2018 NFL Draft: Thinking outside the box

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike many people, after quickly considering the obvious choices in most situations, my thoughts quickly morph into examining less-obvious alternatives offering potentially superior outcomes. That trait, among others, makes me who I am and was a major driver behind my entrepreneurial career. "Thinking outside the box" is just a lot more fun ... and frequently highly rewarding.

So how the hell does that relate to football and, more specifically, the Niners?

Let's use the upcoming NFL draft as an example ... specifically, differing ways to make use of the Niners' nine available picks in the 2018 draft.

After identifying post-initial-free-agency roster needs, the obvious approach to developing a mock draft is to try to forecast which prospects will likely be available at each of the available picks and then select a prospect that perhaps best fits the biggest remaining need. But I have a hard time just accepting the obvious as the best-possible solution. After identifying needs, my first thoughts are:

  • Which specific prospects, who fit the schemes that we are using, best fit each one of those needs?
  • Where will those prospects likely be selected?
  • How can I convert the picks that we have into picks that would enable us to select those best-fit prospects?

This diatribe will outline my answers to those questions given our current roster circumstances.

Step 1. Identifying The Post-initial-free-agency Roster Needs

Let's attack this in reverse order ... what we don't need, what we could use, then what we really need. Understand, obviously we will sign a multitude of guys to fill out the 90-man roster; what I'm talking about here is what we need or don't need for the Final-53.


  • S -- there aren't a lot of positions where we couldn't improve but you can't upgrade everything at once. Safety is very far down the list. Conceivably we re-sign Reid if he is unable to find another suitor. Both James and McCoil have some potential. But, having retained Jimmie Ward for this season means that we likely don't try to do anything else at safety during this off-season. It remains to be seen who emerges, as between Ward and Colbert, as the FSOTF ... and whether Ward gets extended beyond this year.


  • E (LEO) -- both Attaochu and Marsh are largely untested and they apparently want to look at Harold in the LEO position; will we continue with the Armstead experiment? IMO none of the Edge draft prospects, including Chubb, are particularly outstanding ... all have warts of some sort or another; Chubb will be gone by #9 anyway; Davenport and Landry could be possibilities, but neither turns me on very much as a first-round pick, much less the 9th pick in the entire draft.
Two things eat at me here ... (1) we don't really know what the guys that we have can do when given the opportunity, and (2) the 2019 Edge draft class is likely to be far superior to this year's class ... Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell (Clemson) and Nick Bosa (Ohio State) to name just the top guys; so, my thought is, give the guys that we have an opportunity this year and, if it doesn't work out as we'd like, target an Edge in the first round of the 2019 draft.

  • RB -- we have 5 guys on the current roster, but, except for limited experience with Breida, we don't really yet know what we have; perhaps the biggest concern is that Williams is a complete unknown ... will he or won't he develop? IF there is an opportunity to select a potential difference-making RB prospect in the draft, we should think hard about making that move, but just not in the early rounds.
  • TE -- Kittle is obviously a keeper. Hikutini may develop as a move TE but we don't know yet. Celek is a very pedestrian backup TE ... he's OK but we could conceivably do a lot better for far less than what he's paid.
  • SAM LB -- if Harold is moved to LEO, that leaves Watson, Taumoepeu, Gilbert and Newsom to fight it out this summer ... who knows how that might turn out?
  • Backup C -- is Magnuson the backup center? If not, who is?
  • QB #3 -- Mulllen is OK but it's possible that we could find a low-round draftee or even an UDFA who would be better.
  • OG -- potentially an immediate starter, depending upon how Garnett develops and how Tomlinson and Cooper evolve; at a minimum we must add better depth.
  • OTOTF -- we're probably OK for now with Staley and Brown, although I am far less enamored with Brown than most fans seem to be ... he has talent, but I question the extent of his motivation when he seems so unable/unwilling to manage his weight and conditioning, even after 3 years of NFL experience. He can probably be whatever he wants to be, but I'm not sure what that is ... and I think that the powers that be may feel the same way. Do you really want to offer a big-dollar extension to a guy that has that much uncertainty? Gilliam is an adequate backup swing tackle until we can find better. In any event we need to draft an OTOTF.
  • Big WR -- this isn't a huge need, as evidenced by the lack of activity in free agency. However, IF Shanahan sees a guy that he thinks could become "Garoppolo's Julio Jones" being available in the draft, I think that they jump on it.
  • CBOTF -- obviously Sherman, Witherspoon and Williams will be the starting corners. But we must find a strong developmental CB to eventually replace Sherman. Mabin provides good young depth but I could see them still signing a younger, big CB free agent ... perhaps someone like Pierre Desir or Ross Cockrell.
  • Backup ILB -- they re-signed Coyle to back up Foster and start when Foster is suspended. However, I think that they still need to select another backup ILB in the lower rounds, largely to play special teams in the short term.
Step 2. Targeting Scheme-ft Prospects

