Image Credit: Associated Press
A lot goes into an NFL draft. Even though the teams are only preparing for preseason games, scouts all over the country are already working on the 2020 draft. It’s a never-ending job of evaluation, reevaluation and then drafting players who you believe fit your scheme and needs over three days of intense decision-making. With all of this preparation, some may thing that draft picks should be pretty obvious and easy to guess who or at least what position each team is going to target where in the draft.
As all NFL fans know, that just isn’t true. You always have coaches or front offices that fall in love with a specific prospect and overdrafts him.
Going into this past offseason, everyone knew that the 49ers would need to upgrade their wide receiver group, pass rushing group, and the back end of their defense as a whole. An upgrade over starting linebackers Elijah Lee and Malcolm Smith and/or improving their interior offensive line would be a bonus to the situation.
Many expected the Niners’ front office to do many of those upgrades in free agency by signing a big name safety, possibly a pass rusher, and trading for Odell Beckham Jr. They didn’t sign a free safety (outside of re-signing Jimmie Ward), and Beckham went to the Browns. Trading for Dee Ford and signing Kwon Alexander gave them a huge upgrade at edge rusher and linebacker, and if Jason Verrett can stay healthy at cornerback, then they did upgrade the defensive secondary through the free agent time period.
With the ignoring of the wide receiver and safety position in that free agency period, it was believed that the 49ers would target those two spots early in the draft. After picking up soon to be superstar pass rusher Nick Bosa at pick number two and addressing the wide receiver position with pick number 36 with Deebo Samuel, it seemed that they were absolutely going to target a safety in the third round at pick number 67.
And then they didn’t.
Instead, the Niners took receiver Jalen Hurd, a converted running back , who transferred colleges to make the change. Many fans dreamed of a first three rounds of Bosa, Samuel and Nasir Adderley, but a run on safeties at the end of the second round took Adderley off of the board. According to our draft expert Zach Pratt, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson out of Florida was the only safety left on the board with third-round abilities and scheme fit when the 49ers front office turned in Hurd’s draft card.
Gardner-Johnson went in the fourth round at pick 105 to the New Orleans Saints, and time will tell if he will be a starting safety for them for years to come. Falling to pick 105 meant that the 49ers could have made a play for him trading their fourth round pick (110 – used on punter Mitch Wishnowsky) and a later pick to still land Gardner-Johnson, but either didn’t want to or weren’t able to find a trade partner.
Should the 49ers have picked Gardner-Johnson at pick 67, 38 picks before he was actually drafted, instead of Hurd? With the highlights coming out of training camp of Hurd being a physical downfield blocker, running end-arounds, and showing extremely quick feet in WR drills, he looks to be a perfect fit for head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. The question isn’t really “does he fit?” though.
With a wide receiver group of Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Deebo Samuels, Richie James, and Jordan Matthews, is Hurd a luxury more than a need? Many pundits have stated that Taylor and James are having a fantastic camp, Bourne is showing he belongs in the conversation, and Pettis continues to show why the front office spent a second-round draft pick on him last year.
There hasn’t been much conversation out of camp about the team’s safety group, positive or negative, so it’s hard to say how that group is looking going into the season. They are healthier than they were a year ago, and it appears that with all of the top safeties off the market now that Tre Boston has signed with Carolina, the 49ers will enter the 2019 season with the same safety group they had in 2018.
The Niners chose to bet on their own in the defensive backfield instead of looking for upgrades in this past draft. Fans and the front office alike won’t know if that was the right choice and how much Hurd will impact the team’s offense until everyone sees how he is used and performs. Lets hope that this Saturday we start to see a little more clarity in the team’s performance.
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