5 low-key NFL Draft options for 49ers who are flying under the radar
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers have to be hoping for some late gems and sleepers in the 2023 NFL Draft since they don’t pick in Rounds 1 or 2, and these names are enticing.
The San Francisco 49ers have a very good history of finding talent late in the NFL Draft.
Perhaps it started out in 2017 with the fifth-round addition of All-Pro tight end George Kittle. Since then, the Niners have landed linebacker Dre Greenlaw (Round 5), All-Pro safety Talanoa Hufanga (Round 5), and most recently, quarterback Brock Purdy (Round 7).
Few of those names were discussed much leading up to their respective draft classes. And yet they’ve become integral pieces of the current San Francisco squad heading into 2023.
Speaking of 2023, the 49ers don’t possess first- or second-round picks in this year’s draft, and they won’t be selecting until the back end of Round 3, meaning essentially every pick who’ll be available is either a sleeper or dramatic faller.
And there will likely be some under-the-radar options, too, including these five.
No. 5: Fresno State QB Jake Haener
Purdy’s ascent from being Mr. Irrelevant in 2022 highlights why it’s vital to draft a quarterback every year, and the Niners did so despite not truly needing one at the time. At least not with Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance in tow.
With Purdy poised to be the guy in 2023, San Francisco can still onboard someone like Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener as a potential QB3 option to push Lance and fellow signal-caller Sam Darnold for a spot on the depth chart.
And, potentially, to serve as a developmental project for future seasons.
Haener figures to be a late day-three pick and has the makeup for a decent backup at the NFL level.
For what it’s worth, the 49ers already met with Haener at their local pro day.
No. 4: South Dakota State TE Tucker Kraft
The Niners have to start thinking awfully hard about finding an eventual replacement for Kittle, who is getting up there in age and will turn 30 years old this season. While he still has plenty of football left in him, San Francisco would be wise to take advantage of what’s viewed as an extremely deep tight end class in this year’s draft.
South Dakota State tight end Tucker Kraft could be one of those targets, especially if he slips to the end of Round 3.
The 6-foot-5, 254-pound prospect put together an impressive NFL Scouting Combine and managed to post over 770 receiving yards back during his 2021 season.
It might take a couple of years, but Kraft could eventually emerge as a TE1 player.
No. 3: Sacramento State LB/S Marte Mapu
The 49ers like linebackers who play like safeties (or safeties who play like linebackers), and that’s what they’ve effectively gotten out of Greenlaw and All-Pro Fred Warner in recent years.
Sacramento State’s storybook 2022 season produced plenty of standouts, and linebacker Marte Mapu was one of them.
Mapu is a versatile defender who can occupy a number of roles despite being a bit of a tweener at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds. While that might hinder his draft stock, and the team that selects him has to account for his role, getting into the right fit could turn him into a quality asset.
Like Haener, the Niners also met with Mapu.
No. 2: Georgia CB Kelee Ringo
San Francisco doesn’t have too many glaring holes on the roster, but a No. 2 boundary cornerback could easily be one of them.
Deommodore Lenoir filled this void over the second half of 2022 and could be in the running to do so again. Even if he does, however, finding some quality depth would be nice. And that’s where the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Georgia cornerback Kelee Ringo comes into play.
Ringo not only has the ideal body type for a boundary corner, but he’s also fast. He ran a 4.36 40-yard time at the NFL Combine.
Yet he’s not being discussed as a first-round target despite his upside, and it’s surely within the realm of possibility that he slips into the third round.
No. 1: Tulane RB Tyjae Spears
The 49ers developed a bad habit of taking running backs in the third round in each of the last two seasons with Trey Sermon and Tyrion Davis-Price. Sermon is no longer with the team, and it’s possible Davis-Price is on a similar trajectory after his own disappointing rookie season in 2022.
So, why would the Niners want another running back?
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If they went after Tulane’s Tyjae Spears, it have to be in the later rounds. As someone who’s likely to hear his name called on day three, Spears has enough prowess to be a complementary back to All-Pro Christian McCaffrey and potentially usurping someone like the oft-injured Elijah Mitchell on the depth chart.
Spears isn’t a bell-cow kind of running back, but his change-of-pace nature could be a solid addition to an otherwise stacked San Francisco offense.