Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
On April 23, all 32 teams will be taking part in a real-life version of a fantasy football draft, for the first time ever, from the comfort of their own homes. John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan and the rest of the 49ers’ brain trust will need to figure out how to best allocate the team’s limited draft capital (as of now the 49ers are without a second-, third- or fourth-round pick) and keep its Super Bowl window open.
Improving a team that was minutes away from winning the Super Bowl while simultaneously building for long term sustainability requires some tough decisions to be made; see the DeForest Buckner trade. In order to best allocate their limited resources simple math says there will be positions that the Niners double up on (wide receiver?) and others that will likely not be addressed in this draft. Which positions are not likely to be addressed?
The Niners are in a good spot, roster-wise, heading into the 2020 season, returning 18 of 22 starters from the Super Bowl and 43 of the 53 players on the roster while also getting several key contributors back from injured reserve; a far cry from where the roster stood in 2017, when every position needed to be addressed.
In NFL circles, this time of year is known as “lying season” because nothing that is said by anyone in the league is to be believed, yet 49ers Twitter is ablaze with speculation from people with “sources,” but the fact is that no one knows what the 49ers’ draft board looks like so no one knows what they will do in the draft, but the current roster construction and recent draft history may provide some clues.
Since Kyle Shanahan took over as head coach in 2017 the draft picks by position are as follows:
Running Back: 1
Wide Receiver: 5
Tight end: 2
Interior Offensive Line: 0
Defensive End: 2
Defensive Tackle: 3
The latest speculation has people trying to tie the 49ers to quarterbacks, both in the first round and later in the draft. Drafting a quarterback in this draft makes little sense for the Niners. Nick Mullens is a quality backup and remains under team control this year and next at an affordable price. Signing an undrafted free agent to develop as the eventual replacement for Mullens is the most likely decision here.
When it comes to running backs and Kyle Shanahan two things are clear: he loves speed and he loves undrafted free agents. The 49ers have been mocked some running backs, mostly in the late rounds, but given that the 49ers have a stable full of running backs that have produced at the NFL level it is unlikely that the 49ers spend any draft capital here either.
Linebacker is another position group the 49ers could feel good about if they had to play a game tomorrow. John Lynch and company found another fifth-round gem, Dre Greenlaw, in last year’s draft to go with Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander. The only member of this unit that is not returning is Elijah Lee; the Niners then upgraded with Joe Walker. Walker started eleven games with Arizona in 2019, beating out former first round pick Haason Reddick. The unit is rounded out by special teams ace Mark Nzeocha and former undrafted free agent Azeez Al-Shaair. Both Nzeocha and Al-Shaair could be upgraded from, but the need is not urgent, although, Nzeocha could wind up being replaced for salary cap reasons; there are certainly more pressing needs for the team to use their draft capital on.
Realistically, there are not a lot of open roster spots to be had for the incoming draft class, but the Niners need to balance getting immediate impact and back filling the roster that will have 26 unrestricted free agents next offseason. No matter how they slice it, the 2020 draft is a pivotal one for the Niners if they are to remain among the NFL’s elite.
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