Past the First: Which Positions Should the 49ers Address With Their Remaining Drafts Picks?
The 49ers’ front office made one of the biggest splashes of the offseason when they traded for the third overall draft pick in the 2021 NFL draft. San Francisco is officially on the clock with a quartet of possible quarterback prospects driving beat writers, fans, and cynics alike into a frenzy.
However, there is work left to be done with the 49ers’ remaining eight draft picks. Let’s take a look at some of the pressing needs waiting to be filled on a seemingly complete team.
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The present is very clear. John Lynch and the wizards occupying the big, shiny offices in Santa Clara expertly negotiated to retain Emmanuel Moseley and Jason Verrett as their Week 1 starting outside cornerbacks. They took things a step further when K’Waun Williams snubbed the Kansas City Chiefs and returned to the club on a one-year deal. Both Moseley and Verrett will look to build on solid 2020 campaigns. Nonetheless, Moseley missed four games due to injury which allowed Verrett back into the starting lineup. Verrett likely needs to show the front office, and the league, he is durable enough to warrant a long-term contract. Williams’ value is already known. He is one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league and his value is amplified by his diversity and effectiveness in the run and blitz games. Williams turns 30 years old this season and with a reported 17-game season approaching, the 49ers need to have a backup plan and an eye on the future. Failure to do so could lead to another Brian Allen-type catastrophe.
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Prior to the trade with the Miami Dolphins, the Twitterverse clamored for the 49ers to select University of Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with twelfth overall selection. By all logic, the front office is headed in a very different direction. This doesn’t mean the 49ers should bail on a plan to get George Kittle some backup. They have an opportunity to build upon a strength by pursuing a quality running mate for George Kittle. The 49ers selected Charlie Woerner in the sixth round of the 2020 draft and saw little from him the same year. Tempered expectations are appropriate as not all mid-round selections morph into all-pro talents in their first two years. Ross Dwelley has shown flashes in the passing game but his blocking highlights are less impressive. The same excitement surrounding Jordan Reed’s signing prior to the 2020 season could also lend to the theory the 49ers should invest some draft capital in another tight end.
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The arguments about Jimmy Garoppolo’s limitations have been an incessant storyline since Super Bowl LIV. His lingering high ankle sprain in 2020 did little to cool off the hot seat of The Faithful’s former golden boy. But, if the 2020 season showed us anything, it was that regardless of the quarterback taking snaps, they must be protected. The 49ers secured the left side of the offensive line earlier this offseason by making Trent Williams the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history. The team brought in free agent Alex Mack to replace the likely-retiring Weston Richburg. Mack is entering his thirteenth season in the league and turns 36 years old this November. At some point, he’ll need to be replaced. Laken Tomlinson, Daniel Brunskill, and Mike McGlinchey are all set to return as starters. Questions about McGlinchey’s inconsistency in pass protection continue to cloud his future. The 49ers have a big decision to make regarding the right tackle’s fifth-year option. If Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch see a prospect who fits their scheme and needs, I wouldn’t expect them to hesitate.
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The 49ers have finally started to rinse the sour taste of poor wide receiver selections thanks to the additions of Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk in the 2019 and 2020 drafts, respectively. There is a glaring need for production behind the starting wide receivers. Trusted ally Kendrick Bourne is now a member of the Church of Belichick after signing a three-year contract with the New England Patriots. Samuel is exhilarating to watch and immensely impactful when on the field. However, his smash mouth playing style has caused him to miss games in each of the last two seasons. Trent Taylor was unable to return to form after back and foot surgeries derailed a promising rookie season and strong praise in various offseasons. Dante Pettis was cut mid-season in 2020 and Richie James Jr. has yet to show enough consistency to outright claim the third wide receiver and return specialist positions. Jauan Jennings, Mohamed Sanu and River Cracraft were brought back this offseason while Trent Sherfield makes the move from Arizona to Santa Clara. Travis Benjamin is an intriguing variable given his decision to opt-out of the 2020 season and the lack of clarity regarding his role with the team. I hesitate to place too much emphasis on Jalen Hurd as he recovers from back surgery. 49ers fans were rightfully giddy after seeing Hurd’s versatility in the 2019 preseason. Since then, there’s been little to be positive about. That said, it’s hard not to smile when thinking of a 6’5” Deebo Samuel-type player wreaking havoc in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Could the team seek a rookie with similar physical traits in the mid-rounds?
SAFETY – The 49ers seem to have resolved the needs for depth at both safety positions by re-signing Jaquiski Tartt and adding Tavon Wilson through free agency. Tartt and Jimmie Ward are the expected starters while Tarvarius Moore and Marcell Harris can be called upon in the event of injuries.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE/END – Given the 49ers’ recent draft history, it’s hard not to imagine the Red and Gold adding a defensive lineman through the draft. Re-signing D.J. Jones was an underrated move in terms of continuity and quality. The departures of Solomon Thomas and Kerry Hyder Jr. will hurt, especially with the latter defecting to a certain NFC West team occupying the Pacific Northwest. Jordan Willis and Zach Kerr should help with depth. Kevin Givens showed flashes in 2020. Unfortunately, he’s also made flashes in the news recently for off -the-field reasons.
RUNNING BACK – Kyle Shanahan and Bobby Turner are godsends when it comes to developing running backs. They have a track record of finding value in late-round or undrafted players who fit their scheme. If the 49ers have questions surrounding the depth behind Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr., this could be a luxury the 49ers can afford.
The 49ers are looking to recapture the magic of the 2019 season. They’ve made calculated moves to return to Super Bowl contention by retaining key elements of that cast. This is a team in a “win now” position, personified by the jump to a top of the 2021 draft. Make no mistake; the 49ers are not a team devoid of talent looking to patch missing chunks of the wall. Instead, the 49ers approach this year’s draft looking to add reinforcements for a long and grueling trek into February of 2022. If selected wisely, those reinforcements should not only contribute on the “Quest for Six,” but they should be relied upon to keep the 49ers in contention for years to come.
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