It’s May, and it’s only a helmet and shorts period, but this is the time of year when rookie classes get their first taste of the San Francisco 49ers.
Names like Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Deebo Samuel and last year Trey Lance went through this process to gain their early footing in the NFL after getting drafted. And it’s also the time of year when media members who cover the 49ers get their first look at the newcomers…and start their thought process on who looks like a potential future starter for the upcoming season.
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Longtime 49ers reporter and columnist Matt Barrows has taken in the atmosphere at the 49ers’ practice facility. He answered some mail bag questions on Thursday, May 26 that featured several questions about the state of the team. But one of his questions that he dove into: Which of the drafted rookies has the best chance to start and/or play a lot?
The Athletic’s 49ers insider didn’t name off one player. He named five to watch from what he’s observed. Here’s who he listed in order from his personal one to five list:
Tyrion Davis-Price, Running Back
Arguably the surprise pick of the 2022 49ers’ draft considering how high he was taken as a day two pick, the LSU Tiger could be next in line to breakout under head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Barrows pointed out how Shanahan has had past success with rookie running backs before. Elijah Mitchell last season was one, but in 2012 when Shanahan was offensive coordinator for Washington he coached Alfred Morris to a breakout 1,613-yard season. Like Mitchell, Morris was a sixth rounder. Barrows, though, points to this reason why Davis-Price could emerge as a starter.
“I think the 49ers are hesitant to give Mitchell or any of the running backs too great of a load this season, which means there will be plenty of rotation,” Barrows responded to the question. “At minimum, Davis-Price promises to be part of that rotation for stretches of the season.”
The former Tiger is wearing No. 32 during OTAs.
Drake Jackson, Defensive End
The 49ers’ top pick of the ’22 draft is Barrows’ second pick in having the highest chance to start. And already, he’s been thrust into the action.
“When the defensive line took the field for the first time on Tuesday (during the 49ers’ open media practice), guess who lined up at left defensive end? Yes, the rookie,” Barrows said.
He adds, though, that Bosa wasn’t in the vicinity and the former USC star hasn’t collided with an offensive lineman in one-on-one drills. But Barrows says there’s this expectation he’s learned the 49ers have for Jackson.
“The 49ers clearly want him to be the talented speed rusher they had when Dee Ford was healthy,” Barrows said.
Even defensive line coach Kris Kocurek was stunned that the Ex-Trojan fell to No. 61 in a conversation with The Athletic’s David Lombardi.
Danny Gray, Wide Receiver
Already, the Southern Methodist star holds this title on the field per Barrows.
“He’s the fastest guy on the team,” Barrows stated.
Barrows believes that the 49ers will likely insert him in “a half dozen plays a game to keep defenses honest,” which was a tactic they used with Travis Benjamin. Gray (No. 86 in practice) has given a sample of his line burst to the 49ers.
Spencer Burford, Guard
The 29th pick of the fourth round has a chance due to this reason noted by Barrows: Depth at right guard.
What Barrows observed: Daniel Brunskill is dealing with knee tendinitis and Jaylon Moore has slid to his spot in the process. However, with Moore being a natural tackle and in the event there’s an injury at that spot?
“Burford would be next in line at guard,” Barrows said, indicating he’s got a chance to at least crack the two-deep.
Burford has brought some “disrespectful” plays at tackle before, though, as noted by Lombardi (a good kind of disrespectful for 49er fans):
Samuel Womack, Cornerback
It’s a deeper group in the CB room this time — with Jason Verrett and Dontae Johnson resigned, Emmanuel Moseley healthy, 2021 rookies Deommodore Lenoir and Ambry Thomas adding to the CB options and prized pickup Charvarius Ward on board.
But the 172nd overall pick is Barrows’ fifth choice to potentially start and immediately. Already, Womack has lined up for the 49ers defense — at multiple spots on Tuesday.
“He lined up at both outside cornerback and the nickel spot with the second-team group on Tuesday, which doubles his chances of getting into games,” Barrows reported.
Though undersized at 5-foot-9, Womack brings 4.39 speed and versatility to the defense…and could be the top replacement for K’Waun Williams.