Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Why didn’t the 49ers draft a WR, TE, or DE? It just worked out that way

May 1, 2021 at 3:16 PM--

An ideal situation for any NFL team would be to come out of the NFL Draft having selected the best players on its board at their draft spots that also happened to be at positions of need, but things usually don't fall into place that easily.

Such was the case in the 2021 NFL Draft for the San Francisco 49ers, who were able to fill multiple needs with their picks but also had a couple of moments where they came away with players at positions they weren't planning to address due to those players being the top prospects on their board.

For anyone wondering why the 49ers didn't add some depth at areas where they could have used it, such as wide receiver, tight end, or EDGE, that's the reason. The 49ers made their selections based on how the draft played out, and as a result, they didn't add players at every position fans may have hoped they would.

"I think that's one thing that's always tough with the draft from fans' standpoint or people just watching it," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after the 49ers made their final pick on Saturday. "Everyone thinks you know the needs and a lot of people are accurate with certain things, but you don't go into the draft just picking everything you want."

One of the most surprising things about the 49ers' draft was their decision to select Louisiana running back Elijah Mitchell in Round 6 when the team already drafted Ohio State running back Trey Sermon in Round 3 while also having a number of talented veterans already on the roster. But the decision to add Mitchell seemed to have everything to do with the simple fact the 49ers liked the level of talent he brought for the pick they were at (194 overall), which led them to make him their selection.

"We didn't go into this draft thinking we were going to take two running backs, and that's who we really liked where that was," general manager John Lynch said. "So I wouldn't say to look into that anymore than that. I would always like to take a receiver, I would always like to take an edge rusher, but it's got to be a guy you think can make your team. So that all depends on where that round fell and what was there when we got there."

The same thing happened in Round 5 with offensive lineman Jaylon Moore of Western Michigan (pick 155 overall). The 49ers were able to move closer into the needs category with their next two picks in Round 5 -- cornerback Dede Lenoir (172 overall) of Oregon and safety Talanoa Hufanga of USC (180 overall) -- but Moore and Mitchell were a case of picking the best player available.

"Our intention wasn't to take a guard," Lynch said of Moore. "It was that he really was the guy we had the highest grade on. We don't just purely go by grades. We go by how people feel in that room and how convicted we all are, and we felt great conviction there. I think at this point we weren't married to certain positions in some cases. Yeah you have a need, you have to try to fill it, but I think Jaylen, Elijah probably fit into that category where they were the best players right there at that point. And when you can do both, which is what I think we did with Lenoir and Hufanga, then it really lines up."

So, on paper, the 49ers could still use some extra depth in various places, particularly at wide receiver. But Shanahan likes what's on the roster now and feels the team would be able to put together a capable wide receiver group with what it has if need be.

"We've got a number of NFL receivers. What I mean is guys who are NFL players," Shanahan said. "We've got more than six of those. You always will look to upgrade. If we think there's a slot receiver or outside receiver to make our team or beat the guys out in front of him, we would never hesitate as long as it makes sense financially. But I also think we can win with the receivers we have. But we'll always continue to look to get better."

Tight end is another spot where the 49ers could use some more competition after losing Jordan Reed (retirement) in the offseason. But again, Shanahan likes what he has -- and maybe he's been spoiled a bit by former fifth-round pick George Kittle as well.

"It's hard to make our team with the three tight ends that we've had are three really good players," Shanahan said. "The fourth tight end has been on our team and has been up for games, and he's a good player. So it's not easy just to come in and beat these guys out. That's the stuff you have to look to I would love to take a tight end in the first, second, or third round. I would love to. But we've taken one in the fifth, so every one we look at, we keep thinking how good they are in the fifth. So it's hard for us to go higher for one. We kind of killed ourselves forever with that with George. I'm always like, 'Man, we can get a better one in the fifth,' but I don't know if that's ever going to happen again like that.

"But we would always love to add tight ends. Anybody who can catch the ball and score points and also help us block, you never can have enough of them. But you've also got to balance your team out. That comes to how you find people in free agency, which costs a lot of money, and how you spend you draft picks. And there's only so many high draft picks."

The 49ers' roster certainly looks better than it did three days ago, but there's still room for improvement. As Shanahan and Lynch said, sometimes the draft can't answer every question mark. But, with undrafted free agency still to come and unsigned veterans still available, perhaps the remaining questions can be addressed in the coming days.

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