San Francisco can turn back into a playoff contender with a strong offseason. The front office duo of John Lynch and Paraag Marathe have set the 49ers up with over $110 million in cap space and nine draft picks.
The 49ers could add playmakers around faces of the franchise QB Jimmy Garappolo, DL DeForest Buckner and LB Reuben Foster to bolster their chances at a playoff spot.
Here's what Lynch and Co. should do with their first two picks in April, adding defensive playmkers to help out DC Robert Saleh's much-improved unit.
Round 1: Pick 9 or 10 overall (Coin Flip with OAK) -- S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Most of the hype surrounding the 49ers' first-round pick has been shared between OG Quenton Nelson and LB Roquan Smith.
San Francisco's interior offensive line has been inconsistent this past season and it's a priority to be able to protect QB Jimmy Garappolo for years to come. But here's the catch, the Chicago Bears -- who are drafting No. 8 overall -- just hired Nelson's offensive line coach from Notre Dame and also have a need to protect QB Mitchell Trubisky.
Adding the best linebacker in the draft may make sense on paper, but with LBs Reuben Foster and Malcolm Smith, Roquan Smith seems to be more of a luxury than a necessity. Smith measures at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, which would be on the lighter side for a middle linebacker in the NFL.
That's why I believe the San Francisco 49ers will take another Alabama defender in the first round, adding S Minkah Fitzpatrick. Now, I know what you're thinking, "Why would San Francisco take another safety?"
Watching the Jacksonville Jaguars play the Pittsburgh Steelers this past weekend in the AFC Divisional Playoff game, I was thinking to myself, I want the 49ers to mirror the defense that the Jaguars have. While San Francisco is quite a ways away from fielding that caliber of talent, adding Fitzpatrick to the mix would solve the Jalen Ramsey piece of the puzzle.
Coming out of Florida State, Ramsey was a safety that would split time in different places on the field. Now, two seasons into his NFL career, Ramsey has turned into a shut-down corner and leader on the Jaguars' defense. The 49ers are desperately seeking a No. 1 corner to pair alongside second-year player Ahkello Witherspoon and they shouldn't look further than Fitzpatrick.
The Alabama defensive back was fourth on the team in tackles (55), accumulated seven tackles for loss, grabbed one interception and broke up eight passes during his junior season. He was arguably the most talented player on an Alabama defense that just won the National Championship.
Don't believe me? Greg Gabriel, a former Director of Scouting with the Chicago Bears, thinks Fitzpatrick will develop into a better football player than Ramsey.
John Lynch and San Francisco shouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger on Fitzpatrick if he's sitting there when they make their first selection on draft night.
Round 2: Pick 59 overall (via NO) -- LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
The three most important positions on the football field is the quarterback, the offensive tackles protecting the quarterback and the pass rusher that is trying to sack the quarterback.
San Francisco is set up with QB Jimmy Garappolo, Ts Joe Staley and Trent Brown, but don't have a legitimate pass-rushing threat. Their leading sack artist was LB Elvis Dumervil, who's in the back-nine of his career.
While the 49ers don't have their own second-round pick due to the Garappolo trade, they own the Saints' second-round pick at the tail end of the round. I predict that the top pass rushers will be off the board by the time the 49ers make their second selection of the draft. That includes Bradley Chubb, Clelin Ferrell, Harold Landry, Arden Key and Hercules Mata'afa.
That'll leave San Francisco with an edge rusher that has all the physical tools to be successful at the next level: Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds. This past season with the Hokies, Edmunds racked up 14.0 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. The Hokies' pass rusher has excellent athletic ability, is a solid tackler and is decent in coverage of tight ends and running backs.
San Francisco hasn't had this kind of a pass rusher since Aldon Smith and desperately lack a big-name threat for offensive lines to worry about. While the top pass rushers in this draft class have far better numbers, the value of getting an edge player like Edmunds at the bottom of the second round might be too much to pass up.
This two-round mock draft for the 49ers addresses a few levels of their defense, adding another playmaker in the secondary and a sack artist.