Creative Problem-Solving: A Plan For The Draft

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

If you just want it simple ... don't bother to read this.

Business executives frequently fail to see seemingly obvious solutions to problems because they take a myopic view of things ... they don't see the forest because they are too involved with individual trees. This also applies for many of us in managing our day-to-day lives. I've also noticed that it happens quite frequently here on Niners Nation.

For several weeks now we have been talking separately about a number of different topics which actually all relate to one another ... at least in my view. Those topics include (1) our possibly acquiring Kirk Cousins in a trade or as a free agent, (2) whether we should select a QBOTF in this year's draft or wait until next year, (3) whether New England will or won't trade Jimmy Garoppolo, (4) what Cleveland will try to do about obtaining a franchise QB ... pursue Garoppolo, draft Trabisky or Watson, or now possibly consider pursuing Cousins, (5) if not a QB at #2, how best to use that pick, and so forth.

My purpose here is to try to pull some of that discussion together and formulate an action plan that I think that Lynch and Company should pursue concerning the upcoming draft.

(For the sake of brevity I am going to state some of my views and conclusions without providing supporting reasoning. That doesn't mean that reasoning doesn't exist. If any of my positions trouble you, simply mention it in the Comments and I'll address it.)


Characteristics of the 2017 Draft Class

Let's begin by discussing the characteristics of the upcoming draft. Here are my conclusions:

  • This is the deepest draft class in at least the last five-ten years ... and maybe ever.
  • It may be possible to find capable starters at some positions as far down as the fifth round.
  • Accordingly, having more draft picks available is better ... regardless of how you get them.
  • The strength of the draft class is on the defensive side of the ball ... DL, Edge, OLB and CB, in particular.
  • On the offensive side of the ball the WR, TE and RB classes are particularly deep.
  • Conversely, the weakness of the draft class is QB and OL.
Next, let's talk Kirk Cousins.

I strongly believe that Kirk Cousins has great respect for Kyle Shanahan and wants to play again in Kyle's offensive scheme. Given the mess in Washington and the apparent state of his relationship with Bruce Allen, no doubt Cousins would like to be with the Niners this year if at all possible, but certainly via free agency next year if a trade cannot be worked out this year. Cousins does in fact control his own destiny. Washington will not keep him and no other team will trade for his rights unless they can be sure that he will sign a long-term contract ... tags have their limits. Thus, Washington has virtually no leverage in this situation ... if Cousins will not sign a LTC with them they will lose him sooner or later ... and the cost of retaining him simply continues to increase.

I have no doubt that Washington WILL lose Cousins. The only questions are: When? How (by trade or free agency)? What will Washington get in return when he leaves? Surely the Washington FO hates this situation but they created it through their own stupidity and now must suffer the consequences.


How does the fact of Cousins affect the Niners draft?

Because the Niners have so many needs and the upcoming draft is so deep, draft picks are precious. It makes NO sense to me to give up ANY significant draft capital in this draft to acquire what you likely will acquire at no draft-pick cost next spring. Will we have to compete with other teams to sign Cousins as a free agent next spring? Of course. But we also know that he wants to be here and we have the cap capacity to afford the large contract that it will require to sign him. (Wouldn't it be interesting, assuming that he continues to develop as a WR, to also sign Terrelle Pryor as a free agent, after he and Cousins had a year to work together in Washington?) Accordingly, I think that the right strategy is to use draft picks to upgrade as many other positions as possible this year and focus on the QB position next year. And, since this year's QB draft class isn't particularly stellar, I would just pass on a QB in this draft altogether ... with a few possible exceptions which I'll discuss later. I would expect the 2018 QB depth chart to look like this:

  • Starter: Kirk Cousins
  • Backup: Brian Hoyer (or possibly another 2017 roster carryover)
  • Developmental: 2018 draft pick


Draft Strategy -- the Big Picture

1 + 1 = 2. The Niners have a myriad of roster needs and the upcoming draft is extremely deep at a number of positions. Thus, the proper draft strategy is to obtain as many draft picks as possible ... to fill as many holes as possible. Duh! We must find a way to obtain more draft picks by using whatever assets are available. Unlike with the Patriots, those picks certainly aren't going to come from trading outstanding players for picks ... we don't have very many of those and can't afford to lose the few that we do have. The most valuable asset that we have available to generate additional draft picks is Pick #2. So, it's simple, we trade Pick #2 for a boatload of additional picks! Yeah but, with a marginal QB draft class, who is really motivated to trade up like last year to select a QB prospect? Well ... maybe making a trade isn't quite so simple after all. But can it be done? I believe the the answer is "yes" ... just not in a very straightforward way.

