time.
Draft Grade- B
Pro Comparison- Earl Mitchell
(6th Round 202 overall)
Pita Taumoepenu is a pass rush specialist with limited exposure to the field. Over the last two seasons, he’s played only 335 snaps with 7 career starts but he still racked up 12 sacks. Taumoepenu is a quick twitch athlete off the edge who can blow by blockers with his speed and his quickness off of the snap. The thing that I like the most about him is his motor, it seems never ending. Pita is extremely raw and will have to be coached up. He doesn’t have strength to be a force on the line in the run game. Edge pass rush was considered one of the teams highest needs, however they waited until the 6th round to address it which is quite alarming. Some believe that Pita was a slight reach as he may have even went undrafted.
Best Case Scenario- Pita will make the team as a pass rush specialist, possibly a backup will backer and special teams role.
Draft Grade- C
Pro Comparison- Christian Jones
(7th Round 229 overall)
Colbert (6’2, 205) finished 2016 with 22 tackles, one interception and three pass deflections. He spent 3 years at Texas before transferring to Miami. Colbert is a classic height-weight-speed prospect that’s hard to miss on film. He has solid coverage skills and is a hard-hitting presence on the field. He is able to turn his hips and run with outside receivers. I believe that he could turn out to be a steal and could really excel in this defense. However to succeed he will need to to improve his overall strength and tackling ability.
Best Case Scenario- His best bet to make the team is through special teams and an transition to Safety.
Draft Grade- B-
Pro Comparison- Louis Delmas
SS St Francis
I wanted to add Jerome to this list because he is my favorite UDFA defensive player and I truly believe that he can make the team. He has killer instincts and is a ballhawk. I honestly didn’t know much about him until after watching the NFLPA game and Senior Bowl where he shined. So I went back and watched his film and what stood out was that he was willing to do anything possible to help his team. Lorenzo had 59 tackles, 11 pass break-ups, 6 interceptions and 1 kick return touchdown in his senior season . There will be concerns if he can translate from a small school to the NFL along with his poor Scouting Combine performance but the kid is a playmaker.
Best Case Scenario- He can make the team by excelling on special teams and a backup safety.
Pro Comparison- Malcolm Jenkins (Poor Mans)
So why so defensive?
Because defense wins championships!!