In this article, we will look at each position and assess the need going into the draft. The chart below is just for reference. The blue lines represent the play the Niner’s actually got last year on a per snap basis, the orange is the average play around the league, and grey is the projected play for the 2021 season, based on the current roster. The grey is usually higher because it assumes that the starters will take every snap, so if George Kittle takes every snap for the Niners this year, they will look really good at tight end.
In my last article, I showed that the only positions that were linked to wins (statistically speaking) were Quarterback, Cornerback, and Kicker. I tried to stay out of the heavy statistics, but there were a lot of great questions. Since then, I have had the results validated by a professor at a local university, so if you have any questions, feel free to hit me up @goldrushkdawg. I only include this tidbit to explain why I value the cornerback position disproportionally higher than other writers.
Picks – Number 3, (Round 1), 43 (2), 102 (3), 117 (4), 155 (5), 172 (5), 181 (5), 195 (6), 230 (7).
This year has more uncertainty than any year in recent memory, so expect more first-round draft busts and more late-round (and even UDFA) gems.
Quarterback – If you can stomach to read more about the 49ers QB situation than what has already been written, read on, but if not, feel free to skip this section. I doubt that I can offer a fresh take.
We all know that Lynch will take a QB with the 3rd overall pick, and the young gunslinger better be good within the first two years because they traded what would probably be at least two starters and one future pro-bowler for him. It’s a risky pick predicament that they put themselves in because I don’t need to drag up names from the past for you to believe me that first-round quarterbacks don’t always work out. There’s also the possibility that Jimmy plays at his 2017 level, and everyone is left wondering if those picks could have been better used to bolster the defence or give him better protection. Mind you, having two good and healthy quarterbacks is not the problem most make it out to be.
Jimmy Garoppolo came to the Niners in 2017 and, in a brief stint, played outstanding and was rewarded with a huge contract. Then in 2018, he got hurt before he got going. In 2019, he played like a top 15 quarterback, and in 2020 he was hurt again.
There is still something to this guy. I feel like he could come out and absolutely light up. There’s talent around him at every skill position, so if the top brass gave up three first-rounders and a third, they aren’t just drafting his backup. They have to think there is someone who can challenge him for his starting position this year and be a noticeable upgrade in years to come. If that is the case, it might make sense to pull a draft-night trade including Jimmy G (which, combined with a few beers, would make for an exciting draft night).
There is also the option to let Jimmy play this year, and if he plays well, he might have much higher trade value next year. For the record, it’s the right move to try to upgrade the QB position, as he’s been hobbled for years, and it’s not clear if he will ever get back to his 2017 level. I’m still baffled on how they could give up that much draft capital that far out from the draft, and it makes me feel like they know something that we don’t, either about the Jets strategy or that one of the remaining QBs is head and shoulders above the other.
One last point is about drafting a game manager-type QB, which I don’t want any more than the next person. But with all this talent and run-after-the-catch ability, a game manager could succeed in this offense. With that said, we all know the best QBs are the ones that can extend a play and throw on the run.
I’m not going to make a prediction because we will know who it is soon enough, and we won’t know if it was the right move until about three years down the road.
Wide Reciever – The Niners are stacked at the WR position. I project both Deebo and Aiyuk to have great years. After that, they have Richie James, who came up big when he was called on. Then they have Sanu, Jennings, Hurd, Cracraft, etc. Will this be the year that Hurd finally gets on the field? I hope so, but not something they can count on. I’d look for the Niners to bring in more competition for the number three spot. This might come from a UDFA. Look for them to continue the trend of selecting someone who can make something happen with the ball in his hands, or add an element with someone who excels in contested catches. Since losing Jordan Reed, their contested catching is lacking.
Running Back – Raheem Mostert is excellent in my books, and Jeff Wilson and JaMycal Hasty both bring dynamic elements to the table. Shannahan loves backs with home-run speed, along with the ability to catch a ball in stride. He’s been tremendous at getting his guys for cheap, but they’ve all come with durability issues. I’d love them to shake it up and draft the powerful Javonte Williams out of North Carolina, but I suspect he will stay true to form and grab a late-round prospect or UDFA.
Tight End – Kittle is elite, and Dwelley is average. Kittle isn’t 28 yet, so he should still have some good years left. I can’t see them spending a pick on TE unless they find an absolute steal.
O - Line – They brought in Alex Mack, who ranked as the 16th best center last year. They just gave the best tackle in football a monster contract, and they seem content with MGlinchey’s above-average play. Laken Tomlinson played very well at Guard last year, and Brunskill was able to hold his own. There is an opportunity for improvement and could also add some depth players, as it looks like a sharp drop-off from the starters.
Cornerback – Okay, so here is where I think they should take a few swings during this draft. Jason Verrett played awesome last year, but they no longer have Richard Sherman or Ahkello Witherspoon. That leaves slot man K’Waun Williams and probably Dontae Johnson (they just signed him again) to hold things down. I’ve already mentioned that I value this position highly, and Verrett is only on a one-year contract. Before the trade, I assumed they were going after Patrick Surtain out of Alabama, but that’s out of the question now. I still think they should make a play for Sherman, but I’d love to see them bring in at least two CBS from this draft class.
Safety – Before looking at my own chart, I thought we were stacked at the safety position. After looking at the numbers, it looks like there is a drop-off after Jimmy Ward. This is a place where the Niners could try to upgrade.
Linebacker – Both Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair were average this year, with Fred Warner playing like the most dominant linebacker in the game. After those three, the best linebacker on the team is Nathan Gerry, a guy who Eagles fans thought was a joke. They need to bring in some depth in this position.
Defensive Line – The big question mark here is Dee Ford. If he’s healthy, this line is set. They brought in Zack Kerr and Samson Ebukam. I project their starters would be something like Bosa, Kinlaw, Armstead, and Ford, with lots of depth guys. If not, they will either have to put Armstead on the outside again or bring in another edge rusher who can chase down guys like Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray.
Kicker – The single most underrated position. Kickers win and lose games every single week. Robbie Gould wasn’t his best last year, but good kickers are hard to come by. Especially guys who have been in high-pressure situations like Gould. Don’t complain if the Niners draft a stud kicker, but it’s unlikely they will be able to upgrade Gould through the draft.
Round 1 – QB
Round 2 – Edge Rusher
Round 3 – Corner
Round 4 – Safety
Round 5 – Linebacker, Corner, Kicker
Round 6 – Corner
Round 7 – Tackle
Favourite Dream Situation
Trade Jimmy for top Cornerback (or draft capital for Surtain)
Draft Jayson Oweh or Javonte Williams on day 2