What 49ers need in NFL Draft

As the com­bine is un­der­way, let's break down San Francisco’s big­gest po­si­tions of need

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS -

The 49ers — like ev­ery other team in the NFL — are at the com­bine.

And given that the Niners’ stated goal in free agency is to keep the band to­gether, it puts all the more onus on the team to draft well come April. After all, that’s the route where the 49ers can most sig­nif­i­cantly up­grade their ros­ter ahead of the 2020 sea­son.

So… what ex­actly are the Niners look­ing for at this com­bine?

More draft picks

The 49ers do a good job of keep­ing their true in­ten­tions un­der wraps — some­thing pre­vi­ous regimes couldn’t do. As such, we have no re­li­able reads on what the Niners plan to do with pick No. 31 in the draft.

But see­ing as the Niners don’t have any glar­ing holes on their ros­ter, the most log­i­cal op­tion is to trade it for more draft picks this draft and per­haps next to ac­quire more depth and high­ceil­ing, low-floor prospects.

The Niners do not have any picks in the sec­ond, third, and fourth rounds in this year’s draft. So con­sid­er­ing their suc­cess in the later rounds of the draft and their hit-or-miss track record with top-50 picks, it will likely be­hoove the Niners to move off of No. 31 and take a few more spins on the prospect wheel.

What could the Niners net for pick No. 31?

Lucky for us — though unlucky for them — the 49ers were on the other end of that equa­tion in 2017, when they traded up to No. 31 to se­lect Reuben Fos­ter. The deal — made with the Sea­hawks of all teams — cost the Niners picks Nos. 34, and 111. It was a nice lit­tle haul for the ‘Hawks.

Last year, the Rams traded away pick Nos. 31 and 203 to At­lanta for picks Nos. 45 and 79.

It’s rea­son­able to ex­pect that the Niners could net two Day Two picks with the No. 31 pick and per­haps a late-round sweet­ener. (The Niners have three picks after No. 190.)

Mov­ing out of the first round would also save the Niners come cash, as rook­ies are paid on a slid­ing scale. That’d be a big plus for the Niners con­sid­er­ing their salary cap crunch. Trad­ing out of the first would also re­move the pos­si­bil­ity of a fifth-year op­tion — the ex­tra year for first-rounders is com­monly con­sid­ered a win for teams, but it can cre­ate tough, costly de­ci­sions after a player’s third sea­son.

Per­haps the Niners fall in love with a player that’s avail­able to them at No. 31 — all op­tions are on the ta­ble — but pru­dence is rarely un­re­warded. The Niners would be wise to move out of the first round and pick up a Day Two pick or two in the process.

Sec­ondary

Whether or not the 49ers make a move with pick No. 31, you should ex­pect them to se­lect a sec­ondary player ear­lier than they did in last year’s draft, when their first pick of a de­fen­sive back (a mas­sive po­si­tion of need go­ing into that draft, too) was cor­ner­back Tim Har­ris at

pick No. 198.

The Niners could go with a safety, see­ing as free safety Jim­mie Ward is a pend­ing free agent (we’ll see what hap­pens there) and start­ing strong safety Jaquiski Tartt will be a free agent at the end of next sea­son.

They could also look at cor­ner­back. Don’t tell Richard Sher­man, but he’s 31 years old and will be a free agent at the end of the 2020 sea­son. On the other side, nei­ther Ahkello Wither­spoon and Em­manuel Mosley have sep­a­rated them­selves as the team’s clear No. 2 cor­ner. In the slot, K’Waun Wil­liams is poised to be a free agent after this sea­son.

Be­hind that core five (or six), are un­proven young­sters in safeties DJ Reed, Tavar­ius Moore, and Mar­cell Har­ris, and the afore­men­tioned Tim Har­ris.

Of course, sec­ondary play­ers are near mar­tyrs in this pass-happy era of the NFL, and there’s a mar­ginal cor­re­la­tion be­tween draft po­si­tion and suc­cess at the NFL level at that po­si­tion. You could con­vince me that the Niners have de­cided at there’s a mar­ket ad­van­tage in not se­lect­ing sec­ondary play­ers early in the draft.