Draft Preparation Tactics -- Part 1: The Cleveland Browns

Absolutely pathetic. The Cleveland Browns have been trying to find a franchise quarterback since 1999! In the last sixteen years they have started 27 different guys at QB ... most of them failed draftees. The Browns' QB jersey hanging in a Cleveland shop window is infamous. Just last season they attempted, but failed, to rehab RGIII and ended up playing 6'1" 3rd-round-pick Cody Kessler. All that really managed to do was waste yet another year. Having just cut RGIII, the Cleveland QB roster now consists of Kessler, 5th-round-pick Kevin Hogan, and Brock Osweiler. This is Hue Jackson's second year on the job ... Cleveland must solve their long-term QB problem this year IMO. Hue Jackson himself has said "the Browns adding a QB is imperative" ... and I doubt that he was talking about Osweiler.

Cleveland has a TON of draft picks with which to work ... 11 this year (including two 1sts and two 2nds) and even more in the 2018 draft. They've got the picks ... but this QB draft class is mediocre at best ... another Manziel, Weeden, Brady Quinn, or Derek Anderson anyone? As desperate as Jackson may be I can't envision him using high draft picks on any of this year's top QB prospects. Geno Smith just signed with the Giants. Would they consider Cutler or Kaepernick? No and no. How about Cousins, that's been mentioned? Kirk Cousins doesn't want to play in Cleveland and can avoid that simply by refusing to discuss a LTC with them. Well, what about trading for A. J. McCarron? Sorry ... Cincinnati isn't going to trade McCarron to another team in the same division. (Honestly, I think the Cousins and McCarron names came up just to make New England believe that Cleveland has alternatives. Uh ... Belichick isn't about to buy that.)

I think that it's pretty obvious that Cleveland wants is to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo as their QBOTF via a trade with New England. Their "dream draft" would be getting BOTH Myles Garrett AND Garoppolo. Maybe we could relieve Cleveland of some of those draft picks by helping them acquire Garoppolo.

Thinking down the road a little bit, Cleveland has a huge number of young, cheap first-contract players on their roster. That creates a couple of issues: (1) reaching the minimum salary cap limit in the short term will be difficult, and (2) having a lot of guys come up for extensions (and thus needing cap capacity to accommodate that) all at the same time. Trading for Garoppolo now and signing him to a heavily front-loaded contract could help with both of those issues.

Draft Preparation Tactics -- Part 2: The New England Patriots

Bill Belichick is far more than an outstanding HC and GM ... he is a competent businessman, actor, and marketer. He operates on logic, not emotion, and understands perception-management very well. And, he is gutsy when it comes to managing his roster ... witness trading Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins at the height of their production ... with the long-term view in mind. Plain and simple, although they should, most teams simply don't think that way.

New England has just acquired WR Brandon Cooks, DE Kony Ealy, and TE Dwayne Allen to upgrade their roster ... but at the expense of using their first-, second-, and third-round picks and other exchanges of picks. Their earliest pick in the upcoming draft is Pick #72 in the third round. But ... they have some assets that they can use to reacquire some early-round picks ... specifically CB Malcolm Butler and backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Butler probably would have been used in the Cooks acquisition except that he had not yet signed his first-round tender offer; since New England just signed free-agent-CB Stephon Gilmore, I believe that Butler will soon be traded to New Orleans and New England will reacquire Pick #32 in the process; but that still won't get New England a really top pick in the draft.

