49ers top-5 most likely Round 3 NFL Draft choices in 2023
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers currently have three selections at the end of Round 3 of the 2023 NFL Draft, and these prospects are probably the biggest targets.
Things are likely going to be pretty boring for the San Francisco 49ers over the vast majority of the first three rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Then, toward the very tail end of Round 3, things will get active in a hurry.
The Niners don’t pick in this year’s draft until No. 99 overall, and then they also hold pick Nos. 101 and 102 to close out the third round, meaning general manager John Lynch and Co. will be making three picks out of four at that point in the draft.
There is plenty of talk and speculation about which prospects San Francisco will target at that point, and recent mock-draft roundups have provided some noteworthy insight.
Considering the 49ers’ short-but-significant list of roster needs heading into the draft, it’s still possible to mesh the list of draftable players who’ll likely be available and the Niners’ own fits and needs at that point in the draft.
Using our complex computers and databases (brains), here are the five prospects who are likely to be targeted most by San Francisco at the end of Round 3.
Prospects 49ers will target first in 2023 NFL Draft
Barring a trade, the 49ers will take home three prospects to close out day two of the 2023 draft, which means one or more of these likely names could end up donning the red and gold this season and beyond.
The Niners lost veteran defensive back Jimmie Ward to free agency, and his versatility will be missed. Currently, the starting free safety is Tashaun Gipson, but finding a long-term answer to plug the void is desirable.
Penn State’s Ji’Ayir Brown has that flexibility to play all over the secondary, and he also brings some downhill tenacity when tracking a ball carrier.
On the fringes between Rounds 3 and 4, he could easily be one of the players San Francisco grabs.
Linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. is a name that surprises some, because even after the 49ers lost Azeez Al-Shaair in free agency, they still have one of the better backer tandems in the league with Dre Greenlaw and All-Pro Fred Warner.
That said, Pace is a playmaking-type of off-ball linebacker who thrives in space and can serve as an excellent contingency plan in case either Greenlaw or Warner gets hurt.
Sure, the Niners have backups like Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. But Pace easily has a higher ceiling and would make an impact right away.
A nice thing about San Francisco boasting three picks within four spots of each other is that positional value won’t matter too much. The 49ers can still grab a skill player while also reinforcing the trenches, the secondary or the pass rush.
That’s where Wake Forest wide receiver A.T. Perry comes in, and Niner Noise’s Jeremy Wohlfart broke down why a team like the Niners may have interest:
"A.T. Perry is a big receiver at 6-foot-4 and 198 pounds, who ran much faster than expected at the NFL Combine with a 4.47 40-yard time. Perry had 81 receptions for 1,096 yards and 11 touchdowns for Wake Forest in 2022, which followed up an excellent 2021 where he had 71 receptions for 1,293 yards and 15 touchdowns.A productive receiver, Perry’s an excellent red-zone threat who can help in close-quarters situations. A physical receiver at the point of attack, the extra speed he showed at the combine will be interesting for teams who want to develop him as a more rounded receiver.Perry’s ability to be put outside or in the slot will appeal to the 49ers who move about their offensive pieces regularly."
It might be difficult for San Francisco to retain All-Pro Deebo Samuel and his hefty contract while also extending fellow wideout Brandon Aiyuk to something similar, meaning going after a new wide receiver is a strong possibility.
One of the reasons why Ward was so valuable to the 49ers secondary was his versatility, and he essentially locked down the nickel cornerback role for all of last season after Gipson took his free safety spot.
Now, the Niners have some relatively unproven options for the third cornerback role, such as second-year man Samuel Womack.
Yet TCU cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson is a player who regularly showed up on mock drafts for San Francisco and might be a great addition to an already talented secondary that could use some more youth.
Despite his small 5-foot-8 frame, Hodges-Tomlinson plays bigger than his size would indicate, and his five interceptions over the last two years suggest he has some ballhawking potential, too.
San Francisco might get away with not drafting a defensive back, pass-rusher, wide receiver or a linebacker.
It better not pass on an offensive lineman.
The free-agent loss of right tackle Mike McGlinchey opens a glaring hole on that side of the line, and the immediate contingency plan of inserting backup tackle Colton McKivitz into a starter’s role isn’t exactly inspiring.
So, not unlike Hodges-Tomlinson showing up on a lot of 49ers mock drafts, BYU tackle Blake Freeland is a name commonly associated with one of the Niners’ first picks in Round 3.
Like McGlinchey, Freeland is a better run blocker coming out of college and will need some refinement in pass protection. But he stems from a zone-style blocking system, and that’s what San Francisco still operates.
The 2023 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday, April 27, and the 49ers are scheduled to make their first pick the following evening.