Full disclosure: Nevada Sports Net sports director Bryan Samudio is a third-generation San Francisco 49ers fan going back to watching games with his San Francisco-born grandmother.
I’ll admit it. It’s been a rough offseason to be a 49ers fan. To have such a resurgence as a football team but to come up one win short against a phenomenal Kansas City Chiefs squad was a roller-coaster ride. Losing to the Chiefs and such a passionate and loyal fan base who had been waiting so long to raise the Lombardi Trophy took a little of the sting away. Just a little.
Heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, I had hopes and expectations. Every franchise in every sport loses top-notch talent during the offseason, and the draft is a great way to fill positions and look toward the future. Here’s my look at the San Francisco 49ers' 2020 draft class:
Round 1, pick number 14 overall
Javon Kinlaw, defensive tackle, South Carolina
Like many San Francisco fans, I expected wide receiver at this pick. It’s the sexy move, and with so much talent in the receiver class I thought the Niners would go with Jerry Jeudy out of Alabama or CeeDee Lamb, from Oklahoma, both of whom were still available. But the Kinlaw selection makes more sense to me as I really evaluate it. Kinlaw is an absolute monster at 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds and is an instant fill to the hole left by the departure of DeForest Buckner in the middle of what remains a stout defensive front. One ESPN analyst described Kinlaw’s play as “violent” in what was a compliment to the 22-year-old. The knock on native of Trinidad is he has the tendency to “disappear” occasionally during games. I don’t know if that will happen at the professional level, where players are held more and more accountable by veteran leaders in the locker room. If you “disappear” in the NFL, so does your job and your paycheck. It doesn’t matter where you were selected in the draft, you either produce or a team will find someone who will.
Kinlaw’s story is already something that should be published. He grew up “basically homeless, living in basements, without water or electricity” and told a story about how as a young boy he had to use a neighbor’s hose to fill up buckets, then heat up water on the stove before taking it upstairs to shower because “at a young age, we thought that was normal." I believe the future chapters of Kinlaw’s story will have much more positive mojo in them.
Round 1, pick number 25 overall
Brandon Aiyuk, wide receiver, Arizona State
I can only imagine the sense of satisfaction in a northwest Reno household on the opening night of the 2020 NFL Draft as Brandon Aiyuk’s name was called on national television. It feels like just yesterday I was covering Aiyuk’s career in the Lancer silver and blue, watching him streak down the sideline and score up at the stadium on the hill for head coach Jim Snelling. The McQueen High graduate had to make his way to Division I football via the junior-college route, beginning his post-high school career over the hill at Sierra College in Rocklin. The Northern Nevada native turned Pac-12 defensive backs around on their heels on a regular basis in 2019 when he averaged 18.1 yards per reception for the Sun Devils. Aiyuk will likely be able to serve another role with the Niners as an elusive kick returner, but there’s no doubt the 49ers had to go with a weapon with this pick considering the loss of Emmanuel Sanders this offseason and the fact San Francisco has yet to find a receiver to take that dominant role in the offense.
Round 5, pick number 153 overall
Colton McKivitz, offensive tackle, West Virginia
It was an agonizing wait between picks for 49ers fans and their front office, but the trade for veteran tackle Trent Williams from the Washington Redskins on Saturday would ease that pain. Unfortunately that move was followed by the announcement of the retirement of longtime 49ers left tackle Joe Staley, which was expected. But I digress. McKivitz has a good frame at 6-6, 306 and appears he could put on another good 10-15 pounds, which he will likely need at the NFL level. He brings in a ton of Power 5 experience having been a four-year starter for the Mountaineers. In 489 snaps during the 2019 season for West Virginia, McKivitz allowed just one sack. Expect him to be a backup to Williams at left tackle and Mike McGlinchey at right tackle. His ability to move inside and play guard should really bolster his chances of making the roster.
Round 6, pick number 190 overall
Charlie Woerner, tight end, Georgia
If there is a position that will be tough to crack in the foreseeable future in San Francisco, it’s tight end. But John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan don’t waste draft picks, so they must see something in the 6-foot-5, 245 pounder from Georgia they like. Woerner’s “it” factor is his ability to block. He’s elite in the run game and could seal an edge defender with the best in college football. The 49ers have one of the more dominant ground games in the NFL, and if you can open up holes up front, you have value to the franchise. Playing behind the likes of at least superstar George Kittle and the reliable Ross Dwelley, might we see Woerner on the practice squad or as a fullback? Time will tell.
Round 7, pick number 217 overall
Jauan Jennings, Wide Receiver, Tennessee
All signs here point to an uphill battle for Jennings making the roster. But I’m going to go in a different direction and say the 49ers may have found a diamond in the rough with the Volunteer, and I mean a big diamond. Jennings carries a 6-foot-3, 215 pound frame out on to the field with him, and that gives him a size edge that many of San Francisco’s receivers don’t have. He comes from an athletic family (his father played college football and brother and sister both played college basketball), but there are a couple of issues to consider. Jennings had disciplinary issues with two different staffs while at Tennessee, and he ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash at the combine, so he’s not a burner. I think he could be a weapon across the middle coming out of the slot (he’s shown it on film), but we’ll see if maturity issues emerge again as a professional.
Overall, I give the San Francisco 49ers a B+ with their efforts in the 2020 NFL draft. The franchise accomplished a lot with the limited picks it had this season. Adding the Trent Williams trade into the mix, San Francisco has likely added three starters to their lineup along with at least one, possibly two valuable backups.
Nevada Sports Net sports director Bryan Samudio is the dean of sports journalists in Northern Nevada. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @BryanSamudio.