It doesn't add up.
The 49ers are not taking a WR in the first round, and definitely not with the thirteenth overall pick unless all of DL Derrick Brown, Javon Kinlaw, CB Jeff Okudah, CJ Henderson, Edge Chase Young, OT Jedrick Wills Jr., Tristan Wirfs, Mekhi Becton, and Andrew Thomas are off the board. The 49ers would likely trade back from 13 if all those players are gone.
In fact, the 49ers are not likely to take a WR in the first 3 rounds. "What" you say, "but we clearly need a stud WR to replace Sanders". No, we don't.
This is what should tell you the 49ers are not drafting an early WR:
- Emmanuel Sanders: If the 49ers wanted to hang on to Emmanuel Sanders, they would have. He was only sixteen million, and up to nineteen million with incentives, over two years. The 49ers could have made that work. They didn't want to. Don't you think a good veteran, with experience in the Shanahan system, with three super bowls on his resume, who they traded a 3rd round pick for, would have been more valuable to them than any rookie WR? Sanders would have been their best choice for getting back to the super bowl next year, but the 49ers didn't feel the need...
- Because they like who they got: The team was totally happy going into 2019 camp with Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel, Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd, Kendrick Bourne, Richie James Jr, and Jordan Matthews. They thought they could compete and win games with that WR group. Guess what? They have Goodwin, Pettis, Samuel, Taylor, Hurd, Bourne, and James for camp this year. They only difference is add Travis Benjamin instead of Jordan Matthews. They think they can compete with this group, and...
- The group is getting better: Bourne now has an extra year of experience where he fought his way into the top three on the depth chart and played in a super bowl. He's better. Deebo has experienced NFL success and knows the playbook now. He's better. Taylor and Hurd were hurt last year. They're healthy now. Would the 49ers have traded for Sanders if even one of them had been healthy? Hurd has a year of studying the playbook and learning the WR position. He's a better prospect now than when they drafted him. They have spent a lot of recent draft capital on this position group already. They used an early 2nd for Deebo, an early 3rd for Hurd, traded up in the 2nd for Pettis, a 6th for Taylor. Time to see the return on investment for those picks.
- 6-0 "Feels great, baby": What was the 49ers record before they traded for Sanders? Oh yeah. Undefeated. Who were the starters that got them to that point? Goodwin, Pettis, and a combo of Deebo, Bourne, and James (side note, I wish we could see more Richie James reps at WR). They've shown they can win with the current group.
- Joe Staley: There's a story today on Niners Nation about Matt Miaocco saying Staley has a 50/50 chance of playing this year. Yeah, he might retire. Even if he does play, it's probably his last year. What are you going to do in 2021 if Staley is gone and the 49ers are picking 32nd (obviously) and it's a weak OT class with no decent prospects on the board. Will you regret that you passed up on OT for a luxury WR in one of the deeper OT draft pools of the last few years? The 49ers need to get an OT with one of their first two picks from this draft.
- Richard Sherman... and Tartt, and Moseley, and Witherspoon, and Williams: Yeah that's right, with the exception of Jimmy Ward, the entire starting DB backfield have their contracts expiring next year. Do you think you might want to get ahead of that a little bit by drafting a CB? Sherman might have a couple more good years in him but has a $15M cap hit this year and is going to be expensive to resign. Who are you going to pay? Uncle Sherm? Moseley? Witherspoon? Tartt? Who are you letting walk? It's a good CB pool at the top of the draft and would be wise for the 49ers to draft someone early.
