You may have heard the NFL draft is quickly approaching with the first round on April 29.
And while all the attention (rightfully so) is on the 49ers’ first-round draft pick following their trade up to No. 3 overall for a quarterback, the team has eight other selections that could be vital to another run at Super Bowl contention.
Remember, the 2019 season saw significant contributions from first-year players Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel and Dre Greenlaw. Bosa was the Defensive Rookie of the Year and arguably the team’s most valuable defensive player. Samuel, a second-round receiver, had nearly 1,000 all purpose yards as a dual threat option for Kyle Shanahan while Greenlaw made one of the biggest defensive plays of the season with his last-minute stop in Seattle Week 17.
So for the sake of looking at what San Francisco’s roster needs and possible fits, let’s take a look at a full seven-round mock draft including a player they might take to be the next face of the franchise. We used The Draft Network’s Mock Draft simulator to make the selections.
Round 1, No. 3
Trey Lance, QB (North Dakota State)
There might not be many of us on Trey Lance island, but the more studying and asking around, the more Lance comes up as a fit for Shanahan’s offense. At nearly 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds, Lance needs time to develop, which would be afforded by the team keeping Jimmy Garoppolo as the starter for 2021 or until Lance beats him out. Lance comes from a pro-style offense at North Dakota State which makes him an easier projection for Shanahan’s scheme based on his ability to turn his back to the defense in play action.
That was key in Shanahan’s assessment of C.J. Beathard when he was a third-round pick from Iowa in 2017. Only Lance has the physical tools to become an MVP candidate given his arm strength and athleticism. As a 19-year-old redshirt freshman in 2019, Lance led the Bison to a 16-0 record and an FCS national championship while completing 67 percent of his passes for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns with 1,100 rushing yards and 14 scores on the ground. Perhaps the most impressive stat for Lance: He set an NCAA record (at all levels) with no interceptions over 287 attempts.
Yes, Lance’s playing time was limited and his competition level isn’t the same as Justin Fields or (gulp) Mac Jones, but Shanahan will focus more on factors Lance could control, like his ability to make checks at the line of scrimmage, throw on the run and run over would-be tacklers with the type of ferocity Shanahan enjoys from George Kittle and Deebo Samuel. Is Lance the best player right now, at this moment, among Fields and Jones? Perhaps not. But Shanahan would be betting on what Lance could be two or three years from now, not necessarily this fall. This move would be about adding the player with the highest upside.
Round 2, No. 43
Asante Samuel Jr., CB (Florida State)
There appear to be a number of quality options at cornerback in the second round, Samuel included. His father, of course, had a lengthy and prosperous career with the New England Patriots despite lacking ideal size for the position. Samuel (5-10, 180) doesn’t fall in line with the tall, long-limbed corners the 49ers favored when they drafted Ahkello Witherspoon and later signed Richard Sherman. But perhaps their recent moves at the position indicate coverage skills are more important than measurables, and that’s where Samuel fits the bill. Samuel is about the same size as Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley, two free agents who were brought back this spring. Evaluators believe Samuel’s man-to-man mirroring project him as a starter in the NFL and there’s a chance he’s versatile enough to play in the slot, offering a possible long-term solution should nickel corner K’Waun Williams leave in free agency next offseason.
Round 3, No. 102
Cameron Sample, Edge (Tulane)
Losing Kerry Hyder to the Seattle Seahawks might be departure San Francisco regrets most this offseason, particularly if injury issues pop up along the defensive line for the second year in a row. Sample (6-3, 267) is a powerful defensive end, like Hyder, that could be used outside in base packages and along the interior as a pass rusher. Some believe his work at the Senior Bowl was better than what he showed during his three seasons as a starter for Tulane, which could mean his best football hasn’t been put on tape yet. Sample isn’t a speedy edge rusher like Dee Ford or newcomer Samson Ebukam, but he could offer insurance for Bosa as he comes back from last season’s ACL tear. Sample only missed two games his entire college career while making 38 starts. If anything, the 49ers could count on Sample to be a durable and versatile option as a rotational defensive lineman.
