The 49ers aren’t picking until No. 99 in this upcoming NFL Draft, so it’s unlikely the team lands an immediate impact player. But that doesn’t mean San Francisco can’t add talent that can develop into a starter by the stretch run for the playoffs this year, or in Year 2.
General manager John Lynch, assistant GM Adam Peters, and the rest of the Niners front office have 11 picks in this upcoming draft. A trade (or two) feels inevitable, and while we all have our opinions on what positions the team should draft, let’s discuss three mistakes the 49ers must avoid this year.
Don’t get hung up on drafting for need
The 49ers used one of their third round picks in 2022 and 2021 on a running back, knowing that was a position where they lacked depth and needed to upgrade.
Instead of letting the board come to them, the team selected Tyrion Davis-Price — a player projected to go closer to the fifth round than the third. Then, Trey Sermon, a player who transferred because he wasn’t a starter and didn’t do much outside of the final three or four games of his collegiate career.
A better example, although it’s easier now that we have the ability of hindsight, is Javon Kinlaw. Replacing DeForest Buckner was a must. Buck was a top-10 draft pick, and it makes sense to use your first on the best defensive tackle available, right?
The 2020 defensive tackle class wasn’t viewed as necessarily strong or deep, so it’s understandable why the 49ers selected Kinlaw early. But there were concerns then about his injuries and how effective he’d be as a pass rusher, and we’re having those same conversations today.
Instead of letting the board come to them and taking a run-stuffing defensive tackle later in the draft, the Niners were convinced Kinlaw was the answer. Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have made it no secret that their plan is to build through the trenches. But some of their most productive players along the defensive line have been acquired via free agency or trade for later round picks.
Trading back and landing Aaron Banks is a prime example of letting the board come to you. Banks looked like a player who will start for a long, long time in this league last season. Having a Dre Greenlaw fall in your lap is another one. The 49ers can’t let the few holes on the roster they have cloud their judgement if better talent is available.
Giving up significant draft stock to trade up
This is not a jab at Trey Lance. The rules go out of the window when you need a quarterback, and the 49ers felt as though Lance was their guy.
This draft cycle has been difficult for us since the team isn’t picking until the end of the third round. But when you realize that’s how they netted Christian McCaffrey, it’s worth it.
There’s a difference between trading for established NFL talent, like McCaffrey, or the Green Bay Packers quarterback, and doing the same for a kicker on the third day of the draft.
Rams general manager Les Snead famously wore the shirt that said, “F them picks,” and the 49ers have slowly followed suit. If San Francisco feels as if there’s a player falling down the boards, and they have the draft capital in this year’s draft to move up and select him, go for it.
But if they’re forced to continue to trade future second and third round picks to maintain a championship level roster, that, as we’ve seen is Los Angeles, can come back to bite you and do so quickly.
There’s a reason everyone calls the draft a crapshoot, and there are no right or wrong ways. The end goal is to bring in good players. The 49ers have done that, but as they continue to develop talent and let them walk, it’s critical the team doesn’t lose too much of its draft capital in doing so.
Break some tendencies
The 49ers are expected to take multiple swings at offensive lineman in this draft. From 2017 through 2020, the team selected three total offensive linemen, and only one of them, Colton McKivitz, is still on the roster. Drafting a lineman earlier is a tendency breaker, and a necessary one.
San Francisco must break some of their recent trends in 2023.
In a league that revolves around the passing game and favors the offense, I’ve struggled to figure out why the Niners refuse to invest in their secondary with an early round pick. There have been some bargain bin free agency signings at cornerback this offseason, but if a starting caliber corner or safety falls, it should be a no-brainer for San Francisco.
The Niners have done a fantastic job of building on their strength along the defensive line. I’d keep adding offensive skill talent and make Trey’s or Brock Purdy’s life that much easier.
Let’s say the 49ers have a second round grade on Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta — a player I think could have 500 receiving yards as a rookie in this offense — and he slips into the third round. That is when you package picks and move up to take advantage of the value.
Again, there are no wrong ways to draft, and you can luck into talent in any round (Purdy, Warner, Kittle, Hufanga, Mitchell), so long as you’re patient and let the board come to you. But there are tendencies you can fall into that wind up affecting you in the now and the future.
What are some mistakes you’d like to see the 49ers avoid this year?