The 49ers have officially turned the page from the Chip Kelly/Trent Baalke regime and switched to Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. The new duo, with the help of veteran player personnel evaluators Tom Gamble and Martin Mayhew, are now responsible for the total rebuild of one of the NFL’s most storied franchises. The first task is clearly to decide what to do at the quarterback position. The second task is deciding which elite college player to draft second overall. The third task is to hopefully get lucky late in the draft.
I’d like to see the 49ers trade for Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garrapolo, but the price for both quarterbacks will be prohibitive, and neither is a sure thing. Cousins hasn’t fared well in big games and yet will command a salary commensurate with that of elite quarterbacks. Garrapolo has started a total of two NFL games for the league’s current dynasty franchise. Both quarterbacks will require the 49ers to part with a package of high draft picks in any potential trade. The 49ers need to keep those picks to rebuild what has become the NFL’s least talented roster. Armed with six-year contracts, Shanahan/Lynch can afford to be patient at quarterback as they rebuild the rest of the roster. I’d resign Colin Kaepernick, sign Matt Schaub to be his backup and then draft two quarterbacks in the draft, Cal’s Davis Webb in round three and Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly in round six.
There is tremendous pressure on the 49ers’ inexperienced talent evaluators to hit a home run with the second overall pick. If you pick in the top ten, you need to come away with a franchise player, a perennial Pro Bowler. Outside of the quarterback position, the 49ers have pressing needs at inside and outside linebacker, and nose guard on defense and at wide receiver on offense. Many fans believe that the 49ers already have a suitable starter at running back in Carlos Hyde, and conventional wisdom says you never draft a running back high in the first round unless he is truly a special talent, but I’d begin the rebuild with LSU’s superstar running back Leonard Fournette. Some of the greatest running backs I’ve ever seen (OJ Simpson, Earl Campbell, Billy Sims, George Rogers, Bo Jackson, Tony Dorsett, Eric Dickerson) went in the top two picks in the draft.
Fournette is a rare talent. He’s 6-foot-1 and 235-pounds and I’d estimate that he runs his 40-yard dash in the low 4.4s. He lowers his shoulders at impact and delivers violent blows to defenders and still possesses breakaway speed. He is the safest pick in the draft, a sure-fire Pro Bowl caliber running back. I believe he has a higher potential ceiling than Ezekiel Elliott. The combination of Fournette and Hyde would give the team an instant strength and an identity as a power running football team.
Many would argue the 49ers’ primary need, outside of quarterback, is at wide receiver. The last time the 49ers actually won a Super Bowl, they had Jerry Rice and John Taylor starting at wide receiver and a 26-year-old Ed McCaffrey on the bench. If the 49ers had to play a game this Sunday, their three best wideouts would be Torrey Smith, Bruce Ellington, and Aaron Burbridge. You need to get top production from your wide receivers to win Super Bowls, but you don’t necessarily need to draft them in round one. Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, AJ Green, Odell Beckham Jr., and Mike Evans are five of the NFL’s elite wide receivers. All five were drafted in the first round, but that group has combined to win a total of ZERO Super Bowls. Now lets look at the wide receivers who have won rings recently: Julien Edelman (Rd 7), Chris Hogan (UFA), Danny Amendola (UFA), Malcolm Mitchell (Rd 4), Emmanuel Sanders (Rd 3), Doug Baldwin (UFA), Jermaine Kearse (UFA), Victor Cruz (UFA). Many 49ers’ fans have reached out to me in recent weeks clamoring for the 49ers to draft Clemson’s Mike Williams or Western Michigan’s Corey Davis in round one, and while I love both wideouts, I think this draft has some elite sleeper wide receivers, players that can be found after the first two rounds. In fact there are several exciting wideouts that will get drafted in rounds five, six, seven, or go undrafted and be signed as free agents. Here are my favorites:
Zay Jones – East Carolina (Rd 3-according to NFL DRAFT SCOUT rankings)
Isaiah Avery (Zay) Jones was a 1st-team All-American wide receiver at ECU and set a NCAA single season record by catching 158 balls in 12 games this season. He impressed NFL scouts in Mobile at Senior Bowl practices with his ball skills and then caught 6 passes for 68 yards and a TD in the game. He is the son of ex-Cowboys’ LB Robert Jones. He has good size at 6’2″, 202 pounds and is a polished receiver who may contribute right away.