Round 4, No. 117
Tre Brown, CB (Oklahoma)
Don’t be surprised if the 49ers draft multiple cornerbacks given their lack of depth heading into the draft. Brown (5-10, 185) is another player with good movement skills (4.40 in the 40-yard dash, 38-inch vertical jump) who played man-to-man coverage and in zone with the Sooners. The three-year starter allowed just a 37.4 completion rate over the last two seasons, according to Dane Brugler of The Athletic, and could play both inside and outside. Even if Brown doesn’t play much in the early going, he’s experienced on special teams where he could let his speed and athleticism shine as a gunner.
Round 5, No. 155
Shi Smith, WR (South Carolina)
It would be an upset if the 49ers didn’t come out of this draft with a slot receiver to replace free agent Trent Taylor. And perhaps using another fifth-round choice, like Taylor was, would make sense here. But Smith (5-9, 184) is a much different kind of athlete. He ran a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash, which might make him San Francisco’s fastest receiver while Taylor was known more for his short-area route running than long speed. Smith was also a teammate of Samuel in college indicating the scheme should translate easily. Smith is known for his toughness and could be used in the running game the same way Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk have been, and perhaps complete the team’s receiver trio now that Kendrick Bourne plays for the New England Patriots.
Round 5, No. 172
Joshua Bledsoe, S (Missouri)
The refurbishing of the secondary continues here with a safety that could provide depth behind Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt, two players with lengthy injury issues. Part of Bledsoe’s appeal is durability as he started every game for the Tigers the last two seasons. He only had one career interception, but he led the team with 17 combined pass breakups the last two years and made 7.0 tackles for loss, indicating he has value near the line of scrimmage. Bledsoe (5-11, 204) doesn’t have elite athleticism to make up for mistakes, but he does have natural instincts, physicality and toughness that could make him appealing to new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. Ryans needs to start developing defensive backs for the long haul, particularly after losing D.J. Reed last summer to the Seahawks.
Round 5, No. 180
Jonathon Cooper, DE (Ohio State)
Bosa made it clear the 49ers should like pass rushers from Ohio State and defensive line coach Larry Johnson. Cooper (6-3, 250) might not be the top-flight prospect Bosa was two years ago, but the Buckeyes team captain knows how to play in a professional atmosphere which could make a gem this late in the draft. An ankle injury forced Cooper to miss all but four games in 2019, but he rebounded in 2020 to earn the “Block O” jersey given to players that exhibit intangibles like leadership and toughness. He appeared in 45 games throughout his college career giving him the experience to potentially hit the ground running to provide more depth to a talented defensive line.
Round 6, No. 194
Marlon Williams, WR (UCF)
Samuel and Aiyuk are about the only sure things the 49ers can count on at receiver, so don’t be surprised if they take multiple stabs at the position in the draft. Williams (5-11, 209) finished with strong numbers in just eight games in 2020, making 71 catches for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s not the fastest player (he was clocked at 4.66 in the 40) but he did lead all FBS receivers in broken tackles last season, which will likely catch Shanahan’s attention. He could compete with Jauan Jennings, Jalen Hurd, Travis Benjamin and others for a chance to carve out a role.
Round 7, No. 230
Elijah Mitchell, RB (Louisiana)
The 49ers each spring tend to find a running back in undrafted free agency that winds up contributing. Here, they use the last of their nine picks on a player that could help out from the jump. Mitchell (5-10, 201) is considered a one-cut runner with elite speed, evident by his reported 4.33 in the 40-yard dash. He averaged 6.2 yards on 527 college carries, and 12.2 yards on 49 receptions. He scored 46 touchdowns in 42 games. Taking him here would put him in the mix to compete with former UDFA JaMycal Hasty to backup Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr.