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Despite having the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft, predicting the 49ers’ plan isn’t so easy.
There are several variables bound to unfold. The Arizona Cardinals may or may not select quarterback Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick, with Josh Rosen still on the roster. The 49ers could hand-pick their best player available at No. 2 overall if that’s the case, but who that is remains unknown. The 49ers will almost certainly receive calls from quarterback-needy teams trying to trade up, and if the assets are rich enough, the 49ers could deal the No. 2 pick, like they did in 2017.
Much of the draft’s allure lies in the unknown. That is particularly true for these 49ers. If you guessed the team would draft Solomon Thomas and Mike McGlinchey with their top picks in consecutive years, you’re probably lying. Under Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, the 49ers have a draft history of the unexpected.
And while some early picks haven’t worked out (Thomas and Reuben Foster), this 49ers brass has hit in the late rounds. George Kittle, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2017 draft, is one of the biggest steals in recent years. The No. 2 overall pick will grab people’s attention, but it’s important to look ahead to the team’s additional five picks in this year’s draft. The 49ers have three selections in the top-67 this year.
Here is one prediction of the 49ers’ 2019 draft.
No. 2 overall: Nick Bosa — defensive end, Ohio State
If the 49ers stay at No. 2 overall, they seem likely to take Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams, regarded as the top-two defensive players in the draft. The 49ers met with both players over dinner last week.
Draft analyst Charlie Campbell recently told KNBR’s Larry Krueger that the 49ers feel Williams is “more special” than Bosa. Williams was the NCAA’s equivalent of Aaron Donald. He projects as a perennial Pro Bowler.
But Lynch and Shanahan have made various recent comments hinting at their draft-day intentions.
“Hopefully, if you’re picking real high, it’s power, it’s bend, it’s all of it,” Lynch said at last month’s NFL Combine.
Bosa is undoubtedly the most complete edge rusher in this class. He has held that title despite playing in three games, which were very productive, in 2018.
Pairing him at the big end spot, across from Dee Ford, the team’s new LEO, would put the 49ers defensive line in the conversation as one of the most talented in football. Using the No. 2 pick on a big end isn’t ideal, but when you have a longstanding problem like the 49ers’ pass-rush, and access to a sure thing like Bosa, you stockpile pass rushers.
Earlier this week, at the annual owners meetings, Shanahan was asked about the best pass rushes he has faced throughout his coaching career. He highlighted Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis bookending the former Colts defensive line.
“What’s harder than two (pass rushers) would be four elite ones,” Shanahan said, via Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee. “So, if they can keep coming, it puts pressure on the whole offense.”
Assuming Murray goes No. 1 overall, the 49ers have the opportunity to turn its most glaring weaknesses into one of its greatest strengths by choosing Bosa. Don’t overthink it.
No. 36 overall: A.J. Brown — wide receiver, Ole Miss
Brown isn’t shy about his talents.
— Brad Almquist (@bradalmquist13) March 1, 2019
Maybe Brown felt the need to self-endorse after the NFL world collectively drooled over his Ole Miss teammate, D.K. Metcalf, whose workouts are among the best in Combine history. Metcalf will likely be the first receiver taken in April’s draft, yet Brown had better college production.
From a numbers perspective, Brown was among the best receivers in college football in each of his final two seasons at Ole Miss. He caught 75 passes for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns in his sophomore year. He was better his junior year, amassing 85 catches, 1320 yards (a school record), and six touchdowns.
He posted solid scores across the board during his Combine workout. He ran a 4.49 40-yard dash and lifted 19 bench reps. Brown didn’t participate in either the three-cone or 40-yard shuttle, drills the 49ers value. But he didn’t do anything to hurt his status as one of the draft’s top receivers — and seemingly a perfect fit at the 49ers’ Z position. They want a player who can make tough catches over the middle and open up the deep game. Brown is that guy.
No. 67 overall: Chris Lindstrom — offensive lineman, Boston College
When the 49ers drafted McGlinchey No. 9 overall last year, Lynch said offensive tackles of high caliber are hard to find in late rounds. By that line of thinking, the 49ers won’t wait too long to grab an offensive tackle. Selecting one with the No. 36 pick seems like a jump, as the 49ers could draft an immediate playmaker that addresses a larger need, such as receiver. But based on the physical parameters of San Francisco’s offensive linemen, who are shifty and typically hover around 300 pounds, finding offensive tackles can be difficult in free agency.
At some point, the 49ers will have to plan for life after Joe Staley. He hasn’t slowed down yet. But his contract expires after the upcoming season.
Lindstrom — a 6-foot-4, 308-pounder who ran a 4.91 40-yard dash at the Combine — can play anywhere along the offensive line. He’s considered one of the most athletic offensive linemen in this year’s draft class. He started 36 games at right guard and 11 at right tackle during his Boston College career. He started all 12 games at right guard in 2018, earning AP third-team All-American and first-team All-ACC honors.
The 49ers don’t have much offensive line depth. They don’t have a backup offensive tackle with NFL experience, which is a concern. At a minimum, Lindstrom would immediately back up Staley and McGlinchey at the tackle spots, and he could also slot in at guard. Then, Lindstrom could replace McGlinchey at right tackle role in 2020, as McGlinchey succeeds Staley on the left side, should he not be re-signed if his contract expires.
No. 105 overall: Darnell Savage — safety, Maryland
Free safety is the one position of need that the 49ers didn’t address in free agency. Their only move: re-signing Jimmie Ward for one more year.
It doesn’t feel like the 49ers will use a high pick on a safety, considering their stockpile of options there. Adrian Colbert’s 2018 campaign, his first full season as a starter, was cut short to seven games. Rookie D.J. Reed never got consistent reps there. Antone Exum showed some flashes. Between the two safety positions, the 49ers cycled six players in and out in 2018. They believe capable players remain on the current roster.
But they are likely to add a safety to compete. Savage is a fluid playmaker who can play either the free safety or nickel corner spots, similar to Reed and Ward. The 49ers need playmaking. Savage compiled seven interceptions and returned two for touchdowns in the past two seasons.
No. 177 overall: Tim Ward, defensive end, Old Dominion
You can never have too many pass rushers. Ward, who has a 7-foot wingspan, is an athletic EDGE option who could blossom into a good pro with time. He tallied 6.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in his final two seasons.
No. 214 overall: Josh Oliver, tight end, San Jose State
Kittle’s preeminent 2018 season overshadowed Garrett Celek’s regression. Maybe the 49ers didn’t need Celek to produce in the pass game. He certainly was not featured much. But five catches for 90 yards in 15 appearances — along with a costly goal-line drop in a two-point loss to the Chargers — isn’t good enough.
Shanahan has largely built the current 49ers offense from the inside-out. He has three speedy, versatile running backs. He has arguably the best tight end in football. Who isn’t to say Shanahan finds another late-round gem at tight end who can provide situational receiving help?
Oliver is a name to watch. He’s a bit of a project. He was recruited to be a linebacker, but his athleticism convinced his college coaches to switch him to offense. He steadily progressed throughout his four years. In 2018, he compiled 709 receiving yards, four yards fewer than the team’s leader.
The 49ers coached Oliver in January at the Senior Bowl. He then ran a 4.63 40-yard dash, the third-fastest time among tight ends at the NFL Combine. Oliver projects as a pass-catcher who could benefit from the extra attention Kittle is sure to garner in two tight-end sets. Oliver’s run-blocking will have to improve to see consistent reps in the NFL.