Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports



The NFL Draft starts two days from tonight, and the 49ers are positioned to inject some desperately needed talent into a roster that limped to a 2-14 record in 2016. New General Manager John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan already kicked off the remodel with far more activity in free agency than the 49er Faithful have seen in years. After the March additions, the 49ers still have some gaping holes on the roster. There is not a future star to develop at quarterback. No wide receiver on the roster will pass as Julio Jones or Andre Johnson, top WRs that were central to Shanahan's offenses in Atlanta and Houston, respectively. Aaron Lynch has talent, but he hasn't displayed nearly enough consistency to be counted on as the LEO, the weak side defensive end who Robert Saleh's defense asks to constantly disrupt the backfield of opposing offenses. Tramaine Brock's release leaves some questions in a secondary that will see a change in technique, attitude, and identity.

While the 2017 draft doesn't appear to have many can't-miss prospects, the depth of this pool of NFL hopefuls promises that the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the draft will be loaded with talent. Keeping in mind the depth of the draft class and the need to gain talent throughout the 49ers roster, the 49ers are doubtlessly looking to get good value to trade down from the 2nd overall pick to gather more picks on day two of the draft. I don't want to create a mock draft that is riddled with speculative trades, but it does seem likely that the 49ers will find a way to trade out of their pick at the top of the 1st round. I can see the Cleveland Browns coveting the opportunity to get both their franchise QB and the most talented player in the draft. I would also expect the 49ers to make the Browns uncomfortable by waiting for the approach of the draft and the eventuality that other teams will bid in earnest for the #2 pick once the Browns are forced to show their hand and make their pick at #1. It seems most likely that the Browns will want to close the deal before the draft begins, while they are the only team who knows for sure what will happen at #1.

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I would expect the Browns to have to pay significantly for the opportunity to close the deal early, and that cost should be something along the lines of picks #12, 33, 52 and the Browns 2nd round pick next year. If the 49ers can push to acquire picks 12, 33 and Cleveland's 1st round pick next year, they should pounce. Having the Browns 2018 pick (likely to be a top 3 pick, yet again) and the 49er's own pick would place the team in a position to wait for Kirk Cousins in March of 2018, bolstered by the knowledge that they likely possess the draft capital to maneuver for the top QB in the 2018 draft if Cousins elects to sign long-term with Washington.

For the purposes of this draft, we'll assume that Cleveland refuses to part with their 1st round pick in 2018, and the 49ers trade back to the 12th pick of the first round, gaining picks #33 and 52 overall.

THE PICKS

1st Round

12) Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Texas Tech: If the 49ers do secure the Browns 1st round pick in 2018, I wouldn't expect this pick to be a QB, but that's not the assumption we're operating under here. Some critics watch Mahomes and see Jay Cutler. The comparison works a bit, since they both have arm talent, a gunslinger's aggressive decision-making, and a tendency to lose discipline with their mechanics. Where the comparison breaks down is personality. Cutler is often portrayed as a soft, pouting frat boy who hates getting hit more than he hates losing. Mahomes loves football, is regaled for his leadership, and works tirelessly to get better, as evidenced by the shocking improvement in his footwork from the end of the season to his pro day. Mahomes passes effectively within the designed play, completing 68.9% of his passes from the pocket, but he thrives outside of the play structure in a manner that conjures images of Fran Tarkenton, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers.

Unquestionably, Mahomes needs to refine his fundamentals (particularly his footwork) and his decision-making, but he is not the "tear down and rebuild" project critics have made him out to be. As his high pocket completion percentage indicates, there are times on film where he completes passes in rhythm, and his footwork looks passable for a shotgun QB. It is considerably easier to get an aggressive QB to play more conservatively than it is to coerce a cautious QB to get his gunslinger on. It's odd that many of the same critics who claim Mahomes is a poor fit for a West Coast Offense also knock him for having played in an Air Raid scheme. While the WCO has more complex play calls and a deeper playbook, both offenses require the QB to decide quickly where the ball will go and deliver an accurate ball that is placed well enough to allow for yards after the catch. Watching him play, he alleviates other concerns that are perpetuated by lazy Air Raid narratives, because he can be seen frequently looking off safeties and reading both sides of the field and challenging defenses downfield with his big arm. He's not perfect, but none of the QBs in this draft are. Mahomes is the player who competes beyond the sticks on 3rd down, reads his progressions quickly, plays QB with feel and savvy, throws with remarkable ball placement from every platform, loves the game, and has otherworldly arm talent. That seems to check a lot of boxes for Shanahan and Lynch. He's not going to start right away, but he should be ready to go by the time the 49ers are ready to play winning football.



