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These NFL draft Day 3 fits can address 49ers’ glaring needs

These NFL draft Day 3 fits can address 49ers’ glaring needs originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Day 3 of the NFL draft has been a goldmine for the 49ers since the arrivals of coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch in 2017.

The foundation of San Francisco’s star-studded roster wouldn’t exist without home run selections like Brock Purdy (No. 262 overall in 2022), George Kittle (No. 146 overall in 2017), Dre Greenlaw (No. 148 overall in 2019), Talanoa Hufanga (No. 180 overall in 2021) and Deommodore Lenoir (No. 172 overall in 2021).

The 49ers currently have six selections between the fourth and seventh rounds of the 2024 NFL Draft on Saturday, with an opportunity to replenish a stacked roster that has been among the league’s best for the last half decade.

Here are the picks San Francisco enters the final day of the draft with:

Round 4 (No. 124 overall)
Round 4 (No. 135 overall)
Round 5 (No. 173 overall)
Round 5 (No. 176 overall)
Round 6 (No. 215 overall)
Round 7 (No. 251 overall)

Safety

After addressing the cornerback, offensive line and wide receiver positions in the first three rounds, the back end of the secondary remains the 49ers’ most glaring need heading into Day 3. With All-Pro Talanoa Hufanga recovering from a torn ACL and Tashaun Gipson Sr. no longer on the roster, veteran George Odum and 2022 third-round pick Ji’Ayir Brown are the only safeties on San Francisco’s roster who have logged considerable snaps with the team.

The 49ers struck gold when they selected Hufanga in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and San Francisco could go back to the well by drafting another PAC-12 safety in a similar range on Saturday. Utah’s Sione Vaki — a Bay Area native from Antioch, CA — plays with a similar grit and determination as Hufanga, flashing incredible athletic ability during his time with the Utes.

Vaki measured in at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, clocking a 4.62 40-yard dash while putting up 20 reps on the bench press at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine. The 22-year-old’s skill set isn’t only confined to the defensive side of the ball, as Vaki also logged 42 rushing attempts in 2023, averaging 7.5 yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns on the ground.

While Brown showed promise during his rookie campaign and Odum is a respected NFL veteran, the addition of a player like Vaki not only provides the 49ers insurance should there be any setbacks with Hufanga’s recovery timetable, but also opens the door for a strong rotation on the back end of a revamped secondary. This is a player who perfectly fits the mold of the culture Lynch and Shanahan have cultivated in San Francisco, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see him donning the red and gold before Saturday is over.

Offensive line

San Francisco took a step in the right direction by trading up to the No. 86 overall selection to draft Kansas offensive lineman Dominick Puni, but there is still work to be done in the trenches. Trent Williams and Aaron Banks anchored the left side with strong performances in 2023, while the right side left a bit to be desired.

Jon Feliciano ultimately took hold of the starting right guard role after splitting time with Spencer Burford, but his future remains uncertain given he is 32 years old and only signed on a one-year contract this offseason. While Puni has the versatility to play on the interior and feasibly could profile as San Francisco’s right guard of the future, the 49ers have an opportunity to land a quality player with extensive experience at the position with one of their fourth-round selections.

Texas A&M’s Layden Robinson logged 2,119 snaps at right guard during his five seasons playing for the Aggies, allowing only one sack in 401 pass-blocking snaps during his final collegiate campaign in 2023. The 49ers hosted Robinson on an official top-30 pre draft visit, and his extensive college experience falls in line with San Francisco’s first three selections, where they selected two fifth-year seniors (Ricky Pearsall and Renardo Green) and a sixth-year senior (Puni).

At 6-foot-3, 302 pounds, Robinson is exceptionally agile given his size, and could join the 49ers in an advantageous position by having the opportunity to develop while learning from a nine-year NFL veteran in Feliciano.

Tight end

This one might come as a bit of a surprise after the 49ers selected two tight ends in the 2023 NFL Draft, but the need still exists. The 49ers inability to land a quality weapon at the position opposite George Kittle is among the few glaring ongoing errors made by a front office that has otherwise been stellar for the most part over their seven seasons in the Bay Area.

San Francisco selected Alabama tight end Cameron Latu No. 101 overall last year, while also adding Oklahoma tight end Brayden Willis in the seventh round at No. 247 overall. While it’s far too early to write either player off — particularly Latu who missed his entire rookie campaign after suffering a knee injury in the preseason — enough uncertainty remains beyond Kittle to ignore addressing the position on Day 3.

With two picks in the fourth round, the 49ers might find themselves in a position to grab one of the biggest steals of the entire draft by selecting Texas tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders. At 6-foot-4, 243 pounds, Sanders provides plus physical traits, but perhaps more importantly, a track record of reliable production for a big-time program.

Sanders hauled in 45 receptions for 682 yards and two touchdowns in 2023, averaging 15.2 yards per reception for the Longhorns. The 21-year-old tight end did not record a single drop on 67 targets in his final season at Texas, demonstrating a level of dependability that could prove crucial for Brock Purdy and the 49ers offense.

Defensive line

No 49ers draft needs list would be complete without mentioning the defensive line, a position group that has all but defined the tenures of Lynch and Shanahan since their arrivals in the Bay Area. After a busy free-agency period that saw San Francisco add veteran defensive ends Leonard Floyd and Yetur Gross-Matos to pair with an All-Pro in Nick Bosa, the need on the surface might not reflect just how critical it will be for the 49ers to add a quality player along the defensive line on Day 3.

In this league, you can never have too many options coming off the edge, and San Francisco is in a position to give defensive line coach Kris Kocurek another prospect to mold going forward. A pair of names with eye-popping production in 2023 are available on Day 3, starting with Troy’s Javon Solomon. Measuring in at 6-foot-1, 246 pounds, Solomon doesn’t possess the prototypical size for an elite edge rusher — but you’d never know that based on what he’s put on tape at Troy.

Solomon led the nation with 16 sacks in 2023, flashing tremendous instincts and the ability to counter with an arsenal of pass-rushing moves that could have Kocurek and the 49ers’ brass salivating at the thought of adding him to their already stockpiled defensive line group.

Another player who might lack the ideal measurables but boasts significant production is Colorado State’s Mohamed Kamara. The 24-year-old logged 13 sacks in 2023, and has had at least 7.5 in each of his last three seasons. While San Francisco seemingly has opted for athletic traits over production at the position with the selections of Robert Beal Jr. and Drake Jackson in each of the least two drafts, Kamara offers the opportunity to bank on getting a more pro-ready prospect, which falls in line with the selections the 49ers made on the first two nights of the 2024 draft.

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