Three 49ers among ESPN’s biggest draft steals of the past decade

Like any NFL team, the 49ers have had plenty of draft hits and misses over the past decade. But what about flights?

Standout players are a given in the first round, but late selections who become stars are cause for front offices to celebrate. The 49ers know that sentiment all too well, and ESPN’s NFL draft experts Matt Miller and Jordan Reid included three San Francisco players in their top 50 draft flights of the past decade, from 2013 to 2022.

Before diving into their picks, there are a few stipulations to review: the leaderboard does not include any first-rounders, qualified players were drafted at least 15 spots later than they should have been, and there there are no 2023 picks on the list.

Here are the 49ers who made the cut:

Kittle is No. 8 on ESPN’s list, second tight end behind Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce, who is No. 1. The All-Pro has 395 receptions for 5,254 yards and 31 touchdowns in six seasons with the 49ers.

“Kittle is one of the best fifth-round picks and one of the most versatile tight ends in NFL history,” Reid wrote. “He was primarily known as a blocker coming out of Iowa. There wasn’t a lot of receiving sample size, but it only took him two seasons to establish himself as a top offensive talent; he busted for 88 catches, 1,377 receiving yards and 5 DTs in 2018.

“A staple of Kyle Shanahan’s offensive attack, Kittle is not only an overwhelming presence in the running game, but also the type of passer who can line up anywhere before the snap.”

Warner is the top defenseman on Miller and Reid’s roster, just behind Kittle as the 49ers’ second draft pick and ninth overall. The linebacker has recorded 633 tackles, 6.5 sacks and four interceptions in five seasons.

“Warner entered the NFL as a lightly heralded BYU prospect who ran a 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds at 230 pounds. He was ultimately the ninth linebacker drafted in the 2018 class,” Miller wrote. “Warner quickly dominated that third-round draft spot and has been arguably the most consistent linebacker in the NFL since arriving in San Francisco. He hasn’t missed a start in five years and is a two-time All-Pro of the first team.”

Samuel, at No. 14, isn’t the highest-ranked draft steal, but he might be the most unique on Miller and Reid’s list. Since 2019, the second round has 223 receptions for 3,230 yards and 12 touchdowns, as well as 123 rushes for 782 yards and 14 touchdowns.

“Samuel was the most versatile prospect in a talented receiving class in 2019, but he blossomed late during the pre-draft process,” Reid wrote. β€œHe struggled with injuries throughout his four-year career at South Carolina, but a dominant senior season – including a stellar performance in the Senior Bowl – helped his stock tremendously. As a professional, Samuel displayed a 1,400-yard season and rushed for 6.4 yards per carry, occasionally lining up in the backfield.”

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