No team is ever going to receive an “A” grade when they draft a punter in the fourth round. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan were assuredly aware that selecting Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky with the 110th overall pick would be a point of contention for many.
Heck, even Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham didn’t expect Wishnowsky to come off the board that early. Whittingham was keen, though, to reiterate that his former pupil is more than capable of justifying his draft selection.
“It was surprising, but in my opinion it was warranted,” Whittingham told 49ers.com “He’s that much of a weapon.”
Wishnowsky was a Ray Guy award winner at Utah and held a 45.7-yard career punt average. The Utes allowed a mere 106 combined return yards over his final 100 punts. Wishnowsky has the power and precision to be an elite NFL punter.
San Francisco is counting on him to be a major asset to its defense in terms of being able to flip the field and pin opponents deep in their own territory.
“He’s got the strongest leg that I’ve ever been around or had the opportunity to coach,” Whittingham said. “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 four- or five-yard line and kill it. He was very valuable for us in the field position game.”
The 49ers grew fond of Wishnowsky at the Senior Bowl and became sold on the punter during a private pre-draft workout. San Francisco’s special teams coordinator Richard Hightower led the process while Shanahan and Lynch also did their due diligence by watching the punter’s college tape.
Wishnowsky has impressive size and athleticism for his position at 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds. He ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and posted a 32.5-inch vertical.
“I’m convinced he could have been a running back or a linebacker,” Whittingham said. “He’s 6-foot-2 and 200-something pounds, and we clocked him at like a 4.51. The kid is a phenomenal athlete.”
Utah first learned of Wishnowsky through Nathan Chapman, the head of Prokick Australia. Chapman helps Australian Football League (AFL) players transition into punters and kickers in the American game. He notably worked with Seattle Seahawks All-Pro punter Michael Dickson.
He’s also built a relationship with the University of Utah after sending punter Tom Hackett their way back in 2012. Chapman alerted Whittingham and the rest of Utah’s coaching staff back in 2016 that he had a new punter for them. He told Utah that Wishnowsky was special.
“(Nathan) was right,” Whittingham said. “He was right on the money.”
The 49ers expect Wishnowsky to be a decade-long mainstay in San Francisco. Shanahan was adamant following the draft that the 49ers would have risked missing out on their coveted specialist had they opted to wait another round.
"You'd love to do it in the seventh (round), but I promise you we wouldn't have gotten him if we tried to do it in the fifth (round)," Shanahan said.
Some will continue to grumble over the selection, sticking to their guns that the fourth-rounder could have been spent to fortify a different position group. But the 49ers feel like they’ve added a game-changing weapon to their roster, and given how high they drafted him, it’s fair to say there’s some pressure on him to be just that.