What about obtaining Pick #12 from Cleveland in exchange for Garoppolo? Belichick has already said "no" to that possibility. That's called "positioning" ... Belichick is simply raising the price (it started as a "first and a fourth") by being hard-to-get ... a great negotiating tactic ... you simply keep raising the price until the "buyer" eventually walks away, thus identifying their price threshold. But everybody says that Belichick is simply not going to trade Garoppolo. To which I say ... B.S. Why? Because Belichick is a businessman and it doesn't make sense to invest too much money into any one position, especially QB. He cannot afford to have both Garoppolo and Brady signed to LTCs (or a franchise-tag deal) and he's not going to release Brady yet ... there might be another Boston Massacre if he tried to do that before positioning Brady's ultimate departure properly. Likewise, Belichick is not going to accept Pick #100 in the 2019 draft as compensation for Garoppolo leaving in free agency next spring. Garoppolo is going to be traded before the upcoming draft ... the only question is what will Belichick actually accept in return? The latest "asking price" seems to be at least two first-rounders. That's simply not going to happen and Belichick knows that ... he's simply waiting for an "unbelievable offer". Hum! Since they just re-signed LB Hightower, the Patriots' only real "need" is a DE ... to replace (and Ealy is a part of that) the loss of Sheard and Chris Long. I wonder if Belichick would consider either Solomon Thomas or Jonathan Allen? This is how Belichick thinks: trade Garoppolo for Solomon Thomas (or Jonathan Allen) ... have Brissett as the primary QB backup and Edelman in an emergency, then perhaps trade Pick #32 this year for a high first-round pick in next year's draft to select another QB prospect from a superior QB draft class.

Draft Preparation Tactics -- Part 3: Putting It All Together

Even though it may not be obvious ... there are "perfect storm" conditions here. We can suggest a trade that will likely be a solution to the needs of three different teams ... the Niners, the Browns, and the Patriots. I'll present the concept in sequential steps, but in reality I think that it happens in a simultaneous three-team discussion ... "would you do this if I could do that, and so forth".

Step 1. The Niners trade 2017 Pick #2 to Cleveland in exchange for 2017 Pick #12, Pick #33, Pick #52 and 2018 second- and fourth-round picks. (The sum of the trade values for the Cleveland picks is approximately 2425-2475, depending upon where Cleveland realistically drafts in 2018. Pick #2 has a trade value of 2600.)

Thus, the Niners get their needed additional draft picks ...ultimately five for one, three in the first two rounds of this year's draft. Why would Cleveland do that? Because it gives them a path to their QBOTF beginning immediately ... and they've screwed around far too long without solving this problem. Except for Cousins, Garoppolo is easily the best opportunity Cleveland has to get it right for a change. And ... it doesn't even put a major dent in their bucket of draft picks in the next two drafts.

Note that the two 2018 picks could be useful to the Niners in trading up in the 2018 draft to select a developmental QB prospect.

Step 2. The Browns trade 2017 Pick #2 (plus whatever else might be necessary, going either way) to New England in exchange for the rights to QB Jimmy Garoppolo. (Alternatively, Cleveland could use Pick #2 to select any QB of their choice from the QB draft class, although I seriously doubt that they would do that.)

Thus, Cleveland gets BOTH Myles Garrett AND Garoppolo, the QBOTF that they have been coveting and sign them both to LTCs which they can afford.

Some may say that Cleveland should simply trade the same picks to New England to get Garoppolo ... skip the Niners as a middleman. That's not the way that Belichick does business. He is looking for very specific prospects to enhance his roster ... he's not interested in a bunch of draft picks because, unlike other teams, he isn't trying to make significant additions to many parts of the roster. He is always very selective ... added players MUST fit into the Patriots' scheme to play specific roles. My guess is that Belichick might be willing to jump all over the opportunity to add Solomon Thomas to his team. He can only be sure of doing that by owning Pick #2. And Matt Patricia would probably stand right there and lead the cheers!

Step 3. The Patriots use Pick #2 to select DE Solomon Thomas (or possibly DE Jonathan Allen) and still have Pick #32 available for use.

Thus, the Patriots get the second pick in the entire draft in exchange for Garoppolo ... somehow having the second pick in the entire draft seems better than "a (mid-round) first- and a fourth-".