So those are the needs and possible nice-to-haves. The obvious question is which ones of the many hundreds of prospects make the most sense to satisfy the needs and wants? Let's just work our way down the needs list.
  • OG -- Nelson and Hernandez are not good scheme fits. Wynn is a possibility but he is injured. The guys that I like best as good scheme-fits for Kyle's offense are Billy Price, Austin Corbett and Braden Smith.
  • OTOTF -- the three best scheme-fits IMO are Kolton Miller, Alex Cappa, and Brian O'Neill.
  • Big WR -- there are a number of possibilities in this draft class, but Courtland Sutton is easily the best prospect. He'll go in the late-first or early-second round and, except for St. Brown, the other guys fall into the middle rounds at best. St. Brown is a possibility but he isn't nearly as polished and doesn't have the potential that Sutton does IMO.
  • CBOTF -- first, now that we have the starters in place, this priority doesn't justify a selection before the third round IMO; that leaves Davis and Jackson out. The best remaining scheme-fit prospects are Toliver, Meeks, McFadden and Hill; Meeks is the cleanest (for one reason or another) of those prospects, so he's my guy.
  • Backup ILB -- there will be a number of possibilities available in the lower rounds.
Step 3. Converting The Draft Capital

I've said it several times before and I will say it once again ... IMO there are NO draft prospects likely available at Pick #9 who are worth a top-ten pick TO THE NINERS (that does NOT mean than they are not worth a top-ten pick for other teams). Why? Either because they are not a good scheme-fit for us or they play a position that isn't a primary need at this point in time. Thus, IMO using Pick #9 on a prospect who will not be an immediate starter and who is not a good scheme-fit is simply a HUGE waste of valuable draft capital.

For the Niners needs the real strength of this draft class extends from about the bottom of the first round to the bottom of the second round ... and we have NO picks in that range. Accordingly, the only reasonable way to make effective use of Pick #9 is to trade down with a team who can make effective use of the prospects available at #9 while providing us with more useful picks, given our needs and schemes. Trust me, it doesn't make any difference whether it's a QB or other high-caliber positional players, there WILL be a market for Pick #9 which gives access to the remaining top-15 prospects. The trick is going to be finding the best trade opportunity.

This is the tough part of this outside-the-box gambit ... finding trade partners who will have a motivation to consummate the trade AND who can provide meaningful ... TO THE NINERS ... draft capital in return. Not just any trade-down will do. Obviously the trades would be made during the draft and would be dependent upon prospect availability at the time of the trade. To keep this piece reasonably short, I'll just outline the trades that I think would need to be made to get us where we want to go to select the targeted prospects. I think that it will take three separate trades, as follows:

In the 1st Round:
  • Trade Pick #9 (trade value 1,350) to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for Pick #2/33 (580) plus Pick #2/35 (550) plus Cleveland's highest 2019 2nd-round pick (present value of 220).
Cleveland's motivation: Dorsey is looking for impact players ... and there will be one available at Pick #9 ... possibly a third top-ten pick for Cleveland in this draft. (I'm thinking Fitzpatrick, Ward or Edmunds.) But further, IF Cleveland elects to trade the #4 pick to Buffalo (or someone else), they would still have an opportunity at another top-9 pick.

In the 2nd Round:
  • Trade Pick #2/59 (310) plus Pick #3/74 (220) to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for Pick #2/37 (530).
Indianapolis' motivation: Ballard is trying to rebuild an entire roster ... two day-two picks is better than one.

In the 4th Round:
  • Trade Pick #4/128 (44) plus Pick #5/143 (34) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for Pick #4/108 (78).
Tampa Bay's motivation: We're just trying to move up ... if Tampa isn't interested, somebody else will be.

