Let’s have a little fun.
Yes, it’s far too early to make a 53-man roster projection for the 49ers in the 2021 season. But now that the first wave of free agency has come and gone (in depth breakdowns of each signing can be found here), we can start to evaluate how Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch’s roster is taking shape.
Oh, and we did a full seven-round mock draft and made nine picks for San Francisco using the The Draft Network’s mock draft simulator. We considered the team’s needs, value and what would make sense more than a month ahead draft night. We also took the liberty of projecting a few free agent signees that we could see happening.
So let’s take a position-by-position look at what the 49ers roster might look like come Week 1.
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Joe Flacco (available free agent)
Yes, we’re sticking with Garoppolo as the starter. And no, we did not draft a quarterback in our simulation. That might be one of the big hangups here. We addressed defense with the first two picks. But hey, if you want the 49ers to take a quarterback in a mock simulation, you can make one yourself. That’s the beauty of the internet.
All signs are pointing to Garoppolo remaining the starter unless a significant upgrade fell in the 49ers’ lap. Perhaps someone like Deshaun Watson or the chance to move up in the draft. It’s difficult to see Shanahan wanting to fork over multiple first-round picks to move up for a quarterback in a very competitive market. Flacco hasn’t signed yet (as of this writing), but his addition would make sense given the likely low price and his experience running the same scheme under both Gary Kubiak and returning quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello. We thought about sticking Rosen on the practice squad, but if he develops, he might give Flacco a run for his money as the backup.
Running back (4)
Kyle Juszczyk (FB)
Jeff Wilson Jr.
Khalil Herbert (Virginia Tech) — Round 5, pick 155
The 49ers have been good at finding undrafted running backs. But given the injury issues they’ve dealt (both Wilson and Mostert suffered high ankle sprains last season) adding another runner in the fifth round wouldn’t be a bad idea. Herbert (5-9, 204) isn’t a burner like Mostert or as physical as Wilson. He’s a mix of both. He’s a one-cut runner that could handle a big workload. He averaged 7.6 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns last season. Perhaps his best stat: He never fumbled in 475 rushing attempts in college. He would be a logical option to take Tevin Coleman’s spot.
Richie James Jr.
Trent Sherfield (Free agent)
Dazz Newsome (North Carolina) — Round 5, pick 180 (compensatory)
Newsome (5-11, 190) is a shifty, physical slot receiver that could help the 49ers in the return game after averaging 11.1 yards on punts. He had 126 catches, 1,702 yards and 16 receiving touchdowns his junior and senior seasons combined. He also averaged 8.9 yards on 20 runs, indicating his legs could add another dynamic to Shanahan’s offense. He’s also good after the catch. Whether it’s Newsome or someone else, the 49ers seem primed to add a slot receiver in the draft with Trent Taylor likely headed elsewhere. Also, guys named Dazz and Deebo should be in same receiving corps, in our opinion.
Otherwise, we have James making the team as a possible breakout candidate with an expanded role in place of Kendrick Bourne, who signed with the Patriots, and Hurd staying healthy enough to carve out a role after missing his first two NFL seasons with a back injury and torn ACL. He’s the wild card. If healthy, he could bring some much-needed size and versatility to the position.
Tight end (4)
Jordan Reed (available free agent)
No rookies here, though the 49ers will consider that option. We didn’t see any realistic options in the middle rounds of our simulation and Florida star Kyle Pitts was gone in the top 10 before San Francisco picked. The notable thing here is the return of Jordan Reed, who never got a chance to consistently play alongside Kittle last season. The 49ers will hope he can stay healthy and give the offense another pass catcher while Dwelley and Woerner will serve as backups. Perhaps Hurd coming back could offset the need for investing resources into the position.
Offensive line (8)
Trent Williams (free agent)
Alex Mack (free agent)
Ben Garland (available free agent)
Offensive linemen eluded us in this mock draft. That’s one of things that would likely change if and when we do this exercise again. But the addition of Mack means the 49ers don’t have to use an early pick on center, and Brunskill, McKivitz and Skule would all likely be better than a late-round prospect, anyway. We had the team going with a veteran backup center in Garland rather than drafting one. With Trent Williams back, San Francisco has the potential to have one of the best offensive lines in the league. And it would absolutely make sense in Round 1 to draft a touted prospect to insert at right guard (Rashawn Slater?), but instead we went with Lynch’s main focus, the defensive line.
