Why 49ers’ 2023 NFL Draft means championship window may be closing

General Manager John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
General Manager John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

The 49ers 2023 NFL Draft class was populated by late-round selections geared to the future. Niner Noise details what that might mean for the team.

The San Francisco 49ers came into the 2023 NFL Draft without a pick until the third round, following previous trades for both Trey Lance and Christian McCaffrey. Without the ability to select top-end talent early, teams are forced to be creative with their picks, and the 49ers did that, ending up with nine players selected throughout the draft.

While some specific players were terrific selections, and others questionable uses of draft capital, there is an overwhelming theme: the future.

The 49ers have arguably the best roster in the NFL, and at the very least, a top-five team. Armed with true elite talent at multiple positions, their championship window is right now. Having great players means they will eventually dictate elite salaries, and the NFL’s salary cap is designed to force teams to let off good players, one way or another.

During free agency, the Niners made a splash for defensive tackle Javon Hargrave because they knew now was the time for their roster, and while the decision is justifiable and even perhaps the correct way to attack free agency, the obvious drawback is the loss of cheap depth throughout the roster.

That’s where the draft is supposed to come in.

What San Francisco’s 2023 selections all have in common is future upside, with “future” being heavily emphasized. Apart from Jake Moody, a kicker taken in the third round who will have to be one of the best kickers in the NFL for a long time to justify such a selection, every other pick offers solutions to positions that will become problems in the future.

Ji’Ayir Brown, while a talented safety, will likely not be starting until his second year when the Niners move from Tashaun Gipson. Tight end Cameron Latu was drafted specifically because of his capacity for improvement after a late switch to the position. That doesn’t leave much optimism for his play this year. The later-round picks, such as EDGE Robert Beal, are all attempts to harness athleticism and smart play into helpful players in the future.

Having this much forward focus in the draft means two things. It’s a) the smart way to try and maximize the value of late-round picks but also an indication that b) a roster retool will be coming soon.

None of these players will be overly helpful to San Francisco this year, and that’s not inherently a bad thing. Again, one of the best rosters in the league doesn’t have many holes that need to be filled.

But it means that the 49ers acknowledge that they will have to replace many players in the near future, and they have started that process right now.

If some of these players impress immediately, as linebacker Dre Greenlaw did his rookie year or like quarterback Brock Purdy’s sensational performance a season ago, that only is a benefit. The drawback to all this is that the Niners will go into the season with a roster that is a little top-heavy at the moment.

The 49ers’ roster is beginning to reach a transition point where excelled players have left and their replacements have not yet established themselves. While the Niners will still be able to contend in the future so long as their star players remain, their overall roster strength may be on a brief decline, and this draft is proof the team is cognizant of that and working to fix it.

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