But whether the Niners are tar­get­ing a sec­ondary player early or not, it’s clear that San Francisco will need to se­lect some­one from the de­fen­sive back­field in this draft.

In­te­rior of­fen­sive line

There’s no guar­an­tee that start­ing right guard Mike Per­son re­mains with this team for the 2020 sea­son, as his $2.5 mil­lion salary for next year could be cut with­out penalty, and Dan Brun­skill is ar­guably a bet­ter op­tion at the po­si­tion.

Shana­han has made it clear in his ca­reer that he be­lieves in pay­ing cen­ters and tack­les but not guards.

But see­ing as the Niners need to im­prove their in­te­rior pass pro­tec­tion, I’d ex­pect them to se­lect some­one along the in­te­rior of­fen­sive line in April.

After all, the draft is the best route to ac­quire cheap but the­o­ret­i­cally ef­fec­tive la­bor.

The Niners re-struc­tured We­ston Rich­burg’s con­tract — he’s with the team for the fore­see­able fu­ture, but his backup, Ben Gar­land (who per­formed ad­mirably in Rich­burg’s stead), is a free agent. His March could be in­ter­est­ing — the Niners might not have Rich­burg to start the 2020 cam­paign.

I imag­ine a player who could play as a depth guard this year and per­haps slide to cen­ter in a pinch in his rookie year — and per­haps take over the start­ing job be­fore the end of his first con­tract — would be highly at­trac­tive to the Niners.

De­fen­sive line

The Niners have num­bers along the de­fen­sive line, but that four-man unit has proven to be the most im­por­tant one on the field out­side of quar­ter­back — it’s the iden­tity of the team.

As such, the Niners can never have too many op­tions there.

San Francisco has found im­pres­sive value at the po­si­tion, but with good play comes good pay. If the issue isn’t press­ing this sea­son, the Niners’ depth is likely to be tested in the years to come. New blood could help al­le­vi­ate some of those tough de­ci­sions.

Wide re­ceiver

Given the Niners brass’ rhetoric at the NFL Draft Com­bine, I don’t see this as a mas­sive need for the 49ers.

It’s still a need — don’t get me wrong — but it might be low on the pri­or­ity list.

San Francisco is un­likely to move on from Dante Pet­tis, and Mar­quese Good­win is — ac­cord­ing to Kyle Shana­han — not go­ing to be cut. A trade is pos­si­ble — Good­win wasn’t on the team plane to the Su­per Bowl, a se­ri­ous pe­cu­liar­ity — but the Niners might be bet­ter off hold­ing onto him for an­other sea­son.

With Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd likely re­turn­ing to the fold in 2020 and San Francisco look­ing to bring back Em­manuel San­ders (and the vet­eran un­likely to land a long-term, big-money deal from other teams), the Niners could re­turn as many eight re­ceivers from last year.

Of course, that’s not to say that they couldn’t up­grade from a player like Dante Pet­tis (who is un­likely to be cut, given his con­tract, or traded, given his poor play) or Richie James, but given that the Niners carry five wide re­ceivers on game days — and went with four ac­tive wide­outs in the Su­per Bowl — it wouldn’t shock me if San Francisco didn’t take a re­ceiver in this year’s draft.

CHAR­LIE NEIBER­GALL — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

San Francisco 49ers gen­eral man­ager John Lynch speaks at the NFL scout­ing com­bine in In­di­anapo­lis on Tues­day.

Di­eter Kurten­bach

KARL MONDON — BAY AREA NEWS GROUP FILE

The 49ers’ Arik Arm­stead pres­sures Kansas City Chiefs quar­ter­back Pa­trick Ma­homes into throw­ing an in­ter­cep­tion in the third quar­ter of Su­per Bowl LIV in Mi­ami Gar­dens, Fla., on Feb. 2.

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