Who knows if any or all of these trades can actually be made. That's not the point. The point is that if an effort isn't made to get the prospects that will offer the greatest potential roster impact, we're just settling for whatever comes along ... and I just can't accept that. Kyle knows what he wants ... go get them!

IF these three trades can be consummated, we end up with the following draft picks:
  • Round 1: No picks
  • Round 2: #33, #35, #37 ... plus Garoppolo!
  • Round 3: #70
  • Round 4: #108
  • Round 5: No picks
  • Round 6: #184
  • Round 7: #223, #240
  • 2019 Draft: Cleveland's (highest) 2nd-round pick
Step 4. The Resulting Mock Draft

Here's how I would opt to use those picks:
  • Pick #2/33: WR Courtland Sutton (SMU) 6'3" / 218# / 4.54 speed / 5.81 Combine grade
  • Pick #2/35: OT Kolton Miller (UCLA) 6'9" / 310# / 4.95 speed / 5.67 grade
  • Pick #2/37: OG Billy Price (Ohio State) 6'4" / 312# / 5.30 speed / 5.90 grade
  • Pick #3/70: RB Rashaad Penny (San Diego State) 5'11" / 220# / 4.46 speed / 5.83 grade
  • Pick #4/108: CB Quenton Meeks (Stanford) 6'2" / 205# / 4.53 speed / 5.38 grade
  • Pick #6/184: SAM LB Peter Kalambayi (Stanford) 6'3" / 243# / 4.57 speed / 5.35 grade
  • Pick #7/223: C Bradley Bozeman (Alabama) 6'5" / 316# / 5.43 speed / 5.11 grade
(If you don't like the backup C pick here, substitute a backup ILB ... perhaps somebody like Nick DeLuca (North Dakota State).)
  • Pick #7/240: QB Chad Kanoff (Princeton) 6'4" / 225# / 4.90 speed / Not at Combine
(Superior talent to Mullen and a candidate for the Practice Squad. Adopt the New England methodology ... develop backup QBs to potentially enable trading one in the future for a high draft choice.)

In all cases I have backup selections in the event that the proposed pick is unavailable ... but I won't bore you with those details.

Step 5. The Projected 2018 Final-53 (Starters in bold and draftees in italics)
  • QB (2): Garoppolo, Beathard (Practice Squad: Kanoff)
  • FB (1): Juszczyk
  • RB (4): McKinnon, Breida, Williams, Penny (Practice Squad: Mostert)
  • WR (6): Garcon, Goodwin, Taylor, Sutton, Bourne, Bolden (Practice Squad: McCaffrey)
  • TE (3): Kittle, Celek, Hikutini
  • OT (4): Staley, Brown, Gilliam, Miller (Practice Squad: Williams)
  • OG (3): Price, Garnett, Tomlinson or Cooper (Practice Squad: Magnuson)
  • OC (2): Richburg, Bozeman
  • NT (2): Mitchell, DJ Jones
  • DT (2): Buckner, Day
  • DE (2): Thomas, Blair
  • LEO (3): Armstead, Attaochu, Marsh (Practice Squad: Taumoepenu)
  • SLB (2): Harold, Watson (Practice Squad: Kalambayi)
  • MLB (2): Foster, Coyle (Practice Squad: Nzeocha)
  • WLB (2): Smith, Lee
  • SS (2): Tartt, Reid or James (Practice Squad: James)
  • FS (2): Ward, Colbert (Practice Squad: McCoil)
  • CB (6): Sherman, Witherspoon, Williams, Mabin, Meeks, free agent yet-to-be-signed
  • ST (3): Gould, Pinion, Nelson
Step 6. Reminder For The Future

IF Attaochu and/or Marsh and/or Harold don't work out as hoped during the 2018 season, use Cleveland's 2019 2nd-round draft pick (likely in the top-third of the round) plus our own 1st-round pick (plus other draft capital, if needed) to trade up into the top-6 or top-7 of the 2019 draft. The Edge (LEO) prospect targets would include Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell (Clemson) and Nick Bosa (Ohio State). Just my opinion, but Bradley Chubb doesn't come close to any of those three possibilities. Davenport and Landry? Even much further away. Brick by brick!

So ... what think you?

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.