Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the San Francisco 49ers traded defensive cornerstone DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the thirteenth pick in the upcoming NFL draft. That gives them two picks in the first round, (13th and 31st) and then no picks again until the fifth round. Even with no picks in the second, third, or fourth round of the draft, they still sit with seven total picks, although with five of them coming on day three of the draft.
They hold two fifth-round picks (nos. 156 and 176 overall), one sixth-round pick (no. 210), and two-seventh round picks (nos. 217 and 245). Although the team has done an incredible job picking late round players who are able to contribute, or even run over the NFL (see George Kittle in the fifth), a team can not base their growth and depth on day three picks. This has many pundits and fans alike saying that the 49ers are certain to trade back with one or both of their first round picks to collect more picks for the second through fourth rounds.
Although this is possible and general manager John Lynch has shown that he isn’t shy about moving up or down the draft board to target players that the front office and head coach Kyle Shanahan have targeted, it’s impossible to say what Lynch and Shanahan will decide to do with their first two picks, but let’s explore some different options they might execute come NFL draft day.
Draft wide receiver at 13 and trade back from 31
This is the most popular vision of the 49ers first round. After drafting either CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, or Henry Ruggs III, the Niners then trade back from number 31 for day two picks. This is a definite possibility given the narrative that the 49ers didn’t even pursue re-signing Emmanuel Sanders, whom they gave up their third- and fourth-round draft picks for.
Drafting a top WR at number 13 might look like the best move for the offense, and trading back from no. 31 only makes sense if a team overpays for it. Looking at the draft pick value chart that former Dallas Cowboys’ head coach Jimmy Johnson made famous, the 49ers’ thirty-first pick is worth 600 points, which is only worth an early second and an early fifth-round pick. One could imagine that the 49ers are going to want more for that first-round pick.
What the 49ers have to hope for is a run on quarterbacks in the first round, and someone willing to overpay for the thirty-first pick in order to get the coveted fifth-year option on their QB of the future. If this happens and the 49ers package one of their fifth-round picks, they could possible be able to pick up a second- and third-round pick where they can pick up a defensive tackle and/or a cornerback, two positions they need more depth at.
Draft Buckner’s replacement and a WR at 13 and at 31.
The 49ers have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL after only three years of rebuilding from the Trent Baalke all-ACL team. Losing only two starters from a team that was only six minutes from winning their sixth Super Bowl means that they don’t need to replace a lot of players. They might be able to replace those two players in the first round, and then just simply add to their depth along the offensive line, defensive line, and secondary on day three.
This option could play out two different ways, and the 49ers’ front office is probably prepared for either: if their choice of Lamb, Jeudy, or Ruggs falls to pick 13, they scoop him up and see who is left at defensive tackle at pick 31. Top DTs like Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw are going to be off the board by pick 31, which would leave the team over-drafting on someone like Ross Blacklock. It would make more sense to trade back into the second to take Blacklock if that is their target.
If they are looking to replace Buckner in the first round, it is more likely that the team is looking to draft Kinlaw at 13 and then pick up their new WR at 31. There could be multiple possible WRs at 31. The team could end up choosing between Tee Higgins, Justin Jefferson, or Jalen Reagor. This seems like better value than picking a WR at pick 13 and a DT at pick 31.
Draft offensive lineman at 13 and cornerback at 31.
If you pay attention to the mock drafts NFL pundits are putting out there, the most popular scenario for the 49ers’ first round is a WR at 13 (any of the top three, really) and then a CB at pick 31. But what if the 49ers have no plan to pick up another WR? They have shown that they value the offensive and defensive lines above all other position groups. Add the fact that they are expecting slot phenom Trent Taylor and the extremely versatile Jalen Hurd to come back from injured reserve, coupled with the signing of receiver Travis Benjamin, and it is quite possible that the 49ers feel they are set at WR.
They have spent three of their last four first-round picks on Solomon Thomas, Nick Bosa, and Mike McGlinchey. They’ve traded for Dee Ford and Laken Tomlinson while signing center Weston Richburg and guard Mike Person (whom they’ve just let go). So what if the plan is to actually strengthen that offensive line, and find replacements for both left tackle Joe Staley and cornerback Richard Sherman before they actually need them?
There are multiple targets at both picks for either option. At tackle, possible targets include Mekhi Becton, Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills, or Andrew Thomas. I’m not a scout, so my telling you who would make the best short-term guard before moving out to left tackle isn’t very helpful, especially with Person being cut and a not-so-exciting possible replacement, Tom Compton, being signed.
If top cornerback Jeff Okudah dropped to 13 (almost a fairy tale possibility) they would be crazy to not run their draft card to the podium. C.J. Henderson is a realistic option at CB at the thirteenth pick, and is a perfect option to rotate in with Sherman and Emmanuel Moseley.
At pick 31, depending there are also good options at cornerback with some combination of Kristian Fulton, Trevon Diggs, or A.J. Terrell being available. For offensive line, the best possible option at pick 31 would be Josh Jones, a huge tackle (6’5” and 319 pounds) who is raw and could use some time developing his ability in the NFL.
So what is most likely?
Honestly, any of these scenarios or a combination of them is very likely. Having such a complete roster going into the draft allows the team to pick the best player available at their few positions of need. Given the Buckner trade and the Arik Armstead contract, it feels like the 49ers definitely had a plan for the draft going into free agency, and a specific player or two they are targeting at pick 13. They have picked a lot of receivers and secondary players over the last three drafts, along with a multitude of defensive linemen, so looking at past drafts is only a little helpful –especially since they were roster building in those drafts instead of roster completing.
If I had to guess, the 49ers are going to pick either a defensive or offensive lineman at number 13, then trade back from 31, if at all possible, picking up a receiver that Shanahan likes later in the draft and taking a cornerback in Round 2 after the trade back. It might not seem as sexy as picking up Lamb, Jeudy, or Ruggs at no. 13, but Lynch and Shanahan know that there is nothing sexier than multiple Super Bowl runs.
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