Every day leading up to the start of training camp, 49ers.com will break down groups on the roster as we get closer to the season. To kick things off, we'll begin with getting to know the 2022 rookie class.
What is a Rookie?
A rookie is any player who is in their first season in the league, having never signed a contract with an NFL team before. Rookies can be players selected by the team in the NFL Draft or undrafted free agents, who are players eligible for the draft but were not selected, however, negotiated and signed with the team.
Iconic 49ers Rookie Seasons Throughout History
- FB Ken Willard - 1965: As the second-overall pick in the 1965 draft, Willard carried the ball 189 times for 778 yards and five touchdowns. As a rookie, Willard was the fourth-leading rusher in the NFL and was later selected to play in the 1965 Pro Bowl.
- CB Ronnie Lott - 1981: Lott was the 49ers first round pick and the eighth player chosen overall in the 1981 NFL Draft. After intercepting seven passes, recording 89 tackles and leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, the cornerback finished second in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in 1981.
- FB Roger Craig - 1983: The 49ers selected Craig in the second round (49th overall) of the 1983 NFL Draft. Craig went on to rush for 725 yards as a rookie with eight touchdowns. He also caught 48 passes for 427 yards and four more touchdowns, leading the team in both yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns.
- WR Jerry Rice - 1985: Rice was drafted in the first round (16th overall) of the NFL Draft by the 49ers, where he went on to record 49 catches for 927 yards and scored four touchdowns in 16 games in his rookie season. Shortly after, he was named the NFC's Offensive Rookie of the Year.
- RB Ricky Watters - 1992: As the 45th-overall pick of the 1992 NFL Draft, Watters recorded 206 carries for 1,013 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in 14 games. With an outstanding rookie performance, he was selected to play in his first Pro Bowl.
- DT Bryant Young - 1994: After being drafted as the seventh-overall pick in the 1994 NFL Draft, Young recorded 6.0 sacks, lead the defensive line with 49 tackles and was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
- LB Patrick Willis - 2007: Willis was the 49ers first round draft pick and the 11th player chosen overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. The linebacker led the league with 174 tackles, adding 4.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and five passes deflected. He earned Rookie of the Week honors four times, won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award and was voted First-Team All-Pro in 2007.
- LB Aldon Smith - 2011: As the seventh-overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, Smith recorded 31 solo tackles, six assists, 14.0 sacks and one fumble recovery in 16 games in his rookie season.
- DL Nick Bosa - 2019: Bosa was drafted second-overall by the 49ers in 2019. In his rookie season, Bosa notched 9.0 sacks, earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and helped San Francisco reach Super Bowl LIV.
Rookie Class Outlook
The San Francisco 49ers will enter training camp with a number of 22 total rookies. Nine of the 22 were drafted in April and the other 13 are undrafted free agents. At the end of the 2022 NFL Draft, league experts set high expectations on the rookies, designating as high as A and B grades for the 49ers selections. Throughout the offseason, rookies will compete to see who will make the final 53-man roster out of the total 90 currently on the team.
Rookie Class Breakdown
Jackson was selected by the 49ers in the second round (61st overall) of this year's NFL Draft out of Southern California. He appeared in 28 games (26 starts) in three years (2019-21) and registered 103 tackles, 25.0 tackles for loss, four passes defended, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. In 2019 and 2021, Jackson earned Second-Team All-Pac-12 honors.
"He has really great ability and he just has to keep working," defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said during OTAs. "He has the ability to get to the quarterback. And if he keeps working, keeps getting in there with (defensive line coach Kris) Kocurek, and learning from Nick Bosa, learning from Arik Armstead, learning from Samson Ebukam, just diving in and really detailing out his job, Drake has a chance to be a really good player for us. The sky is the limit for him, he just has to keep working, keep improving daily."
Davis-Price was the first of two third-round draft picks (93rd overall) selected by the 49ers in this year's draft. He appeared in 36 games (16 starts) in three years at Louisiana State (2019-21) and registered 379 carries for 1,744 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns along with 28 receptions for 185 yards.
"He would attack safeties early in the game but make them miss late in the game," assistant head coach Anthony Lynn said of Davis-Price's college performance. "He understands the game of football."
Gray was the second of the team's third-round draft picks (105th overall) selected in this year's draft. The receiver started all 18 games he appeared in between 2020-2021 at Southern Methodist and registered 72 receptions for 1,251 yards and 13 touchdowns. In 2021, Gray was named First-Team All-AAC.
"He can fly," wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk said during OTAs. "He came in, he's ready to learn. He's ready to work. I like him."
Burford was selected by the 49ers in the fourth round (134th overall) of this year's NFL Draft out of Texas-San Antonio. In 2021, Burford started in all 12 games and helped pave the way for UTSA records in total yards (6,146), passing yards (3,577) and points scored (516).
