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Unearthed: Hidden Draft Gems Shine in Super Bowl 58

The Chiefs and 49ers highlight the importance of hitting on late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents.

Tucker Maus
02/10/2024 2:10PM ET

This year's Super Bowl promises an electrifying showdown as the defending champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, take on the formidable San Francisco 49ers. In a league known for its high-stakes draft picks and star-studded lineups, it might surprise you to learn that both the 49ers and the Chiefs boast a significant portion of their starting lineup as players taken on day 3 of the NFL Draft (rounds 4-7) or even overlooked in the draft altogether. In fact, the 49ers have an impressive ten out of 22 starters who fall into this category, while the Chiefs have nine such players. We'll review each player* in order of their draft position for each team, accompanied by excerpts from their college scouting reports written by Ourlads' scouts.

 

*Note: kickers, punters, and long snappers do not officially count as starters. We had written scouting reports on all but three players: 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward, 49ers safety Tashaun Gipson Sr., and Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco.

 

49ers Logo San Francisco 49ers:

 

1. Kyle Juszczyk (FB, Harvard, 2013, 4th round):

In the modern game of football, fullbacks are a relic of the past for almost every NFL team. This does not apply to the San Francisco 49ers and head coach Kyle Shanahan’s philosophy, however. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk is instrumental in making the 49ers offense run like clockwork. He does a lot of the dirty work, such as blocking, but he is also a versatile chess piece that can be moved anywhere in the formation.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Kyle Juszczyk in 2013: 

"A competitive and productive H-back utility player who lines up in the backfield and in the slot. Good hands to pluck the ball or make the overhead catch. No holdup off the line of scrimmage. Good run after catch ability. Can adjust and elude on the run. Effective lead blocker and pass protector."

 

2. George Kittle (TE, Iowa, 2017, 5th round):
Kittle has been the 49ers top tight end ever since his rookie year in 2017. When healthy, he has consistently been one of the best tight ends in the league. He was considered by many to be the very best TE in 2023 and was voted as first-team All-Pro. Kittle is praised for his tenacity and physicality as a blocker, often dominating defenders in the run game. With his combination of athleticism, football IQ, and work ethic, Kittle has established himself as a cornerstone player for the San Francisco 49ers and a key playmaker in the NFL.


Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on George Kittle in 2017:

"A good athlete with the speed to threaten the safety area in Cover 2. Lines up at wing back as well as the traditional tight end. Runs crossers, wheel routes, flats, check downs, and screens. Soft hands. Can pluck the ball effortlessly. A reliable talent who is experienced in overall tight end play. A willing blocker who gives effort."

 

3. Dre Greenlaw (LB, Arkansas, 2019, 5th round):

While many consider linebacker Fred Warner to be the best in the league, the teammate who lines up next to him, Dre Greenlaw, is certainly no slouch himself. Greenlaw has been a force to be reckoned with during this postseason, especially in the Divisional game against the Green Bay Packers. He got two interceptions on quarterback Jordan Love, once in the 3rd quarter, and another at the very end which sealed the game for the Niners.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Dre Greenlaw in 2019:

"Solid initial read and react with proper run fits and angles to the ball. Quick change of direction with the ability to avoid blocks on the move. Closes well in pursuit with good range and is consistently around the ball. Flashes downhill ability to the alley. Solid tackling skill with the ability to make plays in space. Patient to react to cutback angles. Fundamentally sound in pass coverage with proper depth of drop and relationship to receivers in zone."

