Each year, the first round of the NFL Draft has the potential to surprise a lot of fans. The unexpected has become routine thanks to trades, smokescreens, and other aspects of the annual rookie selection process.

How about this one? What if running back Saquon Barkley, who is the top prospect in the draft according to big-name analysts like Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, and Daniel Jeremiah, drops significantly? That's exactly what Colin Cowherd of FS1 projects in his mock draft.

How far does Barkley fall in Cowherd's mock? He drops out of the top 8 completely and is selected by the (likely shocked) San Francisco 49ers with the ninth-overall pick.

Below are the first ten selections in Cowherd's mock draft.

  1. Cleveland Browns - Sam Darnold, QB, USC
  2. Buffalo Bills (trade) - Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
  3. New York Jets - Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
  4. Browns - Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State
  5. Denver Broncos - Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
  6. Arizona Cardinals (trade) - Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
  7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
  8. Chicago Bears - Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
  9. San Francisco 49ers - Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
  10. Oakland Raiders - Derwin James, S, Florida State

"This is where it gets very interesting," says Cowherd while discussing his projected pick by the 49ers. "This is where I don't know what San Francisco is going to do. Now, I think they're in a potential trade-down spot.

"Here's what we know about San Francisco. They went heavy on defense in the first three picks last year. I know this, I trust my sources, they would like to give [quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo] more support in the offensive line, some perimeter play, they want to give him some help, ok? And Saquon Barkley, I believe, is going to be the one player that is going to fall in this draft because the way it works is sometimes Aaron Rodgers drops because there were about 12 teams that year that didn't need a quarterback, and they were all drafting from about 12 to about 22.

"I think Barkley's the kid that drops in this draft and in an incredibly rich running back draft. And I think San Francisco, if they don't trade down, gives Garoppolo a home run hitter. Don't kid yourself, (49ers head coach) Kyle Shanahan, who is very clever, a lot of looks, a lot of motion, a lot of sets, gets a chess piece, a home run hitter."

The 49ers signed free agent running back Jerick McKinnon to a four-year deal worth up to $30 million. Shanahan has already declared McKinnon as the team's starter for the 2018 season but also noted the importance of giving the versatile running back some help.

"He's coming in, he's our starting running back," Shanahan told Adam Schefter of ESPN this week. "I don't care what running back you are though, you're never going to do that on your own, so he's going to need help from other people in that group. But I expect him to help us in the run game a ton, and I expect him to do it in the pass game -- what he's always done, if not more.

"He's been a great third-down back in the league, and we plan on using him that way, but we also expect to bring him in and him run the ball well for us too."

As for Barkley, he was among the running backs the 49ers met with during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The other known names are Royce Freeman of Oregon and Ronald Jones of USC.

The 6-foot, 233-pound Barkley would offer the 49ers a bigger back when compared to McKinnon, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds.

Barkley rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons at Penn State. He registered a total of 3,843 rushing yards (5.7-yard-per-carry average) with 43 touchdowns over his collegiate career while adding 102 receptions for 1,195 yards and eight receiving touchdowns. That is a total of 5,038 yards from scrimmage in three years.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Barkley had a 40-time of 4.4 seconds, a vertical jump of 41 inches, had 29 reps in the bench press, and a 20-yard shuttle time of 4.24 seconds. Other measurables for Barkley include an arm length of 31 3/8 inches and hands that measure 9 1/2 inches.

H/T to Chandler Wright for the find.