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49ers focus on defense in latest 7-round mock NFL Draft

Breaking down all six picks for the 49ers in Bleacher Report’s post-Super Bowl 7-round mock NFL Draft.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 season is officially in the rear-view mirror. The San Francisco 49ers watched from afar as the NFC West champion Los Angeles Rams fell to the New England Patriots 13-3 in Super Bowl LIII. The NFL now sets its sights on free agency beginning on March 13th, and the 2019 NFL Draft, which starts on April 25th.

Bleacher Report analyst Matt Miller released his first 7-round mock NFL Draft of the year Monday, projecting all six picks for general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan. Let’s take a look at the selections and how they fit on the 49ers’ roster.

Round 1, Pick 2: Quinnen Williams, DL, Alabama

The Arizona Cardinals selected Ohio State’s Nick Bosa first-overall in Miller’s mock. With the draft’s top pass rusher off the board, the 49ers are pegged a first-round defensive lineman for the fourth time in five years. Alabama’s Quinnen Williams would join Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas among a loaded 49ers defensive front that underwhelmed as a unit in 2018. Here’s Miller on how Williams could fit within the crowded group:

Alabama’s Quinnen Williams is a natural 3-technique pass-rusher from the interior. While that may seem redundant with DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas on the roster as former top-10 picks, the team’s 4-3 under base defense would work well with Buckner at nose tackle and Thomas as a 5-technique.

Buckner racked up a career-best 12 sacks on the season while playing multiple positions along the 49ers’ defensive front. Williams would likely rotate along with Buckner, exploiting the inevitable matchup advantages two players of their caliber would create. Thomas has underwhelmed and Armstead is currently slated to play under the fifth-year option at the cost of $9 million. It’s possible the 49ers feel Williams allows them to get younger, better and (slightly) cheaper at the position.

Williams (6-3, 285) totaled 71 tackles, an impressive 19.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks for the Crimson Tide in 2018. He’s far-and-away the draft’s top defensive lineman and is routinely within the first two players (along with Bosa) on most reputable draft boards. While there’s no denying the danger of ignoring other, and perhaps greater roster needs, the 49ers would be taking a “best player available” approach with Williams at No. 2.

Round 2 - Pick 36: Oshane Ximines, EDGE, Old Dominion

With Williams in the first round, the 49ers still lack the edge rusher to complement what would now been seen as an elite defensive front. Impact talent can still be found at the beginning of the second round where the 49ers address their need for a pass rusher in Miller’s mock. Ximines was on the 49ers’ roster during the Senior Bowl in January and praised the team’s coaching staff. He (6-4, 255) totaled 58 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception in 2018. He’d likely be used during obvious passing downs or sub-packages in the 49ers’ 4-3 defense, which is the majority of defensive snaps in today’s NFL.

Round 3 - Pick 67: JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford

The 49ers’ offense continued to struggle in the red zone this season. The team’s most potent weapon on offense, tight end George Kittle, only managed five touchdowns during his record-breaking 1,377-yard season. Miller’s third-round selection of Arcega-Whiteside would be a significant remedy. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Arcega-Whiteside bullied the Pac-12 with 63 catches, 1059 yards and impressive 14 touchdowns. He averaged 16.8 yards per reception, excelling at high-pointing the football and making the contested catch. Arcega-Whiteside would be a routine mismatch for Shanahan against opposing defenses.

Round 4 - Pick 97: Amani Hooker, S, Iowa

Safety is among the 49ers’ most depleted position groups, fielding eight different combinations in 2018. Starting duo Adrian Colbert (ankle) and Jaquiski Tartt (forearm) both landed on injured reserve in 2018. Neither were playing well before their season-ending injuries. Rookie Marcell Harris exceeded expectations at the end of season and looks to compete for a starting role at strong safety next season. Free safety is still very much up for grabs, leaving ample opportunity for Hooker. The Iowa safety totaled 65 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, seven pass breakups and a sack for the Hawkeyes in 2018.

Round 6: Bruce Anderson, RB, NDSU

The 49ers’ depth chart at running back is already crowded. Jerick McKinnon (torn ACL) and Raheem Mostert (broken arm) will both be returning this offseason to join the now seasoned Matt Breida and Jeff Wilson. Despite long odds of making the roster, the 49ers are still likely to add new blood to the position. Anderson (5-11, 210) totaled 124 carries, 924 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games for the Bison. He averaged an impressive 7.5 yards per carry. Anderson also added 12 catches, 199 yards and three touchdowns on the season. He’d likely be competing for a role on the practice squad.

Round 6: Gerri Green, LB, Mississippi State

Editor’s note: The 49ers don’t have a seventh due to Shon Coleman trade, but do have a sixth round comp pick due to Aaron Lynch departure. At this late in the draft, it’s sort of po-tay-to, po-tah-to for draft position.

The 49ers have done well late in the draft the past two years. Safety Adrian Colbert, defensive lineman Jullian Taylor and receiver Richie James, all seventh-round picks in 2017 and ‘18, have all made the team’s 53-man roster and seen meaningful snaps. Could Gerri Green be the next to carve out a role? The Mississippi State linebacker, at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, totaled 31 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 2018. He’d likely be competing for a backup role as both a situation pass rusher and SAM linebacker.

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