 

4. Colton McKivitz (OT, West Virginia, 2020, 5th round):

From 2018 to 2022, the starting right tackle spot for the 49ers was anchored by Mike McGlinchey. However, he was handed a huge contract by the Denver Broncos during the offseason. Colton McKivitz took over the starting right tackle spot this year, and so far there have been mixed results. The Chiefs defensive line, led by standout players like Chris Jones, will most likely look to exploit the 49ers relative weakness on the right side of their offensive line.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Colton McKivitz in 2020:

"Plays with a bodyguard’s attitude that likes to get in a fight every now and then. Blue collar approach that lacks some of the ideal tools and ability, but can make up for them with hustle and desire. Does a nice job of keeping his chest up and hands ready. Anticipates the rush well, can forecast what his man is doing. Keeps his eyes wide and active. Has a lot of experience and it shows when it comes to seeing blitzes and stunts. Inconsistent to play with a strong reach or lockout. Struggles to stick his hands to a defender and will be overly reliant on his mirror-feet. Plays too high off the snap and during engagement."

 

5. Deommodore Lenoir (CB, Oregon, 2021, 5th round):

In his first two seasons, Lenoir primarily played outside cornerback. The 49ers signed former Atlanta Falcons CB Isaiah Oliver to be their starting slot cornerback in 2023. By week 9, however, Oliver’s play wasn’t cutting it. The 49ers decided that the best course of action would be to move Lenoir over to the slot and have Ambry Thomas take his place on the outside. San Francisco’s secondary has been much better since the change was made, with Lenoir shutting down opposing slot receivers as well as playing great defense against the run.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Deommodore Lenoir in 2021:

"Played a variety of technique including off and press man along with outside deep outside zone. Used a variety of techniques and was fundamentally sound in most aspects of corner play. Stays low in his pedal with quick footwork. Smooth in transition he easily changes directions and adjusts to receivers’ speed. In zone processes route combinations and is adept at balancing and closing voids."

 

6. Brock Purdy (QB, Iowa State, 2022, 7th round):

Nobody really knew how this season would look for Brock Purdy, who ended last season with a torn UCL in the NFC Championship against the Philadelphia Eagles. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan recently confirmed that they had legitimately pursued Tom Brady to be their quarterback for the 2023 season due to the uncertainty of Purdy’s availability. Obviously, it turned out all right for the Niners, even though Brady refused. Purdy defied the odds and was unhindered to play by Week 1. Since then, he has had a fantastic sophomore season and has led his team all the way to the Super Bowl in his first full season as a starting quarterback.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Brock Purdy in 2022:

"Effective on the short passing game he goes through his read progression and can find alternates. Makes quick decisions and will take what the defense gives him. Extremely accurate on short and intermediate throws in the middle zones. At his best finding openings in zone coverage. Solid pocket presence he can move laterally to find a throwing lane and escape the rush. Not afraid to take off if nothing is there. Decent runner, he is fast enough to escape and make plays with his feet. Flashed agility and toughness to get extra yards. He does most things well but lacks any outstanding trait."

 

7. Jon Feliciano (OG, Miami, 2015, undrafted):

Feliciano has bounced around to several different teams since going undrafted in 2015. He was mainly a backup for most of his first four seasons with the Raiders. Since then, he went on to start at guard for several years with the Bills, and in 2022 he went to the Giants as their starting center. The 49ers signed him as a depth piece for their offensive line, but during the course of the 2023 season, Feliciano managed to beat out Spencer Buford as the starter at right guard. Pro Football Focus ranked this season the highest in Feliciano’s career so far, with a grade of 80.3. This ranks 5th best in the NFL among guards for the 2023 season.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Jon Feliciano in 2015: 

“He is as tough as they come with massive upper body strength. The foot speed is good enough. Strong, powerful, long offensive linemen with experience at multiple positions. A downhill blocker with heavy hands. Works hard to get his hands inside. Can lock on to defenders and stick his hips in to the hole. Overwhelming pass blocker. Uses upper body strength to wall off and control the rusher. Good body control and awareness. Quick reaction to blitzes and stunts.”