Video courtesy of Draftbreakdown.com on YouTube

2nd Round

33) Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan: On the basis of skill set and apparent athleticism, he's the best WR in the draft. He is in the conversation as the best route runner, he's a big body who runs tough, and he pulls away from pursuit after the catch. So why in the world is he available in the 2nd round? While I usually don't buy rumors of highly-talented players slipping in the draft, this rumor could have legs. Davis is good, but he's not a slam-dunk to many evaluators, and the depth near the top of this draft is amazing. Davis already had mild concerns, based on his small school competition and his comparatively modest production against Northwestern. Being unable to perform for teams, due to a February ankle surgery, doesn't kill his draft stock, but it could certainly allow several healthy players (who actually have combine test results) to slip in front of him in draft order, if teams have scored those players similarly to Davis. He may not be there at 33, but if he is, he gives Kyle Shanahan the #1 WR that makes his offense fly.



Video courtesy of Draftbreakdown.com on YouTube

34) Carl Lawson, Defensive End, Auburn: The defense needs a dominant pass rusher with the athleticism and physicality to disrupt opposing offenses on all three downs. Lawson is a monster. While he doesn't have the outstanding height and length that Trent Baalke used to look for in his edge rushers, Lawson has an elite get off, and he possesses the most violent hands in the draft. Opposing tackles likely ran through mountains of ice to soothe their aching forearms after matching up with Lawson. When he times his get off and makes optimal contact with his hands, he's close to unblockable. He plays with an aggressive temperament, and he hits like a jackhammer when he arrives at the QB.



Video courtesy of Draftbreakdown.com on YouTube

52) Marcus Williams, FS, Utah: I like Malik Hooker. A lot. I don't like him at #2 more than I like Williams at #52. Williams is another elite athlete, though he doesn't cover quite as much ground as Hooker. He's available here because Hooker, Adams, Baker, and probably Melifonwu go before he does, and because he's slender for the position (think Merton Hanks, but with a less wobbly neck). He plays with physicality against the run, and he has a knack for creating turnovers, gathering 5 interceptions in each of the last two seasons and forcing 4 fumbles in his career.



Video Courtesy of Charlie on YouTube

3rd Round

66) Sidney Jones, CB, Washington: I know, I know, I'm basically Zombie Trent Baalke, back from the grave to draft defensive backs with knee issues. Look, Jones being injured so late is a HUGE plus for him. No crooked agent or bungling college medical staff is going to mess up his recovery by cutting corners to try and get him ready for a pro day. He's a clear red-shirt, and that helps him in the long-term. His recovery will be managed by an NFL staff that sees him as a long-term asset, his rookie season will toll, and he'll be a restricted free agent when his rookie contract is up. In the meantime, he's a very talented cover corner who was slotted to go in the middle of the 1st round before his injury. Would you trade the 66th pick in the 2017 draft for the 16th pick in the 2018 draft? I certainly would, and that's essentially what the 49ers are doing here with this pick.



Video courtesy of Draftbreakdown.com on YouTube

4th Round

109) Nico Siragusa, OG, San Diego State: Kyle Shanahan's offense forces defenses to defend every inch of the field, while questioning if the play they think they see is the play the offense is running. That advantage is credited largely to Shanahan having access to offensive linemen who can both execute reach blocks on the defensive line and lock down linebackers at the second level. Siragusa has the feet, technique, and overall athleticism to thrive in Shanahan's system, and he's available here because he's not the mauling behemoth that many teams are looking for in a guard. He might not send defenders flying out the back of the end zone, but he'll do his job, from sideline to sideline and down the field.



