49ers roster 2023: Ji'Ayir Brown should have this goal his rookie year

San Francisco 49ers defensive back Ji'Ayir Brown (27)
San Francisco 49ers defensive back Ji'Ayir Brown (27) / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages

The 49ers' top pick from the 2023 NFL Draft, Ji'Ayir Brown, could find himself used in a variety of ways during his rookie season.

The San Francisco 49ers felt as if they had a good plan in place to mitigate the free-agent loss of their longest-tenured player, defensive back Jimmie Ward, who signed with the Houston Texans this offseason.

For starters, the Niners retained fellow veteran safety Tashaun Gipson on a one-year deal, and Gipson effectively held Ward out of his natural safety spot in 2022.

But Gipson will turn 33 years old prior to the start of the regular season, which meant San Francisco had to get younger by a good margin.

That route landed the 49ers former Penn State defensive back Ji'Ayir Brown, for whom they had to trade up in Round 3 to grab at No. 87 overall.

Read more: Ji'Ayir Brown details turbulent moments when 49ers drafted him

Brown played a number of spots within the Nittany Lions' secondary, and his final two seasons put him on the map toward being drafted on day two.






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At 5-foot-11 and 202 pounds, Brown has the physical mentality and prowess to match up against bigger wide receivers and tight ends even if he's a bit undersized for anything aside from a nickel cornerback role.

Speaking of that, he could play there in 2023. Or he could play at free safety, too, assuming he beats out someone like Gipson in training camp.

However, as far as goals are concerned for the Niners' new rookie, starting over someone like Gipson should be No. 1 on Brown's list.

What position will Ji'Ayir Brown play for 49ers this season?

The good thing about being a versatile defensive back is, well... versatility.

Not unlike how Ward began his pro career with San Francisco, it wouldn't be out of the question for the 49ers to simply deploy Brown wherever he's needed most. And that could feasibly be as a top reserve for any one of the spots in the secondary, including boundary cornerback despite his relatively smallish stature.

That said, Brown is best equipped for two positions in the defensive backfield: free safety and nickel cornerback.

If Brown beats out Gipson, it'd be an indication of what the Niners want to happen all along, except for the transition from the veteran to the rookie would have happened sooner than anticipated.

Read more: 4 Niners veterans who could lose their jobs to rookies

It's also feasible San Francisco tries Brown at slot corner, although he'd have to beat out one of the team's bigger-name free-agent pickups from the offseason, Isaiah Oliver, who looks to be the favorite there anyway.

Of course, as David Lombardi and Matt Barrows of The Athletic pointed out, featuring Brown in the increasingly prevalent three-safety sets is also a strong possibility.

How much is Ji'Ayir Brown earning with 49ers in 2023?

Brown enters year one of his four-year rookie deal that'll carry him through the 2026 season.

According to Over the Cap, Brown will receive up to $981,055 this season with $924,220 fully guaranteed, that latter amount being his signing bonus.

What are the expectations for Ji'Ayir Brown his rookie season?

Multiple reports from both organized team activities and mandatory minicamp touted Brown's upside, including an ability to lurk and bait quarterbacks with his eyes.

That's certainly impressive, yes. But it's also important to understand that many a young defensive back will struggle early at the pro level. The opposing receivers are bigger, stronger and faster. The defensive schemes are more complex, and so are the opposing offenses.

it took Ward a few years to finally find his footing, and that's not uncommon.

Perhaps Brown winds up starting his rookie season, which would be his goal, but the likelihood is that he's eased into a starting role as the 2023 campaign moves along.

Not immediately out of the gate, although he's certainly capable of forcing that decision in his favor.

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