2 49ers draft picks received rare ‘gold helmet’ designation from front office
The 49ers don’t give out ‘gold helmet’ designations to just any draft prospect. A select few get that label for their performance on the field, but also because of intangible things like leadership and football IQ. Two of San Francisco’s draft picks this year reached gold helmet status according to Matt Barrows of the Athletic.
Barrows wrote a fascinating piece where he dove deep on each of the 49ers’ prospects from this year’s draft with assistant general manager Adam Peters. Penn State safety Ji’Ayir Brown and Oklahoma tight end Brayden Willis were the two gold helmet prospects the 49ers landed.
Brown was the player San Francisco traded up to get at No. 87 overall. He has the physical tools to be a good player in the NFL and he posted 10 interceptions across his last two seasons with the Nittany Lions. However, Peters told Barrows that other things stood out to the team about Brown.
Via the Athletic:
“They call him ‘The Voice’ because he was the voice of the defense, the leader of the defense,” Peters said. “And it’s not just what he says, it’s how he plays. Like one of my notes was, ‘He plays every play like it’s his last.’ He plays really, really hard.”
It’s not a huge surprise that the 49ers loved Brown’s playing style. He’s all over the place and constantly around the ball on virtually any Penn State game from the last two years.
Willis, one of the 49ers’ trio of seventh-round selections, also got tabbed as a gold helmet prospect. His toughness stands out on tape as a blocker and as a runner after the catch.
Barrows said it was Willis’ two-year team captaincy and competitive spirit that earned Willis the gold helmet. Peters elaborated via the Athletic:
“We loved his run-after-the-catch (rate),” Peters said. “That was backed up by our R&D guys. He had the highest broken-tackle percentage of all the drafted tight ends.”
Adding another TE who can make plays in the passing game has been something the 49ers have been aiming to do over the last few offseasons. This time they invested two draft picks in TEs who put up good receiving numbers in college.
The 49ers didn’t receive high praise for their draft, but it’s clear that Peters and San Francisco’s front office are high on their picks despite all of their selections coming at No. 87 or beyond. Finding a couple gold helmet players in that mix is a nice win for a team that badly needs to hit on some picks this year and next to extend their Super Bowl window.
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