It’s been 115 days since the NFL regular season ended. At that time, the San Francisco 49ers were granted the second overall pick and it was fair to say the top of the NFL Draft was looking a bit dull. It looked like the Arizona Cardinals would take Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, and the 49ers would maybe draft Houston’s Ed Oliver or maybe a receiver, but overall it wasn’t sexy.
Since then, some things have changed; the Senior Bowl happened, the Combine happened, pro days happened, official visits happened, but most importantly Kliff Kingsbury was hired by the Arizona Cardinals and Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray chose football over baseball. Oh boy, things have changed.
Murray’s decision to break his contract with the Oakland A’s and enter the NFL Draft had one of the single biggest impacts on an NFL Draft in recent history. Murray went from baseball player to potential first overall pick in a matter of 100 days. Because of Murray’s dynamic ability as a passer and runner, the Cardinals look to be in-line to draft a quarterback in the top-10 for the second straight season, after selecting UCLA’s Josh Rosen 10th overall last year. But, what does this mean for the 49ers now?
Before we get to who the 49ers should pick, we need to take a step back and look at the past. Why? Because this is turning into one the most important drafts of John Lynch’s career as San Francisco’s general manager. Lynch has hit on picks like Mike McGlinchey and George Kittle, but he’s had more misses than hits overall. Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster, Joe Williams and CJ Beathard are more recognizable as busts on Lynch’s resume. With the second overall pick and the consensus number one overall prospect (Bosa) falling in his lap, Lynch can’t afford to mess this up.
The 49ers have three options. Option one: Draft Bosa; option two: draft Alabama’s Quinnen Williams; and option three, trade back.
Let’s start with the latter, trading back. This draft class as a whole has a wide gap between “elite” prospects and “good” prospects. The 49ers have the chance to land one of those can’t-miss, elite prospect at two, and if they trade back they’re in jeopardy of missing out on a foundational piece. On top of that, the value the 49ers could potentially get moving out of two may not be as high as you’d expect. Unless Murray falls, or a team falls in love with Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, the value in trading back is thinner this year because of the available quarterback.
Option two: Quinnen Williams. The Alabama interior defensive tackle might be the most talented prospect in the entire draft, but the fit for the 49ers has some question marks, especially with a player like Bosa still on the board. Williams is a menace on the interior, and he has a blend of size, speed and power that you rarely see from a prospect his age. Although he’s talented, the 49ers have a log jam at defensive tackle. Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner were both high first round picks, San Francisco just picked up Buckner’s fifth-year option and Ronald Blair and maybe even Thomas will be contributors on the interior. The addition of Dee Ford helps the edge unit, but he’s primarily a stand-up pass rusher. That brings us back to Option One, Bosa.
Bosa is the consensus wire-to-wire top prospect for a reason. The guy has everything you want in an edge rusher. He has a complete pass rush repertoire, athleticism and he’s an absolute mauler in the run game. Bosa is one of the most polished and refined pass rushing prospects to enter the draft in recent memory. He does have some injury concerns, but his talent is just too rich to pass up on. Lynch can’t overthink this, he can’t get cute, he needs to select the former Buckeye with the number two overall pick if he’s available.
Where things get interesting is Day Two — rounds two and three. That’s where you can separate the fake from the real. The widespread consensus is that the 49ers should take a wide receiver in round two, but I say different, and let me tell you why.
The wide receiver class is deep enough that there should be a talented receiver available later, in rounds three and four. Stanford’s JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Baylor’s Jalen Hurd could be options available that would fit right into Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
While the wide receiver group is deep, the interior offensive line class is thin. If the 49ers don’t take an interior offensive lineman in round two, they’ll risk going into the season with Weston RIchburg, Laken Tomlinson and Mike Person as their options on inside. The trio the 49ers currently have was wildly inconsistent in 2018, and with a division that has Aaron Donald, it’s smart for San Francisco to add talent to their interior offensive line group. Texas A&M’s Erik McCoy, South Carolina’s Elgton Jenkins and Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom could all be instant starters on the 49ers line, and be available in round two.
The other positions of need San Francisco could address in the draft would be both defensive back positions, and that’s a murky one. There is a lot of raw talent available, but whoever the 49ers peg as their guy will need some serious development. Oregon’s Ugo Amadi, and Iowa’s Amani Hooker could be options that are available in mid rounds, but there should be some hesitation with the 49ers secondary unit that’s already in place. San Francisco has been lacking in developing players like Ahkello Witherspoon and DJ Reed, so the 49ers will have to prove they can get the most out of whoever they add to their secondary.