 

8. Jake Brendel (OC, UCLA, 2016, undrafted):

When seven-time Pro Bowler Alex Mack retired following the 2021 season, the 49ers were left with the question of who their new starting center would be. Jake Brendel, who had previously only started in three games during his first four seasons, had become the presumed incumbent for the job when the 49ers didn’t sign anyone to replace Mack leading up to the 2022 season. Fans were unsure how he would perform with such little experience playing as a starter, especially since he didn’t even take a snap on offense in his first year with San Francisco. Even though he had big shoes to fill, he has proven to be one of the better centers in the league in each of the last two seasons.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Jake Brendel in 2016: 

"Has a quick first step to reach and seal front side penetration. Good awareness to fold and seal linebackers to create inside running lanes. Played in a spread offense for the Bruins where he basically positioned and walled off the down or penetrating defender. Plays a little high without knee bend despite his good lower body flexibility. Slender lower body which hinders him as an anchor. Has good triangle numbers for the center position and good foot agility. Good change of direction and weight transfer."

 

9. Tashaun Gipson Sr. (S, Wyoming, 2012, undrafted):

In what is Tashaun Gipson’s 12th season in the NFL, he has continued to be a starter in nearly every game he has played in since his rookie year. Prior to the 49ers, he had only played in the playoffs once, and it was with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017. They ended up coming just short of the Super Bowl, losing by 4 points to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship. In 2022, Gipson signed with San Francisco and they made it all the way to the NFC Championship, but ultimately lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 31-7. Gipson, at 33 years old, is likely in the twilight of his career. However, with his first opportunity to play in a Super Bowl, the prospect of securing a championship ring before retiring is undoubtedly on his mind.

 

10. Charvarius Ward (CB, Middle Tennessee, 2018, undrafted):

Charvarius Ward was originally an undrafted player signed by the Dallas Cowboys in 2018, but the Kansas City Chiefs must have seen something in him. They traded one of their backup offensive linemen to the Cowboys in exchange for Ward before the start of the 2018 season. Ward worked his way from 5th-string cornerback to being named a starter going into 2019. He helped them win a Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers in the 2019 season and continued to be a solid starting cornerback for the Chiefs for the following several years. In 2022, Ward was signed to a big contract with the 49ers, and he has acted as their top cornerback since then. In 2023, he had a career high of 5 interceptions and 23 pass deflections, was named to his first Pro Bowl, and was voted as second-team All-Pro. Ward now has the chance to go up against his former team to try and get his second ring, along with helping San Francisco get their first SB win since the 1994 season. 

 

Kansas City Chiefs:

 

1. Drue Tranquill (LB, Notre Dame, 2019, 4th round): 

Tranquill was a really solid player for the Los Angeles Chargers during the first four years of his career. However, they let him walk when he became a free agent, as they opted instead to sign former Minnesota Viking Eric Kendricks to a two-year, $13,250,000 deal. The Chiefs signed Tranquill to a relatively small one-year, $3 million contract, and he was only expected to be a depth piece. However, the Chiefs' best linebacker, Nick Bolton, has missed several stretches of games this year due to injury. Tranquill has been the main guy to fill in for Bolton, and to put it simply, he has most definitely outplayed his contract. Even with Bolton back, it has been hard to keep Tranquill off the field. On the season, Tranquill has the most snaps played of any linebacker on the Chiefs.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Drue Tranquill in 2019:

"Deliberate in initial read he works a downhill and lateral shuffle reacting to blocking scheme and backfield action. Once he sees it he is quick attacking a gap. Uses his hands to attack blocks and flashes ability to shed and avoid blocks on the move. Has blitz skill to anticipate the snap and hit a gap. Made some big hits in the backfield. Zone pass drops are precise with ability to quickly get to a reroute of an inside receiver on a vertical release."

