49ers Trade Up for Penn State Safety Ji'Ayir Brown

(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

With the exception of finding a replacement for kicker Robbie Gould, the San Francisco 49ers felt going into the NFL draft that they had a chance to stock the shelves and add depth to an already talented roster.

Coach Kyle Shanahan feels they did just that.

After having to wait a day to make their first pick, the 49ers traded up and selected safety Ji’Ayir Brown from Penn State with the 87th overall selection Friday night.

Then San Francisco added a kicker and a tight end with their final two picks in the third round.

“It was so nice going into the draft this year that we didn’t feel like we had to find a starter at any position except kicker,” Shanahan said. “We feel like we can win with our guys and that we’re going to do our best at every pick we have to find someone who first can make the team and then someone who competes and makes the guys we have better or beat the guys that we have.”

Brown, who was the defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl, doesn’t fill an immediate need for the Niners but he gives them flexibility in the secondary with his versatility and ability to play down in the box, at nickel corner and at deep cover safety. He had 10 interceptions in three seasons for the Nittany Lions after transferring from Lackawanna Community College.

“This last week’s been amazing,” Brown said. “We ended up where we’re supposed to be. I knew that’s where I belonged at. It was a great feeling, a feeling that only comes once in a lifetime. I always knew I had the talent. I knew I was more than capable of playing in the NFL.”

Brown also fills a need in the short-term future with safety Tashaun Gipson turning 33 in August. Gipson signed a one-year deal with San Francisco in the early stages of free agency.

The 49ers sent three picks to Minnesota to move up and take Brown.

“He’s a baller,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said of Brown. “He’s got the components of what make up a Niner. He plays fast, he’s good up towards the ball, ball production. He’s just a really good football player. “

With pick No. 99 San Francisco found a potential replacement for Gould in Michigan’s Jake Moody. Moody won the Lou Groza Award in 2021 as the nation’s best kicker and holds school records for most career points (355) and field goals (69). Of his 69 field goals at Michigan, 17 were from 40 yards or longer. Shanahan called Moody the best kicker in the draft.

Gould, the 49ers kicker for the past six seasons, parted ways with the team in free agency. But Gould and Moody share the same agent, and the veteran was helpful in getting the rookie prepared for what lies ahead.

“I’m not sure if he kind of felt the need to kind of pass the torch down to a newer guy in the league or what, but he’s been a really good mentor these past few months,” Moody said. “He’s been helping me out with a ton of stuff. Whether it’s combine stuff or preparing for the draft, all the workouts. He’s been there the whole way and I'm very happy he has.”

With the 101st pick, San Francisco drafted Alabama tight end Cameron Latu. Latu had 30 catches for 377 yards and four touchdowns in 2022 after originally beginning his college career at linebacker.

The selections in the third round were special compensatory picks that were awarded to the 49ers via the updated Rooney rule.

The 49ers had to wait so long after trading away their first three picks in this year’s draft as part of deals to obtain quarterback Trey Lance (2021) and running back Christian McCaffrey (2022).

Earlier in the day, the 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. A first-round pick in 2020, Aiyuk is coming off his best season when he had career-highs in receptions (78), yards (1,015 yards) and touchdowns (eight).

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