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Fann Mail: Which 49ers Rookies Can Make an Impact in 2018?

Now that the dust has settled in the 2018 NFL Draft, let’s assess the San Francisco 49ers latest additions to the roster. This week’s mailbag is all about which rookies might be able to make an immediate impact this season. Thanks as always to those who participated.

Kyle Shanahan has reiterated time and again that size is not an essential trait for a wide receiver. Sure it can help in the red zone, but Shanahan said that there’s no use in having a player that you can only use inside the 5-yard line. That’s not to say the 49ers have been avoiding tall receivers. But it does mean that San Francisco has preferred other options at that position to this point.

I’d guess that Mike McGlinchey is the 49ers Week 1 starter at right tackle. Garry Gilliam will also get plenty of first-team reps during the offseason program and training camp, but I expect McGlinchey to win that job.

Warner is an off-ball linebacker which means he’ll spend his time at WILL and/or MIKE linebacker. Shanahan explained that those two spots are fairly interchangeable in terms of responsibilities. The main difference is that the MIKE has the communication system in his helmet and is tasked with communicating the play call with the rest of the defense.

Each of the 49ers first three picks could play a major role in 2018. We covered McGlinchey earlier. Warner provides depth at inside linebacker and could be a second-stringer come Week 1. That would make him one play away from being an every-down player in Robert Saleh’s defense.

Second-round pick Dante Pettis may be San Francisco’s starting punt returner to open the year. The former Washington Husky set an NCAA record with nine career punt return touchdowns. I also think the “Pettis is going to take Trent Taylor’s job” takes are a bit overblown. Taylor’s short-area quickness and ability to get open out of the slot will continue to make him a factor in Shanahan’s offense. It’s way too early to pigeonhole Pettis as a slot receiver. I’d expect him to get reps at all three spots during training camp, which means he’ll provide depth behind Taylor, Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin. Don’t underestimate Pettis’ home run ability, either. He’s plenty fast to take the top off of the defense. At 6-foot-1, he may also be utilized in the red zone.

I asked Lynch about this on Friday night after the 49ers moved up to take Pettis. San Francisco’s general manager explained that he and Shanahan coveted Pettis and wanted to make sure they landed him in the second round. Pick No. 44 was where San Francisco felt comfortable about their odds of Pettis still being available.

“You never really know, but you try to garner as much information as you can,” Lynch said. “I think most of all, we just knew Pettis was a really good and versatile football player that we thought would excite a lot of people.”

Compare the situation to when you’re drafting your fantasy football team. Let’s say there’s a player you love. Drafting him too early doesn’t cost nearly as much as the disappointment of waiting too long. Could the 49ers have stood pat at pick No. 59 and still gotten Pettis? Maybe. But it wasn’t worth the risk in the eyes of Lynch and Shanahan. They got their guy, and that’s all that mattered.

The 49ers wouldn’t have picked up Arik Armstead’s fifth-year option if they didn’t believe he could be a part of the team’s future. Armstead is still a bit of an unknown with untapped potential. Shanahan, Saleh and John Lynch have all said that Armstead was having his best game of the year in Week 6 against the Washington Redskins before breaking his hand. Simply put, you don’t let a 6-foot-8, 290-pound defensive lineman walk until you know without a doubt that he’s not a fit in what you’re trying to accomplish.

The same goes for Ward, who will make more than any other 49ers defender in 2018. His athletic profile and position versatility are uncommon. That’s why he was a first-round pick back in 2014.

Staying healthy will be the biggest point of emphasis for both players this season.

Let’s enjoy 2018 before we start worrying about 2019 mock drafts. There’s so much that could happen between now and then. Best to sit back and enjoy it all as it unfolds.

*Shakes magic eight ball*

“Signs point to yes.”

Solomon Thomas might play LEO on base downs, but he’ll move inside in passing situations. I haven’t heard anything to make me believe that Thomas is working to become a traditional edge rusher.

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