 

2. L'Jarius Sneed (CB, Louisiana Tech, 2020, 4th round): 

While Trent McDuffie gets a lot of attention as the Chiefs’ best player in their secondary, L’Jarius Sneed is right up there with him. Sometimes it can be hard for casual fans to appreciate the talent of cornerbacks unless they are getting interceptions every game. Sneed routinely shuts down opposing top receivers; this year, the list includes players such as Ja’Marr Chase, Keenan Allen, Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, and A.J. Brown. Sneed will look to do it one more time against second-team All-Pro receiver Brandon Aiyuk.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on L’Jarius Sneed in 2020:

"Has played all over the secondary including deep safety, slot, and outside corner. Tracks well moving downhill from a high safety and is around the ball a lot. Has range in the deep zones and can open up and drive to get over the top of vertical routes. Can balance verticals in Cover 2 and read the delivery key. Sees and reacts to route combinations finding the throwing lanes. Can match slot receivers and stay in phase up the field. Has recovery speed if separated. Has ball skills for the pass break and hands for the interception…His size and speed may project best at corner.”

 

3. Justin Watson (WR, Pennsylvania, 2018, 5th round): 

Wide receiver Justin Watson looks to get his third Super Bowl ring in just four seasons, winning with Tampa Bay back in the 2020 season and winning a second time last season with the Chiefs. While normally playing as more of a backup or depth receiver, Watson has taken a bit of a larger role on the Chiefs due to their overall lackluster WR corps. In the 2023 regular season, he had a career-high 27 receptions on 53 targets for 460 yards and 3 TDs.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Justin Watson in 2018:

"Has a good frame and NFL caliber body and was a four-year production machine at Penn. Good size, hands, and versatility. Skill set best translates inside but he can also play on the outside. Has enough speed to stretch the seam and to separate on crossing routes. Route running comes easily to him. Hips look natural sinking into routes, popping out with good timing and ability. Above average run after catch ability."

 

4. Marquez Valdes-Scantling (WR, South Florida, 2018, 5th round): 

Valdes-Scantling has had some relatively productive seasons, particularly in 2019 and 2020, where he emerged as a notable deep threat for the Green Bay Packers. However, consistency has been a challenge for him throughout his career, with occasional drops and fluctuations in performance. The 2023 regular season with the Kansas City Chiefs has statistically been the worst in his career, having career lows with 21 receptions and 315 receiving yards. But Valdes-Scantling did not let that hold him back from making his best play of the season against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game. On 3rd and 9, with the chance to clinch the victory, MVS ran the perfect route and was able to get wide open for Patrick Mahomes to throw a great 32-yard pass to secure the first down and win the game.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Marquez Valdes-Scantling in 2018:

"Creates separation with speed and acceleration downfield. Tracks the deep ball with good burst. Very dangerous with the ball in his hands. Used on reverses with scoring success. Good vision after the catch and is a home run threat when he has space to run. Big hands. Inconsistent routes. Needs route release work in general. Comes off the line high exposing his chest to the defensive back. Didn’t have a lot of production in his career, nor a lot of consistent quarterback play. Needs to work more on attacking the football with his length. Doesn’t drive back to the ball with instincts on stop or curl routes. Has focus drops at times."

 

5. Mike Danna (DE, Michigan, 2020, 5th round): 

Danna has been a consistently underrated part of Steve Spagnuolo’s defense with the Kansas City Chiefs. While he didn’t get as much play time in 2022 behind players such as Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap, 2023 has been his first full year as a starter, and he hasn’t disappointed. Danna is often moved to the interior and on the edge, which gives the Chiefs defense more flexibility. He led Kansas City’s defensive linemen in tackles this year with a total of 50.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Mike Danna in 2020:

"Despite being undersized, he was able to hold his ground as a defensive tackle when needed. He impressive pass rush moves and the explosion you want off the edge, his versatility and advanced techniques should land him on a 53-man roster. Impressive body with a blend of cut and thickness. Well-developed lower, strong and muscular from hip to ankle. Big and heavy hands that do a nice job of getting inside and on the blocker first. Uses his strong base to maximize his base and a strong upper body to remain in the lockout phase."