Womack III was selected by the 49ers in the fifth round (172nd overall) of this year's NFL Draft out of Toledo. Between 2017-2021, he tallied 128 tackles, 45 passes defended, five interceptions, 0.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Zakelj was the first of three sixth-round draft picks (187th overall) selected by the 49ers in this year's draft. In 2021, he appeared in five games (three starts) and helped Fordham rank 6th in the FCS in yards per game (349.7). In 2019, Zakelj started all 12 games at LT and helped block for the Patriot League's top-ranked offense (357.2 yards per game).
Davis was the second of three sixth-round draft picks (220th overall) selected by the 49ers in this year's draft. In five years at Central Florida, Davis appeared in 28 games (14 starts) and registered 61 tackles, 11.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, two passes defended, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Castro-Fields was the third sixth-round draft pick (221st overall) selected by the 49ers in this year's draft. In his 51 collegiate-game appearances at Penn State, Castro-Fields tallied 138 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss, 28 passes defended, three interceptions and one forced fumble.
Purdy was selected by the 49ers in the seventh round (262nd overall) of this year's NFL Draft out of Iowa State. Between 2018-2021, the quarterback completed 993 of 1,467 attempts for 12,170 yards and 81 touchdowns. Purdy also added 365 carries for 1,117 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground as a Cyclone.
As an All-Mountain West honorable mention defensive lineman, Atkins started in all 13 games in 2021 recording 41 tackles (26 solo), 13 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks and adding a team-best two fumble recoveries. Atkins earned the most tackles for loss in a season by a Bulldog interior defensive lineman since 2014. In May, Atkins agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
"The Niners actually play almost the same defense as Fresno State," Atkins said. "It's an attack defense, it's a go get 'em. And I just feel like that prepared me for that defense because I'm almost doing the same thing I did in college, but at a high level. Just training, it makes everything that much easier."
In 2021, Gemmel started in all 13 games at linebacker earning Third-Team All-ACC. He finished second on his team with 75 tackles, recorded a team-leading seven hurries, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups, one interception and one forced fumble. In May, Gemmel agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
Hawkins was named a Second-Team All-Mountain West selection, First-Team Pro Football Focus Mountain West Team of the Year, Reese's Senior Bowl Watch List and honorable-mention pick by Pro Football Focus in 2021. He recorded 62 tackles (48 solo), a tackle for loss, two interceptions, 13 pass breakups, one forced fumble and two quarterback hurries in 13 starts in his 2021 season and according to Pro Football Focus, he owned the second-best coverage rating in the country among defensive backs (and No. 1 in the Mountain West). In May, Hawkins agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
Knight was a starter at nickel back in all 12 games at UCLA, leading the team in tackles and tackles for loss in 2021. He earned a Second-Team All-Pac-12 selection, Third-Team All-Conference choice by Phil Steele and was chosen to participate in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. In May, Knight agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
Starting seven games for Pittsburgh, Mack compiled 27 receptions for 461 yards and three touchdowns in 2021. He was also selected to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. In May, Mack agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
As a Second-Team All-Big 12 selection, Martin recorded 1,046 receiving yards on 80 receptions for 10 touchdowns in 2021, all of which led Oklahoma State. His receiving yardage total ranked No. 1 in the Big 12 and made him the 10th player in school history to record 1,000 receiving yards in a season. In May, Martin agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
In 2021, Mason closed his collegiate career with 2,349 rushing yards, good for 11th-most in Georgia Tech history, and caught 10 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. In May, Mason agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
As a team captain for Indiana, McCrary-Ball recorded 40 tackles (24 solo), with 1.0 sack, one interception and four pass breakups. In May, McCrary-Ball agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
At Texas A&M, O'Neal started in all 12 games and became third on the team with seven passes defended and tied for fourth with 58 total takedowns in 2021. In May, O'Neal agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
"I want to represent the 49ers the right way," O'Neal said. "That's my main goal. I'm process-oriented. My main goal is to work as hard as I possibly can, and the results happen within the work. That's how I keep my focus."
As a team captain for San Diego State, Olubi began his career as a walk-on. In 2021, he recorded 53 tackles (29 solo), 2.0 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and 10 quarterback hurries in 14 games (seven starts). In May, Olubi agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
Poe appeared in nine games in two years at Mercer (2020-21). In 2021, the offensive lineman helped pave the way for over 2,000 rushing yards, the third-most registered by a team in the Southern Conference. In May, Poe agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
"First step off the ball I thought, 'Wow, that's extremely quick,'" offensive tackle Trent Williams said during OTAs. "He has really good footwork and that athleticism from playing football is going to take him a long way, especially in this offense."
Schlueter started all 13 games for Minnesota in 2021 and blocked for an offense that totaled 4,681 yards and averaged 25.46 points per game, earning him an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. In May, Schlueter agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
In 2020, West started all four games for the Sun Devils at left guard, receiving First-Team All-Conference honors. In May, West agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.