Five special teams aces the San Francisco 49ers may consider in the draft

2022 NFL Draft San Francisco 49ers

If your biggest remaining need in free agency is improving your special teams, then you likely have a stacked lineup.

That certainly appears to be the case with San Francisco.

While the losses of guard Laken Tomlinson and defensive tackle D.J. Jones to free agency will be felt, the 49ers still have young, recent draft picks in place to pick up the slack. Combined with smart, cost-effective additions like cornerback Charvarius Ward and DT Hassan Ridgeway, and the only remaining question is what the 49ers will do about the QB situation. (Here’s a hint: San Francisco could bring both back next season, according to the Press Democrat.)

Overall, 18 of 22 starters from last season’s team are expected to return.

In fact, at this point the 49ers are focused on finding players in free agency who could contribute on special teams, according to Jack Hammer of the Press Democrat. Linebacker Oren Burks, receiver Ray Ray McCloud and safety George Odum were all brought in to bolster a special teams unit that has ranked the bottom of the league the past two seasons. The team also re-signed exclusive rights LB Demetrius Flanigan-Fowles and safety Tarvarius Moore.

In terms of the draft, San Francisco is one of the rare teams that can truly get away with the “best-player-available” approach to the draft. Even then, it’s possible the 49ers only get one rookie starter out of the upcoming draft, thanks in part to a deep lineup. San Francisco doesn’t have a pick in the first round but has two in the third round.

Instead, the bulk of the 49ers’ draft picks are on Day 3, when the team has one pick in both the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds and three in the sixth round.

That’s where you can expect the team to mine for more special teams contributors. Ideally, these players will at least contribute on special teams, with the hopes that a few of them can push for starting roles before they reach the end of their respective rookie contracts.

Here are five special teams players who fit the bill:

CB Marcus Jones, Houston

Projected Round: Late second to third round; No. 62 in the Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board

The 5-foot-8, 174-pound senior will likely be limited to slot corner duties at the next level due to his size. Instead, expect Jones to see the field early and often due to his return talent, which draft analyst Lance Zierlein called “game changing.”

For his career, Jones returned 73 kickoffs for 2,075 yards (28.4 average) and 6 TDs. He also returned 63 punts for 881 yards (14.0 average) and 3 TDs.

Safety Kerby Joseph, Illinois

Projected Round: Third round; Ranked No. 100

The 49ers likely won’t be in range of Alabama receiver Jameson Williams, who many analyst consider as the top special teams gunner in the upcoming draft. Williams is ranked No. 18 overall and isn’t expected to fall to the late second round (San Francisco does not have a first-round pick), despite coming off an ACL tear.

But Illinois safety Kerby Joseph would be a good consolation prize, as he’s also considered one of the top gunners in the upcoming draft. The 6-foot-1, 203-pound senior has been called “fearless” as a special teams player. From Pro Football Focus: “Joseph is a fantastic tackler and thrives as a gunner on special teams.”

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