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49ers trade down, swap first rounders, and land Sam Darnold in new mock draft

In The Athletic’s most recent mock draft

San Francisco 49ers v New York Jets Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

Now that football is officially over, it’s time for never-ending mock drafts, pro days, and free agent speculation. Most mock drafts have the 49ers staying put at No. 12 and selecting a cornerback if one of the top quarterbacks don’t fall to them.

In The Athletic’s most recent mock draft, Dane Brugler has San Francisco trading down with the New York Jets, acquiring Sam Darnold, swapping first-rounders, while giving up a future second-round pick:

12. ***TRADE***

New York Jets receive:

2021 first-round pick (No. 12 overall)

2022 second-round pick

San Francisco 49ers receive:

2021 first-round pick (No. 23 overall)

QB Sam Darnold

There has been a lot of resistance to Darnold by 49ers fans. There is no doubt that Darnold will come with some headaches and plays with far more variance than Jimmy Garoppolo. With variance comes turnovers and missed throws.

You’ll also see Darnold avoid a free rusher and keep the Jets on schedule by making a play with his athleticism a couple of times a game. Plus, Darnold’s physical tools allow him to make throws that Jimmy can’t.

In the quick-game, where Kyle Shanahan’s offense lives, is where Darnold excels. Connecting the dots as to why Darnold would be a fit with the Niners is easy to do. This isn’t simply a player-for-player trade. You’re paying New York for a younger QB, but you’re also paying them for Darnold’s contract.

Again, it’s never as simple as “is player X better than player Z.” In this scenario, Darnold’s cap number is under $10 million for 2021. That’s as of now. After the trade, Darnold’s cap number is around $5 million for 2021. Garoppolo’s cap number is $26 million. Is there a $21 million difference between the two players? I don’t believe so, and I doubt the Niners do, either.

Acquiring Darnold would give San Francisco much-needed flexibility to continue to build its roster. Keeping a first-round pick is critical. Giving up a future selection, which it almost assuredly will be in the mid-20s, is smart business. Overall, the 49ers come out ahead in this deal.

As for the direction the team goes at No. 23, Brugler has the Niners selecting an edge rusher:

23. San Francisco 49ers (via NYJ) — Kwity Paye, Edge, Michigan

San Francisco was able to address the quarterback position without completely dropping out of the first round. And with Paye still on the board, the 49ers add a player they might have considered if they stayed at No. 12. Although he is still a work-in-progress, Paye has the athletic traits and energy to be equally productive vs. the pass and the run.

I haven’t watched Paye, but I know a lot of people in the draft community are high on him. PFF’s Mike Renner told me that Paye is one of the lone edge rushers in this draft that he believes is worthy of a high selection.

Paye finished the season with a true pass-rush grade of 90.6 and a pass-rush win rate of 26.5%, which is double the collegiate average. Paye was No. 1 on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks list where he ran a sub 6.5 3-cone:

He clocked the second-best 3-cone time on the team at a blistering 6.37 seconds, which would have topped anyone at the 2020 combine. Paye’s 40 is also moving at 4.57, with a solid 34-inch vertical and 30 reps on the bench press. Paye’s 40 time and 4.15 pro shuttle time are better than any D-lineman or edge player who tested at the 2020 combine. His 11.3 time in the 60-yard shuttle is also elite.

If Paye runs a 4.5, forget about him lasting to the 20s.

I’ve talked about how the 49ers need athleticism on the edge, and it’d be difficult to find someone more athletic than Paye. Most scouting reports will tell you he lacks a plan as a pass-rusher, but if he’s already winning at a high rate, then the sky is the limit for Paye, especially on a defensive line where Paye would get 1-on-1’s every week.

So in this scenario, the 49ers give up a second-round pick for Darnold while swapping their first-round pick with the Jets. They presumably trade/release Garoppolo to free up cap space, which in turn allows them to sign free agents. San Francisco nets the most athletic edge rusher in the draft with the highest upside by keeping a first-rounder.

I’ll take it.