49ers draft class full of potential: Chip Kelly era begins

Erik Khan,
Staff Writer

With all that they have endured as of late, the San Francisco 49ers needed this year’s draft to go as smoothly as possible. Hiring a new head coach and having a quarterback demand a trade has turned a respectable franchise into the laughingstock of the league.

It’s safe to say that the 49ers made out alright in this draft. They held the seventh overall pick in the 2016 draft and were content on taking what they considered the best player available, as opposed to filing a direct need. As it turns out, they were able to do both. The 49ers used the selection on DeForest Buckner, a defensive end from Oregon. 

Buckner was considered a top 5 prospect by ESPN’s Tom McShay and Mel Kiper, and can make an impact for the 49ers from day one. Buckner is extremely disruptive against the running game, which is key or the 49ers.

Their division is full of teams that love to run the ball. The 49ers are hopeful that Buckner can fill the need that was made when they released defensive end Aldon Smith last year.

Smith was a force on the defensive side of the ball for the 49ers, but his off the field issues led to his release. The team missed Smith last year and has to view Buckner as a player that can come in and anchor their defense like Smith once did.

An interesting fact about Buckner is that he was recruited to Oregon by current 49ers Head Coach Chip Kelly. Although Kelly denied he would draft the former Duck when he met with reporters, he has a history of drafting those he coached at Oregon. When he coached the Philadelphia Eagles, he drafted wide receiver Josh Huff with a third round pick and defensive end Taylor Hart in the 5th round. Almost half of Kelly’s draft picks during his time in the NFL played in the PAC-12, the conference that Kelly won 3 division titles while coaching the Ducks.

Kelly continued this trend of drafting PAC-12 players when the 49ers traded up to the number 28 pick to draft Stanford offensive guard Joshua Garnett.

San Francisco acquired the pick from the Kansas City Chiefs, along with their seventh round pick in exchange for the 49ers’ second, fourth and sixth round selections.

The 49ers drafting help along the offensive line made a lot of sense. They lost Alex Boone in free agency to the Minnesota Vikings. Boone had been a rock for San Francisco at the position, as he just finished his seventh season with the team.

Garnett played in at least 13 games during every season he had in his four years at Stanford. He won the 2015 Outland Trophy, which is given to the nation’s top interior lineman.

He received the ultimate blessing from his former coach David Shaw, who told the NFL Network that “He’s ready for Sundays,” during the draft process.

The 49ers then addressed the defensive side of the ball again with their next two picks. They spent their third round selection on cornerback Will Redmond from Mississippi State. They then used their fourth round selection on another cornerback, this time on Rashard Robinson, out of Louisiana State University.

Drafting two cornerbacks in the middle rounds made a lot of sense for the 49ers as they had a huge need at the position. The 49ers gave up the sixth most passing yards last year, a number that is crushing to a team that three years ago was led by their ball-hawking defense.

San Francisco used their three fifth-round picks on Appalachian State defensive lineman Ronald Blair, Georgia offensive tackle John Theus and Ole Miss offensive tackle Fahn Cooper. While they are considered late round fliers, these players could make an impact for the team in the future considering the lack of depth they have at their positions.

Things got interesting in the sixth round when the 49ers selected Jeff Driskel, quarterback out of Louisiana Tech that had previously transferred from Florida. Driskel could very well be in line for playing time next season with the question marks that the 49ers currently have at quarterback. Colin Kaepernick wants a trade and Blaine Gabbert is, well, Blaine Gabbert. Don’t be shocked to see Driskel start by the end of next season.

The 49ers spent their remaining picks on Florida running back Kelvin Taylor, Michigan State wide receiver Aaron Burbridge and Western Kentucky cornerback Prince Charles Iworah. Taylor is the son of former Jacksonville Jaguars star running back Fred Taylor.

Overall, this draft class seems like one that could make an impact for the 49ers. At this point, the San Francisco roster isn’t that talented, opening the door for these rookies to make an impact. Don’t be surprised if the names listed above do just that and change the fortunes of a franchise that is hurting.