San Francisco 49ers: Grading undrafted free agent signings

The San Francisco 49ers were winners in the 2017 NFL Draft, and followed that by signing 13 undrafted free agents. A report card for the 13 additions.

The San Francisco 49ers came out of the 2017 NFL Draft looking like draft masters. What team general manager John Lynch did in the first three rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft was simply brutal. This same brutality carried over when the draft ended to the undrafted free agent period. Immediately after the completion of the 2017 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers personnel staff went into blitzkrieg mode contacting as many players’ agents as possible.

In total, 13 undrafted players were signed. Many of these players were expected to be drafted. In fact, many of these players had mid-to-late Day 3 grades on them. Fortunately for the Red and Gold, these undrafted players were scooped up by the personnel department.

Working undrafted free agency is the mark of a quality team. It’s something the perennial contenders such as the New England Patriots do exceptionally well. After all, their current No. 1 cornerback in Malcolm Butler was a pickup in undrafted free agency. Thus, being aggressive in trying to target and sign these players is a quality look for the 49ers.

Oh, one more thing, Lynch deserves a ton of credit for the work he did. His performance far exceeded the expectations of any the most optimistic fan. Bravo, Mr. Lynch. Without further delay, the 49ers UDFA rookie report card.

Dec 27, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Baylor Bears wide receiver KD Cannon (9) catches a pass as Boise State Broncos cornerback Tyler Horton (14) defends during the first half during the Cactus Bowl at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

KD Cannon, WR – Baylor

Starting off the 49ers undrafted rookie report card is speedy former Baylor wide receiver KD Cannon. Cannon is an explosive player who excels as a deep-threat weapon. In addition to his deep speed, Cannon is a tough run-blocker, often handling his man in run responsibilities. Cannon does not shy away from contact despite his slender frame.

Prior to the draft, scouting reports projected Cannon getting drafted no later than the fifth round. Some draft evaluators had him as low as the fifth round, while others had him higher. With The First Pick, projected Cannon to be selected in the second round due to his prowess in the vertical game.

As for why he didn’t get drafted, it’s truthfully hard to say. Perhaps teams felt the need to stay away from Baylor players given the unrest and nastiness of the program. Maybe they didn’t value the vertical passing game to the point of spending a pick on Cannon. Whatever the case, Cannon has the skill set out wide to succeed in the NFL.

Cannon’s best NFL player comparison is former 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith. If Cannon can develop his short-to-intermediate game he could develop into quite a steal.

Grade: A+

San Francisco 49ers

Oct 22, 2016; Louisville, KY, USA; Cardinals tight end Cole Hikutini (18) runs the ball against North Carolina State Wolfpack safety Josh Jones (11) during the second half at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Louisville defeated North Carolina State 54-13. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Cole Hikutini, TE – Louisville

Cole Hikutini was Walter Football’s No. 13 ranked tight end, projected to get drafted between Rounds 4 and 6. However, Hikutini’s poor blocking skills caused him to fall out of the draft altogether. Still, Hikutini was a productive tight end in Louisville’s offense, scoring eight touchdowns in 2016.

Hikutini often presented problems for opposing defenses using deceptive speed to gain separation. In addition, Hikutini always found ways to get open in zone coverage, as was noted by Pro Football Focus. Looking at other prospects in this draft class, Hikutini is somewhat of a poor-man’s Evan Engram in his current form. However, Hikutini also has a frame currently that’s more conducive to him developing as a blocker,

If Hikutini can develop into a competent blocker, he could carve himself a place onto the 53-man roster. That obviously won’t happen immediately, but it’s not out of the question to be something he develops quickly. For now, Hikutini will more than likely play as the team’s h-back. Teaming Hikutini with fellow rookie tight end George Kittle could present matchup problems for opposing defenses.

Grade: A+

San Francisco 49ers

Jan 28, 2017; Mobile, AL, USA; North squad safety Lorenzo Jerome of Saint Francis (PA) (22) is tackled by South squad running back Jamaal Williams of Brigham Young (21) and fullback Freddie Stevenson of Florida State (43) after intercepting a pass during the fourth quarter of the 2017 Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The South won 16-15. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

Lorenzo Jerome, S – Saint Francis

Lorenzo Jerome comes with some high praise from some well-known draft analysts. Friend of the site, David “Fooch” Fucillo from Niners Nation wrote an article on Jerome and collected all the reactions from some of the most notable draft evaluators.

In particular, Mike Mayock from NFL.com gave an incredible vocal endorsement of Jerome’s playing ability. Todd McShay ranked Jerome as his No. 1 ranked UDFA prospect. What makes Jerome special? Well, it surely isn’t his physical measurements as he stands at 5-10 and weighs 205 pounds.

Further hurting his stock is that he isn’t super athletic. Jerome posted a slow 40-yard (4.70s) and three-cone drill (7.63s). Where he wins is with his football instincts and toughness. He gets around his lack of speed by jumping routes and getting to a spot early. Not to mention that, when he arrives, he arrives violently.

In his four-year career, Jerome intercepted the ball 18 times. During training camp, Jerome’s ability to take the ball away will certainly be evaluated by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s coaching staff. Jerome may never develop into a full-time starter, but as a backup he brings leadership, toughness and turnover potential.

Grade: A+

San Francisco 49ers

Aug 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; A general view of the San Francisco 49ers helmet before game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The 49ers beat the Broncos 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Remaining Undrafted Free Agents

The remaining free agents all offer depth and potential to develop into more later on down the road. Of the remaining free agents, Erik Magnuson stands the best chance of making the 53-man roster. Magnuson is former right tackle who played for former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh for the University of Michigan.

With The First Pick projected Magnuson to be drafted in the fifth round due to his overall athleticism. For now, he could serve as a backup swing tackle/guard. The remaining players will need to prove themselves through special teams. Some will not make it past the first roster cuts but considering the current status of the roster anything is possible.

Here is the full list of the 2017 UDFA signings to date:

  • Lorenzo Jerome, S – Saint Francis
  • Cole Hikutini, TE – Louisville
  • K.D. Cannon, WR – Baylor
  • Erik Magnuson, OT – Michigan
  • JIhaad Pretlow, DB – Fordham
  • Donavin Newsom, LB – Missouri
  • Victor Bolden, WR – Oregon State
  • JP Flynn, OL – Montana State
  • Matt Breida, RB – Georgia Southern
  • Nick Mullens, QB – Southern Miss
  • Jimmie Gilbert, LB – Colorado
  • Darrell Williams, OT – Western Kentucky
  • Kendrick Bourne, WR – Eastern Washington

Overall Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class: A+

As stated in the intro, the San Francisco 49ers and John Lynch continue to look like an effective front office early on. Good teams mine talent from the pool of players not taken over the 253 picks in the NFL draft. That’s what the 49ers have done and should reap the rewards.

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