A Draft Strategy For The Niners

First, some thoughts concerning the Niners' roster after the recent free agency activity:
  • My biggest surprise was that Lynch didn't do more to improve the OL. Certainly acquiring Zuttah was a great move (I wanted Baalke to go after Zuttah when he was still with Tampa Bay ... but then, Baalke). However, inasmuch as this draft class is relatively weak in OL prospects, it would seem that free agency was the best alternative for also improving at guard and tackle. Alas, free agents C J.C. Tretter and OG Larry Warford both recently signed reasonable-price deals with other teams.
  • We still don't have a real #1 wide receiver.
  • We still don't have a serious backup at running back to support Carlos Hyde.
  • Again, except for a possible unexpected opportunity, avoid the QB position in this draft ... look to obtain a developmental QB in 2018, selected from a far superior QB draft class.
  • We're going to need to add at least one more QB to the roster; IF Elway decides to sign Romo and wants to trade Trevor Siemien, consider acquiring him for a low-round pick ... perhaps sending Denver's 6th-round-pick (acquired in the Vernon Davis trade) back to them. Siemien is a lot more capable QB than most people realize ... he just had to be thrown into the ring before he was really ready (another Alex Smith).
  • IMO moving Jimmy Ward to free safety doesn't make sense ... he's not big enough, fast enough, or rangy enough to play well in the new scheme; and, he seems to be injury-prone ... which would likely be made worse if playing at the safety position.
  • Conversely, I think that it makes absolute sense to move Eric Reid to strong safety; however, a decision as between Reid, Tartt and perhaps other SS prospects will need to be made during this season, as Reid will be up for a contract extension ... and I'm not convinced that extending him is the right answer. We don't need any more ill-advised and/or over-valued extensions like Celek and McDonald.
  • The focus in free agency was primarily the offense; the strength of this draft class is defensive prospects ... take advantage of that wherever possible.
  • Since we're trying to build a roster, wherever possible go for the impact prospects rather than backup depth.
A Proposed Mock Draft

Surely you didn't believe that I would offer a proposal for acquiring additional draft picks and then not tell you how I think that they should be used. So, if I were Lynch, here's what I would do in April:

Pick #1/2 (Own): Traded to Cleveland

Pick #1/12 (Clev):
WR Corey Davis (Western Michigan) 6'3"/ 209# / 4.59 speed / Grade 6.23 / Rank 15*
Alternatives if unavailable: WR Mike Williiams or WR John Ross
"You need a big-time, playmaking 'X' (split end) in this offense" -- Kyle Shanahan

Pick #2/33 (Clev):
Edge Takkarist McKinley (UCLA) 6'2" / 250# / 4.59 speed / Grade 6.18 / Rank 34*
Alternative if unavailable: Edge Charles Harris
Opportunity alternative: Consider QB Pat Mahomes if still available

Pick #2/34 (Own):
OLB (SAM) T. J. Watt (Wisconsin) 6'4" / 252# / 4.69 speed / Grade 5.88 / Rank 41*
Alternative if unavailable: SAM Raekwon McMillan

Pick #2/52 (Clev):
FS Josh Jones (North Carolina State) 6'1" / 220# / 4.41 speed / Grade 5.88 / Rank 60*
After Hooker and Melifonwu, I think that Jones is the best FS prospect in the draft. I would rather have SAM T.J. Watt and FS Josh Jones than FS Melifonwu and any SAM that would be available at this pick.

Pick #3/66 (Own):
It depends ... this was the most difficult selection in the draft for me to make:

I originally had C Pat Elflein (Ohio State) penciled in here ... but acquiring Zuttah changed that.

If solely my decision and he was still available: RB Joe Mixon (Oklahoma) ...
simply the most versatile, high-impact offensive player available at this pick ...
a perfect matchup nightmare in Shanahan's offense (IF you can get over the
off-field issues).

If Mixon is not acceptable and he was still available: CB Sidney Jones (Washington) ...
a first-round talent not likely to play much in his first year (familiar?) ... after his
pro-day injury, Ranked 73* at the moment.

If Kyle was in love with either one of these guys:

QB Davis Webb (California) or TE Bucky Hodges (Virginia Tech).

