We know the 49ers moved up in their trade from No. 12 to 3 for a new franchise quarterback.
But what about their other eight picks in the upcoming draft?
Coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch have roughly three and a half weeks before the draft begins April 29. Surely they have a strong idea of which quarterback they’ll take at No. 3, otherwise they wouldn’t have given up three first-round picks and a third-round selection to move up.
Here we’ll look at the non-quarterback positions the team should address to replenish the roster heading into the fifth season of their regime.
The 49ers feel good about being able to bring back Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley, two players with starting experience they re-signed when the new league year began last month. But San Francisco would be wise to invest at least one early draft pick in another cornerback given Verrett’s lengthy injury history. Richard Sherman remains unsigned but appears unlikely to return. Ahkello Witherspoon, the 2017 third-round pick, signed March 19 with the Seattle Seahawks. Moseley is a fine player, but not one that should be given a starting job without competition.
The 49ers might have been interested in one of the draft’s best cornerbacks had they stayed at pick No. 12 and decided not to move up. They would have been in a good spot for South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn or Alabama’s Patrick Patrick Surtain. But after their trade they likely will have to wait until Round 2 when they pick at No. 43 overall.
This draft class is expected to be replete with starting-caliber cornerbacks in Round 2. Some options could include a pair of players from Georgia, Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes, Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II, Kentucky’s Kelvin Joseph, Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr., Washington’s Elijah Molden and Syracuse’s Ifeatu Melifonwu, the brother of San Francisco’s safety Obi Melifonwu.
The 49ers are hoping the return of Nick Bosa from September’s ACL tear will cure their pass rushing issues from 2020, but they still need reinforcements. Kerry Hyder, last season’s sack leader, also signed with the Seahawks, while it’s unknown if Dee Ford will even play in 2021, let alone contribute. The 49ers added former Ram Samson Ebukam as insurance for Ford, but depth is needed at all four defensive line spots.
Hyder was brought in on a one-year contract in 2020 to provide versatility. The team was hoping he could add juice to the interior pass rush behind Javon Kinlaw and Arik Armstead, but instead was required to play a featured role at defensive end due to injuries. And on top of losing former third-overall pick Solomon Thomas, the team could use another versatile player for the second-unit “Bravo” group that will be used to spell Bosa and the starters.
The 49ers brought back D.J. Jones, a locker-room favorite and productive player when healthy, but his ankle issues from the last two seasons led to the signing of veteran Zach Kerr, who might be one of the team’s most underrated additions of the offseason. Kevin Givens remains slated for a rotational role on the inside, but his status wasn’t helped by a February arrest in Baltimore, which needs sorting out.
The 49ers could use depth on the inside and outside of the defensive line. Don’t be surprised if Lynch, who has made the defensive line a priority since 2017, adds multiple players to make sure the front four remains a strength and can handle injuries.
What are the 49ers’ long-term options at receiver? Beyond the promising starting duo of Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, there isn’t much certainty there. Losing Kendrick Bourne to the New England Patriots in free agency will hurt on third down and in the red zone. He played in all but one game over the past three seasons.
The other receivers on the roster are Richie James Jr., Jalen Hurd, Trent Sherfield, Mohamed Sanu, Jauan Jennings, River Cracraft, Matt Cole, Kevin White and Austin Proehl.
For now, it would appear James, Hurd (if healthy) and Sherfield (for his work on special teams) would be the trio behind Aiyuk and Samuel on the depth chart. But the team could use at least one more receiver in the draft after parting with failed second-round draft choice Dante Pettis, and Trent Taylor, who the team has not made a priority to bring back.
The 49ers could use another option in the slot that could also return kicks. They ranked 19th in the NFL averaging 8.0 yards a return last season.
Florida dynamo Kadarius Toney could be an option if he lasts to pick No. 43. He’s known for his work after the catch making him a possible fit for Shanahan. He ranked fifth in the country in yards after the catch and sixth in yards from the slot. Clemson’s Amari Rodgers is similar. He led the country with 68 catches from the slot and scored five touchdowns on throws longer than 20 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
Signing center Alex Mack in free agency could be a boon for Shanahan given how badly the team struggled with the position in 2020. Weston Richburg missed the entire year with a knee injury from 2019, Hroniss Grasu started the season, Ben Garland played five games before a calf injury sidelined him for the year, and then Daniel Brunskill started the second half of the season after being used primarily as a “swing” tackle in 2019.
Mack was an All-Decade player in the 2010s. But the 35-year-old’s best days are clearly behind him, making likely the 49ers look for a contingency plan in the draft to serve as Mack’s backup and long-term replacement. That player isn’t currently on the roster.
Additionally, that rookie could compete for the starting spot at right guard, which seems up in the air between Brunskill, second-year pro Colton McKivitz and Justin Skule, a sixth-round pick who has also primarily played tackle.
Alabama’s Landon Dickerson could be an intriguing target after the first round. The 49ers likely got a good look at Alabama’s pro day when watched quarterback Mac Jones. Dickerson played 711 snaps at center for the Tide and 216 at right guard. He’s coming off a torn ACL, however, which might give some teams pause, including San Francisco given all their injuries last season.
On the other hand, Dickerson might drop in the draft and could be a good value if the 49ers aren’t deterred about his time frame of his recovery.
George Kittle has played through a ton of injuries throughout his career, including a fractured foot midway through last season after missing two weeks with a knee sprain early on. He’s dealing with a labrum injury in his shoulder that he said likely won’t get addressed until his playing career is over.
Still, Kittle often plays 90% of the team’s offensive snaps and the 49ers could use another pass catching tight end to ease his workload and give Shanahan’s offense more versatility. Perhaps that could come if Hurd stays healthy after missing his first two seasons with back and ACL injuries.
Otherwise, returners Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner and Daniel Helm have 39 catches combined over the last three years with 36 belonging to Dwelley. Perhaps the 49ers will bring back oft-injured free agent Jordan Reed, but that still shouldn’t prevent them from adding a versatile tight end that could spare Kittle some hits while also giving the offense a more effective look with two-tight end sets.
Other positions were considered for this fifth and final spot. The 49ers could use another running back after Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. dealt with ankle injuries throughout 2020. The secondary could use another safety given Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt’s lengthy injury histories, and perhaps another linebacker would make sense to develop behind Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw.
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