Video courtesy of Matt Williams on YouTube

143) Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin: He's not as flashy or athletic as his teammate, TJ Watt, but he flies to the ball and makes plays. I think Biegel eventually locks down the SAM position, but while he bulks up for constant contact at the line of scrimmage, he has the length, speed, and savvy to provide depth at WILL and MIKE. If he never adds the necessary size to play SAM, he's still a 4th round compensatory pick who will excel on special teams and back up two LB positions.



Video courtesy of Vinnie James on YouTube

5th Round

146) Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, NT, USC: It might have escaped the notice of one or two 49ers fans, so I'll let you in on the worst-kept secret in football: the 49ers were simply embarrassing on run defense last year. Stevie is a monster. He's available this late in the draft because he'll be 26 years old and because he doesn't offer much as a pass rusher. At 6'1", 331, he possesses naturally low pad level and his 33" arms allow him to gain inside hand placement against centers and guards, whose arms are generally in the 32"-33" range. While his conditioning was such that fast-paced NCAA offenses could get him fatigued and take advantage of his pad level raising once he was winded and his legs got tired, NFL offenses are not allowed to operate at the same pace as their collegiate counterparts. Taking Stevie off the field on passing downs would keep his legs fresh and allow him to do what he does best: dominate the A gaps and actively shed blocks to pursue and disrupt run plays.



Video Courtesy of 99 Problems on YouTube

161) Aaron Jones, RB, Texas-El Paso: When Kyle Shanahan's father, Mike Shanahan, was the head coach in Denver and Washington, he made a habit of taking unheralded backs late in the draft and grinding thousands of yards out of them. Kyle continues the legacy here, taking an athletic back with balance, vision, and patience at the bottom of the 5th round. Jones is a capable pass-catcher, which is a trait Shanahan can use to create coverage mismatches on his offense. Jones's biggest weakness is a tendency to fumble, but that trait is one of the easier flaws to coach up, if it is properly and consistently emphasized.



Video courtesy of Stephanie Solis on YouTube

6th Round

186) Jeremy Sprinkle, TE, Arkansas: None of Kyle Shanahan's tight ends in Atlanta were dynamic threats in the passing game who were capable of creating athletic mismatches for defenses. Two traits that they did have in common were the ability to win at the point of attack as in-line blockers and a consistent tendency to catch passes that came their way when Shanahan schemed them open. Sprinkle is a capable, motivated in-line blocker who uses his 34.5" arms and 10.75" hands to his advantage. Those same long arms and big hands combine with his athleticism to make him a difficult match up as a receiver, as he uses his size and length to create a big target. Sprinkle needs to pack on some muscle in his upper body, and he needs to convince the 49ers that his bowl game shop-lifting misstep was a one-time dumb decision. Falling to the 6th round should convince him that each lapse in judgement carries consequences. Sprinkle would likely spend his rookie season getting his body and strength up to NFL standards while Shanahan explores what his incumbent TEs, particularly Vance McDonald, have to offer.



Video courtesy of CFB Film Room on YouTube

202) Zane Gonzalez, K, Arizona State: He's the best kicker in the draft, and Robbie Gould doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. Gonzalez was 13 of 15 on attempts of 40 yards or more last year. The biggest knock on him is that he takes poor pursuit angles while covering kickoffs.

7th Round

219) Joe Mathis, DE/OLB, Washington: Mathis lost time to a foot injury in 2016, and his mid-April private workout in California didn't do a lot to suggest that he's already back to 100%. He looked overweight and sluggish, but he also knocked out 39-40 repetitions of 225 on the bench press (the last rep looked questionable). When healthy, he reminds me of James Harrison, in that Mathis lacks the length and bend that characterizes most elite edge rushers, but he compensates with technique, hand placement, and relentless violence. He has a good get off on passing downs and he converts speed to power with explosion through the inside shoulder of offensive tackles. If he gets back to form, he becomes a key contributor at SAM and LEO, who could compete to start at SAM.



Video courtesy of Steelers Depot on YouTube