If none of the above were available or wanted, the pick is:

CB Ahkello Witherspoon (Colorado) 6'3" / 198# / 4.45 speed / Grade 5.73 / Rank 75*

Pick #4/109 (Own):
ILB Kendell Beckwith (LSU) 6'2" / 243# / 4.82 speed / Grade 5.62 / Rank 110*
Alternatives if unavailable: RB Joe Mixon or TE Jordan Leggett
I was hoping that Lynch would sign free-agent-LB Zach Brown; alternatively, he may
re-sign Gerald Hodges

Pick #4/143 (Comp):
IF RB Joe Mixon was selected either at Pick #66 or Pick #109, the pick is:

CB Howard Wilson (Houston) 6'1" / 185# / 4.57 speed / Grade 5.63 / Rank 138*

IF RB Joe Mixon was NOT selected either at Pick #66 or Pick #109, the pick is:

NT Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA) 6'3" / 305# / 4.99 speed / Grade 5.63 / Rank 157*

Pick #5/146 (Own):
IF RB Joe Mixon was selected either at Pick #66 or Pick #109, the pick is:

NT Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA) 6'3" / 305# / 4.99 speed / Grade 5.63 / Rank 157*

If RB Joe Mixon was NOT selected either at Pick #66 or Pick #109, the pick is:

RB Brian Hill (Wyoming) 6'1" / 219# / 4.54 speed / Ungraded / Rank 156*

Pick #5/161 (Wash):
WR Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M) 6'3" / 194# / 4.52 speed / Grade 5.69 / Rank 163*
Bingo, again!!

Pick #6/186 (Own): Traded to Baltimore

Pick #6/198 (Balt):
SS Josh Harvey-Clemons (Louisville) 6'4" / 217# / 4.59 speed / Grade 5.64 / Rank 199*
With development, this guy is capable of becoming our Kam Chancellor

Pick #6/202 (Den):
P Austin Rehkow (Idaho) 6'3" / 214# / 4.84 speed / Grade 5.20 / Rank 200*
Yeah, a punter ... he's already far better than Pinion and he can also kick ...
nice to have in an emergency situation.

Pick #7/219 (Clev):
CB Jeremy Clark (Michigan) 6'3" / 220# / 4.59 speed / Grade 5.19 / Rank 207*
Practice Squad candidate ... needs further development but has potential.

Pick #7/220 (Own): Lost by condition to Washington via the Derek Carrier trade

.* Rankings per NFLDraftScout
To summarize, ideally we would come out of the draft with these prospects:

Offensive prospects --

WR Corey Davis (Western Michigan)
WR Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M)
RB Joe Mixon (Oklahoma) or RB Brian Hill (Wyoming)

Defensive prospects --

NT Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA)
LEO Takkarist McKinley (UCLA)
OLB (SAM) T. J. Watt (Wisconsin)
ILB Kendell Beckwith (Louisiana State)
SS Josh Harvey-Clemons (Louisville)
FS Josh Jones (North Carolina State)
CB Howard Wilson (Houston) or CB Ahkello Witherspoon (Colorado)
CB Jeremy Clark (Michigan)

Special Team prospect --

P Austin Rehkow (Idaho)
Expected Casualties in the Training Camp Wars

So that you're not left guessing, I think that the following guys will NOT make the 2017 Final-53:

RB Mike Davis
RB Raheem Mostert
WR Aaron Burbridge
WR Bruce Ellington
WR Chris Harper
WR Rashad Ross
WR DeAndre Smelter
TE Blake Bell
TE Je'Ron Hamm
OT Norman Price
OT John Theus
C Alex Balducci

DL Zach Moore
DL Mike Purcell
LB Carl Bradford
LB Ahmad Brooks
LB Tank Carradine
LB Wynton McManis
LB Shayne Skov
CB Prince Charles Iworah
CB Keith Reaser
CB JaCorey Shepherd
S Marcus Ball
S Vinnie Sunseri

P Brock Miller
P Bradley Pinion
K Nick Rose

So there you have it. Lynch ... if you're reading this, pick up the phone and start calling people ... now!

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.