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Oh, Hey There! Will the 49ers draft for need or go best player available?

Do they have a choice?

With just 24 days to go before the NFL Draft, the cram session on incoming rookies has begun for many 49ers fans. During our breakdown of some prospects on today’s Oh, Hey There! Podcast, Leo Luna asked a question about the 49ers’ draft philosophy: Draft for need, or best player available?

Special guest John Chapman had a pretty definitive answer:

“I don’t think that the 49ers draft the best player available. Not early, anyway. Here’s their tendency, and we saw this. You trade DeForest Buckner, what do you do? You draft a defensive tackle. Emmanuel Sanders leaves, what do you do? You trade up and you draft a wide receiver. Whatever you lose, you replace. The 49ers don’t go best player available early. They haven’t since John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan arrived, and they’re not going to start now.”

The proof is in the pudding with this one. Shanahan and Lynch have been in charge of five drafts so far and have made seven first-round selections. The only one of those picks that weren’t immediately inserted into the starting lineup was last year’s first-rounder, Trey Lance.

It’s possible that the 49ers changed their philosophy in a draft praised more for its depth than its top-end talent, but that’s not likely. There are too many holes that need to be filled immediately to keep the team’s Super Bowl window open.

With that in mind, John identified three key positions of need (in no particular order): interior offensive line, slot corner, and wide receiver. If you want to know all of the players we talked about, you’ll have to download the episode, but we’ll look at the top players for each of those spots here.

Wide Receiver: Pretty Much Anyone

As Jordan Elliott pointed out earlier this week, this regime has taken wide receivers more than any other position in the draft, and given the depth chart right now, they could use at least one more. According to John, it’s a good year to have that problem.

“You can get whatever type of wide receiver you want at any point in this draft. If you want a speedster, you want a route runner. You want an undersized guy. You can find it.”

Two guys he’d love to see fall to 61 are Christian Watson and Skyy Moore (you can read more about Moore here), but those are names you’ve likely heard before.

Let’s assume the 49ers don’t take a wideout at 61 and wait until later in the draft. What’s there?

“Holy freaking cow, what do you want? You want a 6’3”, deep guy, all right, cool. You’ve got guys like Justyn Ross. He’s a lotta, lotta fun. You want the small shifty guy. You’ve got Velus Jones out of Tennessee. He doesn’t run a very good route tree, but you just find a way to give him the ball and let him do his thing.”

One other player to keep an eye on beyond the first two days? Tyquan Thornton, out of Baylor.

“The biggest metamorphosis that this offense could have is the return of the deep ball, which has been nonexistent. So get somebody that’s not Travis Benjamin that can run downfield. If there’s one player that I could pencil in, it would be a fifth-round pick for Tyquan Thornton. Remember, he ran the 4.21 (later changed to 4.28). He’s 6’2”, he runs a decent route tree, it’s not that advanced, but he would be that burner.”

Slot Corner: Kyler Gordon, Washington

“I am in love with this guy’s tape. He is a perfect slot corner that fits every single kind of mold that the 49ers like at cornerback. My favorite thing about him...I think the slot fade is our Achilles heel. You look at the last five games of the year going into the playoff stretch, it didn’t matter who we had there. It’s a weakness because of our scheme, but you have to compensate for that with better personnel that can play against that. Kyler Gordon, he’s got that route in spades. I doubt he’s there at 61, but he’s the one player that I’m comfortable trading up.”

Interior Offensive Line: Dylan Parham, Memphis

“The 49ers have a very zone-specific, lighter, more mobile interior offensive line trend. You’re going to be able to get some of these guys later. If you’re picking at 61, Dylan Parham is probably one of my favorite players in this draft. He is lightning quick - I love this dude.”

Parham had a very impressive Combine, including running the 40-yard dash in under five seconds.

All in all, Leo, John, and I talked about around twenty possible players for the 49ers 2022 draft class. Hopefully, you give us some of your time and learn a little more about these guys than you knew going in.