- DeAndre Hopkins, DK Metcalf: Speaking of DBs, we now have arguably the best NFL WR in the NFC West with the Cardinals stealing Hopkins from the Texans. DK Metcalf and his 4.33 speed proved his worth last year. The NFC West has some studs to defend against. It would be nice to have CJ Henderson's 4.39 speed to match up to those dudes. Shanahan can scheme a peanut butter & jelly sandwich into twenty points a game. Does he really need a stud WR to compete or would it be better to continue adding dominant defensive players. Remember, defense wins championships... most of the time ;)
- Trent Taylor, Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis: This is who Shanahan expected to start at the beginning of last season. Taylor was dominating camp last year and people were forecasting as high as 100 catches for him. If he's healthy, they've got an outstanding 3rd down slot WR. As for Pettis, have you heard people say year three is when WRs break out statistically? Maybe Pettis will show up with some dog in him after spending a year in the dog house. Does he want to be a pro football player or is he ready to start the next phase of his life taking cat pictures for the internet? My money is on him wanting to earn that next contract. Look at his NFL highlight reel. He can make plays. The 49ers will give him a chance to prove himself. I bet he runs routes as well or better than Jerry Jeudy. Better yet, Pettis knows the playbook. I don't know what happened with Goodwin last year, but he had almost 1000 yards for the 49ers two years ago. Maybe the problem with Goodwin is Jimmy G's deep ball accuracy. Is Henry Ruggs really going to be better than Goodwin right off the bat? Not for the first half of the year he won't be, and maybe Ruggs will have a career like other first round speedsters Ted Ginn Jr and John Ross. I'm not gambling a top 15 pick on that. Shanahan's playbook is complicated and the preseason will be curtailed by COVID19 limiting the opportunity for rookie WRs to learn. The veterans who know they playbook have more value going into next year.
- George Kittle: The 49ers are about to pay Kittle about seventy million Behind him they have Ross Dwelley who is a restricted free agent next year. So they'll have Dwelley for at least two more years. Behind him, they have some dude you've never heard of. They clearly need more depth to be able to decrease the load on Kittle, support two TE sets, and protect the large investment they're about to make. We know the 49ers are looking at TE in both free agency (Austin Hooper, Jordan Reed), and the draft (predraft meetings with Hunter Bryant, Dalton Keane, Mitchell Wilcox, Dominik Wood-Anderson, Giavanni Ricci). We know they drafted TE Kaden Smith last year who did not make the roster. TE is a higher priority than WR, and they may draft a TE before a WR.
- Solomon Thomas, and Deforest Buckner: Bucker is gone. The 49ers will give Thomas a chance to earn his 5th year option. He has about a $9M cap hit this year and would be about $12M next year. Hopefully we all want him next year, but he may not warrant that. A stud first round interior DL would play immediately for the 49ers, even if it is in a rotation, and continue to keep the DL a strength of the team. We know Lynch and Shanahan philosophically believe having a strong DL and it was a goal of theirs from the start. A first round pick at DL wouldn't be unwarranted.
- $100 Million: How much do you want to pay that first round WR in the future? Statistically the chances are the best WR in this draft will come from someone selected in the 2nd round or later, but let's say the 49ers were to hit on the best WR with a first round pick. Amari Cooper just got a contract for $100M over 5 years. I assume you want to pay Deebo in three years if he continues to play as good or better than his rookie year. Do you want to follow that up with another $20+ million a year for the first round WR you want this year? No, the 49ers are better off with a group of complimentary role players. The expensive super stud WR has become like 1st round RBs. They are not worth the value of a 1st round pick.
- Deepest WR pool in years: Given all the points above, why would the 49ers burn limited draft capital on an early WR when there are complimentary role player prospects available on day three of the draft? There are many interesting potential day 3 picks; Collin Johnson, Lynn Bowden, Devin Duvernay, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Gabriel Davis, Quitez Cephus, Antonio Gibson, Isaiah Coulter, KJ Hill, Donavan Peoples-Jones, James Proche, Aaron Parker, John Hightower, Bin Victor, Kendrick Rodgers, Juwan Johnson, Isaiah Hodgins, Quez Watkins. Sure they're not as surefire and exciting as the top 10 WR prospects this year but each of them have some compelling attributes and could potentially contribute to an NFL team.