 

6. Trey Smith (OG, Tennessee, 2021, 6th round): 

Trey Smith was once looked at as a top offensive line prospect, but when he struggled with blood clots in his lungs multiple times while he was in college, that likely worried NFL teams and caused him to fall in the draft. The Chiefs took a shot on him in the 6th round, and he has been a starter at guard for them in all of his first three seasons, only missing one regular season game. Smith is most well known for his role on offense as an enforcer and his elite run-blocking ability, but he’s been a good pass protector as well.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Trey Smith in 2021:

"Best suited for a gap-power scheme that will allow him to come off the ball downhill and get movement with his powerful hands, heavy frame, and long arms. He is a safe bet to be a starter in the league. Almost always the biggest guy in the room. Has the frame that simply checks all the boxes. Tall and wide with great length and hand size. Looks like a grizzly bear when he comes off the ball as a run blocker. Will overwhelm and swallow up defenders. Can win the battle even if he lacks the ideal positioning. A hard blocker to simply get around because of his radius and upper body strength."

 

7. Nick Allegretti (OG, Illinois, 2019, 7th round):

First-team All-Pro left guard Joe Thuney is dealing with a major pectoral injury, and he has been called a “long shot” to play in the Super Bowl by head coach Andy Reid. While there is still a chance he could play, it’s more likely that Nick Allegretti fills in as the starting left guard yet again. Allegretti has primarily served as a depth player along the offensive line, providing versatility by having the ability to play both guard and center positions. While he hasn't been a regular starter, he has seen playing time in various situations, mainly when filling in for injured starters. That being said, the Chiefs have full confidence in Allegretti and his ability to get the job done in place of Thuney.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Nick Allegretti in 2019:

"Aggressive, smart, and knows how to use his hands inside a defender’s frame. A physical player who looks like he really enjoys playing the game. Versatile center/guard combination guy. Stout in his anchor, shocking the defender with his punch and getting under the rusher’s pads. An effective zone blocker."

 

8. Tershawn Wharton (DT, Missouri S&T, 2020, undrafted): 

Wharton has only started three regular season games in his four-year career, but lately the Chiefs have needed him to play a more substantial role, with usual starter Derrick Nnadi getting injured in the Wild Card game against the Miami Dolphins. Tershawn Wharton had a standout career at Missouri S&T, but since it is only a Division II school, he was overlooked by NFL teams during the 2020 Draft. The Chiefs ended up taking a chance on Wharton, signing him as an undrafted free agent. He impressed during training camp and the preseason, showcasing his athleticism, strength, and potential as a defensive lineman. Wharton made a strong impression on the Chiefs coaching staff and earned a spot on the team's regular-season roster. Since then, he has continued to be a rotational piece on the interior of Kansas City’s defensive line.

 

Excerpt from Ourlads’ scouting report on Tershawn Wharton in 2018:

"The John Randle-sized defender looks like he was chiseled out of granite with his thick and muscular upper and lower body. He has forearms and calves that would make Superman envious. The talented athlete made a name for himself during Shrine Bowl practices. Rare first step explosiveness. Looked like he got shot in the britches by a Roman candle. Has a quick and sudden arm over move that puts him in the backfield in a nanosecond."

 

9. Isiah Pacheco (RB, Rutgers, 2022, 7th round):
When people describe Isiah Pacheco’s running style, the first word that often comes to mind is “angry.” He is a violent runner and just flat-out refuses to be taken down. He was a relative unknown during the 2022 Draft process, but the Chiefs clearly didn't want to risk losing him if he went undrafted, so they used one of their 7th round picks on him. Pacheco has made the most of the opportunity, making the 53-man roster for the 2022 season and initially slotting in as the #3 running back. At some point over the course of the year, he actually supplanted previous first-round pick, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, as the team’s starting running back. Pacheco has been a machine in the playoffs both last year and this year. Specifically this postseason, he has been getting a significant number of carries, allowing the Chiefs to exhaust opposing defenses. San Francisco has one of the best rushing defenses in the league, but even they will still have their work cut out for them on Sunday, trying to slow down a player like Isiah Pacheco.