Predicting which 49ers rookie makes biggest impact in 2023

TCU Horned Frogs linebacker Dee Winters (13)
TCU Horned Frogs linebacker Dee Winters (13) / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There are some favorites when it comes to 49ers rookies and who'll get off to a hot start right away.

For the most part, the San Francisco 49ers' 2023 NFL Draft class wasn't focused on immediate-impact players who could proverbially "get the team over the top."

No, the nine players brought in between Rounds 3 and 7 were primarily aimed for depth in the immediate future and then for long-term impact, eventually replacing other Niners players who'll either become too old or expensive.

  • Round 3, No. 87 overall: DB Ji’Ayir Brown, Penn State
  • Round 3, No. 99 overall: K Jake Moody, Michigan
  • Round 3, No. 101 overall: TE Cameron Latu, Alabama
  • Round 5, No. 155 overall: CB Darrell Luter Jr., South Alabama
  • Round 5, No. 173 overall: EDGE Robert Beal Jr., Georgia
  • Round 6, No. 216 overall: LB Dee Winters, TCU
  • Round 7, No. 247 overall: TE Brayden Willis, Oklahoma
  • Round 7, No. 253 overall: WR Ronnie Bell, Michigan
  • Round 7, No. 255 overall: LB Jalen Graham, Purdue

It's likely most of the 2023 draft class, and perhaps even some of the undrafted free agents brought aboard, make their impact felt in 2024 or later. Just not right away.

That said, which rookies wind up having a sizable impact in year one right out of the gate?

Let's predict who and why.

49ers rookie kicker Jake Moody

This is probably the obvious selection, as San Francisco needed a kicker after watching Robbie Gould walk in free agency. And despite the 49ers trading for Zane Gonzalez during the offseason, using a third-round pick on Michigan's Jake Moody pretty much tells who the favorite is to win the job during the regular season.

Moody made 100 percent of his extra-point attempts at Michigan while also converting 82.1 percent of his field-goal tries, including a whopping 147 total points scored for the Wolverines last year.

Even if Moody is a little shaky for the Niners early on, he'll likely be the leading rookie scorer by a massive margin.

49ers rookie linebacker Dee Winters

San Francisco already lost linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair to free agency but will have Dre Greenlaw and All-Pro Fred Warner well ahead of the player many consider to be the best selection the 49ers made in the draft, former TCU linebacker Dee Winters.

A steal in Round 5, Winters has the coverage ability of a safety and will be around the ball all the time with a knack for making big plays.

Even though he'll likely only rotate in his first year, given that Greenlaw and Warner are in the way, it'll be tough not to see Winters make a sizable impact early in his career.

49ers rookie running back Ronald Awatt

It's almost a yearly tradition for the Niners to find an undrafted gem of a running back. Jordan Mason was the promising addition a year ago, and San Francisco added two more to the room after the draft this year, Marshall's Khalan Laborn and UTEP's Ronald Awatt.

Awatt is the tough tackle of the two, and while he might not be overly fast, his change-of-pace element could be enough to secure a No. 4 spot on the depth chart behind Mason, Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell.

Read More: 49ers' best, worst and most intriguing picks from 2023 draft

If any one of those three suffer an injury this year, Awatt could ultimately benefit the most.

49ers rookie cornerback Darrell Luter Jr.

The biggest expectation for impact from the 49ers' rookie class will fall upon their top pick, Penn State's Ji-Ayir Brown, who is poised to be the long-term replacement for now-Houston Texans defensive back Jimmie Ward.

But Brown might have to wait behind veteran safety Tashaun Gipson for a year, and the former's field time could be limited by older, more experienced players on a Niners team ready to win a Super Bowl now.

That said, cornerback Darrell Luter Jr. out of South Alabama could end up being a starter by day one.

San Francisco has a void there, provided it's not 100-percent sold on third-year pro Deommodore Lenoir starting opposite the clear-cut No. 1 corner, Charvarius Ward.

In fact, Luter might be the closest thing to a plug-and-play defensive back the 49ers have from their rookie class. If he gets the nod, he'll likely make the biggest impact.

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