The wheelin’ and dealin’ San Francisco 49ers were back at it again in Day 2 of the 2017 NFL Draft after picking up two top collegiate defensive prospects on Thursday.
Heading into Friday, John Lynch and company looked at two third-round picks after parlaying an early second rounder and late fourth-round selection to secure Alabama’s Reuben Foster at No. 31.
But the 49ers were not satisfied with just two trades in one day, and chose to deal their No. 67 selection to the New Orleans Saints for a seventh-round pick (No. 229) and a 2018 second rounder.
After the trade, the 49ers still possessed a single pick in the third round at No. 66 and used it to pick up cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon out of Colorado State.
“He’s a player as we studied what we thought was a very strong corner class, we obviously had a need but we really grew to like this player. … We gave him one more, the kind of the group of corners we had together, one more good look. And that made it clear in our mind that this was the guy at that position that we were going to take if available.”
As a transfer from Sacramento City College, Witherspoon started in 21 games over three seasons at Colorado State, including 12 in his senior season. Witherspoon also finished tied for 13th on Colorado’s all-time pass breakup list with 28 during his tenure.
Witherspoon will step into a depleted 49ers secondary after San Francisco released cornerback Tramaine Brock following a domestic violence incident.
Standing at nearly 6-foot-3, weighing in at 195 pounds and stretching out to a 79-3/8 inch wingspan, the lanky Witherspoon looks to fit what the 49ers need at corner.
When addressing Witherspoon’s physical makeup, Lynch said:
“A unique set of skills in that he’s just under six-three, close to six-three, and about 200 pounds, just under that. And we feel like he’s got a lot of room for growth but yet his movement skills and his profile will allow him to really be an excellent scheme fit for us.”
One issue that could warrant concern is that Witherspoon only participated in one season of football in high school. When asked about his lack of experience, Witherspoon said his upside is what really should stand out:
“Yes I’m capable, I’m exceptional right now, but I was telling them that my potential and where I’ll be at in three years, I think, is what’s really exciting for me as a player. And that’s one of the reasons why I keep grinding every day.”
Lynch didn’t seen to have much concern about the lack of experience:
“I think we can throw him out there next year and he can play. He’s demonstrated that he can hang with big time receivers. We’ve seen a lot of film of him up against some really fine receivers in the Pac-12 and holding his own.”
The fact of the matter is, though, that the 49ers will need Witherspoon to produce, not after three years, or even one. Instead, they hope to plug him in as a starter as soon as training camp starts.
Currently, Rashard Robinson and Jimmy Ward are listed as the top corners on the 49ers depth chart, with the possibility still pending of Ward moving to safety. This means Witherspoon could be expected to step into a starting role as soon as possible.
The Sacramento native shouldn’t have a hard time fitting into the 49ers locker room, as he has connections to 49ers defensive lineman and former first-round pick, Arik Armstead.
Witherspoon talked about his relationship with Armstead and his family by saying:
“I grew up playing basketball with him, specifically training with his father. His father is a basketball trainer. So I was always around him. He was also kind of like a big brother. Physically and, just like being inspirational as well to me.”
With the first three 49ers picks all going toward defensive players, San Francisco may look to draft offensive weapons in later rounds for first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan to work with.
Lynch addressed this in comical fashion by saying:
“We were just joking and (Shanahan) said ‘Alright, we’re going offense now. That’s it, you’ve had your fun.’ But we’re both trying to improve this football team and we felt like these were the best player for us at the time and we’ll see where we go from here moving forward.”