Defensive line (11)
Samson Ebukam (free agent)
D.J. Jones (free agent)
Kwity Paye (Michigan) — Round 1, pick 12
Jaylen Tyman (Pittsburgh) — Round 3, 102 (compensatory)
Jonathon Cooper (Ohio State) — Round 5, 172
That’s right, three draftees for the defensive line, including Paye with the 12th overall pick. Paye could presumably line up opposite Bosa at defensive end, replace him for spells, or kick inside and wreak havoc against guards. He would give the group much-needed depth and versatility even if he isn’t a Day 1 starter. Paye might also offer a long-term alternative to Armstead and Ford, which might be needed if the team wants to move on, given their contracts. Tyman could be a rotational pass rusher along the interior who takes Solomon Thomas’ spot in the backup “Bravo” unit. Cooper would be a high-end depth addition in Round 5 that gives the team injury insurance it lacked last season when the team had to sign players such as Ezekiel Ansah, Dion Jordan and trade for Jordan Willis. Adding a talented pupil of Larry Johnson, Ohio State’s D-line coach, is often a good investment. Getting the defense back to 2019 levels means investing heavily in the defensive line, which Lynch loves to do.
Another position we thought about adding to in the draft but the right fit never came. No matter. The 49ers should feel pretty good about this group, especially if Al-Shaair can develop into a more consistent player. If not, Flannigan-Fowles, a former college safety, could unseat him for playing time. Expect linebackers to be added to the competition throughout the offseason. There could be five players in this spot if Shanahan decided to go with two quarterbacks instead of three, or 10 defensive linemen instead of 11, though Ebukam has played 3-4 linebacker in the past. Warner’s pending contract situation will be a big story line heading into the offseason, just as Kittle’s was a year ago.
Jason Verret (free agent)
Emmanuel Moseley (free agent)
K’Waun Williams (available free agent)
Kelvin Joseph (Kentucky) — Round 2, pick 43
Trill Williams (Syracuse) — Round 4, pick 117
The slow market for K’Waun Williams could mean he’s back with San Francisco on a one-year deal with a chance to hit the market again in 2022. Otherwise, the 49ers would be smart to draft a slot corner if they don’t sign a veteran. But the big story here would be the 49ers investing two draft picks on corners with a chance to develop into long-term contributors. Joseph and Williams could make up for the team’s miss on new Seahawk Ahkello Witherspoon and Webster could round out the unit for his work on special teams. The good news for the rookies: They won’t have to start right away if Verrett and Moseley stay healthy. Verrett returned on a modest, one-year, $5.5 million deal, which means his starting job could open up to Joseph or Williams in 2022. This would be a good step toward remaking the secondary that’s losing Richard Sherman.
Brenton Nelson (Virginia) — Round 7, pick 230
The 49ers could afford to upgrade Harris’ spot, particularly if they want more of a traditional safety to play deep. Harris is best around the line of scrimmage, hence trying him at linebacker last season. Otherwise, Moore is the favorite to replace Jaquiski Tartt in the lineup and could be a breakout candidate in his fourth season, and his first with a full-time starting role. Nelson has some versatility to play the slot or deep, which would be needed for a player at the back end of the roster.
Robbie Gould, K
Mitch Wishnowsky, P
Taybor Pepper, LS
Gould reworked his contract at the end of the season and is under team control for two more years at $7.5 million. Wishnowsky is entering his third season after improving his yards-per-punt average from 44.9 to 46.9. Pepper signed a two-year deal worth over just $2 million this offseason to solidify the long snapper spot after turmoil the last two seasons. The less we hear about these guys, the better for the 49ers.
Here’s a recap of how our draft simulation shook out:
Round 1, pick 12: Kwity Paye, DE (Michigan)
Round 2, 43: Kelvin Joseph, CB (Kentucky)
Round 3, 102 (compensatory): Jaylen Tyman, DT (Pittsburgh)
Round 4, 117: Trill Williams, CB (Syracuse)
Round 5, 155: Dazz Newsome, WR (North Carolina)
Round 5, 172: Jonathon Cooper, DE (Ohio State)
Round 5, 180 (compensatory): Khalil Herbert, RB (Virginia Tech)
Round 6, 172: Shi Smith, WR (South Carolina)
Round 7, 230: Brenton Nelson, S (Virginia)
Clearly we put an emphasis on defensive line and cornerback, adding five players to the positions in total. Those are two of the team’s biggest needs after free agency. The offensive line got ignored, but bringing back Williams and signing Mack means the 49ers don’t have to add to the position, particularly if they believe Brunskill, McKivitz and Skule can develop after all getting playing time in recent seasons. Perhaps the 49ers add a linebacker instead of a running back, but we thought Shanahan could use a talented prospect there. He hasn’t drafted a running back since Joe Williams in 2017. Newsome looks like he has the chance to be a valuable addition to the receiver group, particularly if he lasts until Round 5.
Speaking of receiver, we used a sixth-round draft pick on South Carolina’s Shi Smith, but we didn’t have him making the team in our full roster projection. Smith would be a practice squad candidate barring injury. Smith is another slot receiver and return man that could offer help in case of injuries.
What do you think of our picks and projections?