In analyzing the 49ers’ performance in the recent NFL draft, Mark Maske of the Washington Post gave San Francisco a grade of B.
He applauded the team’s picks of defensive end Nick Bosa and wide receiver Deebo Samuel, but was baffled by the decision of GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan to select a punter with a prime pick. That was worth a downgrade.
"Using a fourth-round pick on a punter?" he wrote. "That’s a bit odd, no matter how good Mitch Wishnowsky is."
Maske wasn’t alone in his evaluation. Other analysts – and fans, too, for that matter – have questioned the wisdom of using a pick that high on a specialist.
But University of Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham, who had Wishnowsky on his side, says Wishnowsky is no ordinary punter.
Whittingham told Joe Fann of 49ers.com that Wishnowsky is a difference-maker and worthy of a fourth-round selection.
"He’s that much of a weapon," Whittingham told Fann.
Whittingham points to numbers such as these:
- Wishnowsky had a 45.7-yard career average at Utah.
- Over his final 100 college punts, opponents had just 106 total return yards.
- He forced 25 fair catches on his 59 punts as a senior in 2018 and placed 24 kicks inside the 20-yard line.
"He’s got the strongest leg that I’ve ever been around or had the opportunity to coach," said Whittingham. "It’s special. He’s also got great accuracy. He pinned teams inside the 10-yard line better than anybody I’ve been around, too. It’s like a wedge shot in golf. He can put it down near the 4- or 5-yard line and kill it. He was very valuable for us in the field-position game."
Shanahan said the 49ers had Wishnowsky on their wish list for the draft and decided to use a fourth-round pick because he and Lynch believed he might not be around after that.
The former Australian Rules Football player also is a fine athlete. At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds and has shown he’s as good a tackler as he is a punter.