July 15, 2024

Every year around draft time we like to look at the ghosts of drafts past with the San Francisco 49ers and reflect on the players allocated from the draft. We luckily have video of each draft thanks to YouTube poster and 49ers fan Marvin49. We’ll be looking at every year during the Kyle Shanahan era up to 2023. Today it’s 2017.

Once upon a time, this draft was up-and-coming, a refreshing change from the predictable sludge 49ers fans were used to in Trent Baalke’s ACL All Stars and terrible picks. Now in 2024, only one pick (mayyyybe two?) has made this draft pretty good. I think we all know what that pick was.

After Trent Baalke was shown the door, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan were given six-year contracts and went to work rebuilding the entire 49ers roster.

“Be patient,” was what Lynch would say several times going into the draft and the season. Given what the fans had seen, that wouldn’t be too difficult.

The 49ers picked second, but engineered a fleecing of a deal with the Chicago Bears, letting them move up a single spot to draft quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The 49ers grabbed the guy they were always interested in anyways, Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Due to some outdated rules, Thomas got to practice late and didn’t have the season some may have hoped for. His second season was also marred with the personal difficulty of coping with his sister’s suicide.

So it had to get better, right? No, not exactly. Thomas was unable to develop into the person someone of his draft positioning would be and tore his ACL two games into the 2020 season, his final with the team.

The 49ers then traded back into the first round via a deal with the Seattle Seahawks, drafting Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. Foster was unanimously considered a special player, but an incident at the NFL Combine that got him sent home, as well as other character and injury questions allowed him to slip. Those character concerns continued into 2018, culminating in a domestic violence arrest that forced the 49ers’ hand. Foster was released from the team in late November as the organization quite frankly had enough. Foster bounced in and out of the league and was recently drafted for the Houston Roughnecks, in the UFL.

From there, the 49ers drafted Ahkello Witherspoon. A cornerback prospect some may have scratched their head over, but Witherspoon came into his own late in the season and made a roster spot for himself in early 2018. Some inconsistent play that same year put his spot in jeopardy and it became clear Witherspoon was not the answer. Witherspoon would later sign with the Seahawks and then that same year get traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Also in the third round came Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard. Some questioned the pick, but Beathard showed he was more than capable as a backup, displaying some great poise as a rookie and decent pocket awareness. Then the season started and he filled in for a game or two until the 49ers traded for Jimmy Garoppolo.

Thing is, Beathard may have been the most important pick of this draft in hindsight. The reason is when he left the 49ers the 49ers got a compensatory pick: the last pick in the 2022 draft. That pick became Brock Purdy.

And the rest? Utah running back Joe Williams was a gut-pick that should have never been called as he only lasted until after the 2018 preseason. Fifth round pick, Trent Taylor was a go-to third down wide receiver and a decent punt returner but the 49ers were in no rush to bring him back when his contract ended. Adrian Colbert, a seventh round cornerback was thought to be the 49ers’ answer for safety until he got injured early in the 2018 season as well. Most of the players in this draft showed so much potential their rookie year, and all that potential went by the wayside within a year later.

That is, of course, if you aren’t talking about tight end George Kittle. A fifth round draft choice that is considered one of the best in the league both blocking and pass-catching. Kittle almost broke Shannon Sharpe’s record for receiving yards by a tight end in a single game, and broke Rob Gronkowski’s record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a season. Is Kittle still the best in the league? That’s up to you, but he’s definitely elite and in the top-five.

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