Kenny Golladay – Northern Illinois (Rd 5)
Golladay is a Chicago native and hee tore it up at Northern Illnois this year. He had 87 receptions for 1,156 yards and 8 TDs. He ripped Wyoming for 10 catches for 144 yards and 2 TDs. He dominated Ball State with 13 for 184 yards, 2 TDs, and he really went off versus Toledo with 14 for 149 yards and a TD. Golladay is a big, physical presence at 6’4″ and 213 pounds.
KD Cannon – Baylor (Rd 5-6)
Ka’Darius Cannon was a 4-star recruit from Texas who was 1st-team All-Big 12 this year. The 6-foot, 180-pound Cannon caught 87 balls for 1,213 yards and 13 TDs. He had 9 for 213 yards and 2 TDs versus Rice in September. He caught 7 for 122 yards in Norman versus the Sooners in November, and then capped his year with a 14-catch, 226 yards, 2 TD day versus Boise State in the Cactus Bowl. Check him out at (0:26 mark) make an incredible catch!
Damore’ea Denzell Stringfellow – Ole Miss (Rd 7-UFA)
Stringfellow was not even invited to the NFL’s Draft Combine in March due to a past assault charge in 2014, but he’s 6’2″, 211-pounds and has a smooth running style and nice stop/start quickness and body control. Stringfellow had 4 catches for 92 yards in Baton Rouge versus LSU and finished his season with his best game in the Egg Bowl versus Mississippi State when he caught 6 balls for 97 yards and 2 TDs. This kid has the talent to succeed as a pro. Check out his youtube highlight film at (1:05 mark) and let it roll for 30-40 seconds. Watch this kid pluck the ball with huge strong hands.
Chad Williams – Grambling State (UFA)
Williams is a 6-foot-1, 204-pound wide receiver who caught 90 balls for 1,337 yards this season, including seven 100 yard games. He has scored 21 TDs over the past two seasons, and he really impressed scouts in Mobile with his natural hands, explosive quickness and toughness. He was arrested last May and charged with marijuana possession and possession of a firearm in Baton Rouge, but he also has NFL talent.
Zach Pascal – Old Dominion (UFA)
Pascal is a big wideout at 6’2 and 214-pounds. Pascal busted out with 8 catches for 104 yards and 2 TDs versus NC State in September, and then finished his year on a roll. He caught 9 for 178 yards and a TD vs Florida Atlantic, 8 for 101 yards and a TD versus Florida International, and then had a big 47 yard pass play in the Bahamas Bowl versus Eastern Michigan. He’s a big possession receiver who can high point the ball.
Rodney Adams – Central Florida (UFA)
Adams is 6-foot-1, 190-pounds and needs to add strength to avoid the jam at the line of scrimmage in the NFL, but he has big play speed. He caught 67 balls this year and had a number of explosive plays. He had an 84 yard TD catch versus Florida State in September. He had over 200 total yards versus Memphis in November and finished his year with 7 catches for 67 yards in a win over South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. He was a highly sought after recruit in Florida who was pursued heavily by Florida, FSU and Miami but chose Toledo before transferring to UCF. Check out his explosiveness at (0:23 mark).
Victor Bolden Jr. – Oregon State (UFA)
Bolden lacks size (5-foot-9 185-pounds) but he’s tough, has long speed and big play ability. His nickname is “Quick Six”. I spotted him earlier this year watching highlights on ESPN. He had a 99-yard kickoff return versus Boise State. He had a 92-yard run versus Idaho State in September. He had a 75-yard run in October versus Washington in Seattle. He blew up versus Washington State with 7 catches for 113 yards and then had 4 for 109 yards, including a 75-yard TD in Palo Alto in November. He’s small but durable. His mother is the current 100 meters/200 meters high hurdler record holder at Mount San Antonio College. Bolden is a humble, soft spoken team captain and he’s the ultimate big play receiver/returner. Check out his catch at the (2:40 mark) of the youtube video linked below. Just awesome determination!
Kendell Sanders – Arkansas State (UFA)
Sanders is 6-foot-1, 198-pound wideout from Athens, Texas who played two years at Texas before transferring to Arkansas State. He busted out with a big performance in November versus New Mexico State with 6 catches for 108 yards and 2 TDs, and then dominated the Autonation Cure Bowl versus UCF with 5 catches for 127 yards and 3 TDs and was named the MVP. Sanders has very long arms and has been timed in the past at 4.36 in the 40. Check him out below (at 3:47 mark) as he runs away from defenders for a 75 yard pass play in the bowl win.