With the draft less than a month away, and free agency fairly settled (excepting a few outliers, such as Ndamukong Suh, Ezekiel Ansah, Eric Berry and a few others), there is ample time for fans and pundits to develop every imaginable theory regarding teams' plans for April 25th and beyond. Teams themselves are running incredibly complex and diverse disinformation campaigns in an attempt to ensure that none of their competitors has any idea regarding draft strategies and targeted players. Historically, no one, not even the so-called (and often self-described) "experts" comes close to getting the draft right. Remember the collective gasp last year when the Browns selected Baker Mayfield first overall? Remember the shock and derision with which so many talking heads treated that pick (instead of, say, Sam Darnold or Josh Allen)? How wrong they were. The fact is, NFL teams spend countless hours, devote millions of dollars, have the most advanced technical abilities and investigative tools, and are way, way ahead of the masses when it comes to making informed decisions about which direction they will go with their precious draft picks.

And yet, they get it wrong. So many times. I can not imagine how frustrating it is to be the GM of an NFL team.

It is this ultimate randomness in whether a pick is "good" or "bad" that has given me the confidence to stick my neck out there and make a fairly bold call regarding the Niners' draft, and the possible direction in which they ultimately head in 2019. This does not just include the draft, but my thoughts, unsupported as they are, on what might be going on in the offices at 4949 Marie P. DeBartolo Way. Once again, I head boldly down the rabbit hole.

There is one unshakable fact upon which I base my opinions: That the 49ers are going to take Nick Bosa if he is available at Number 2 overall. I believe that he will be, and that the Cardinals will, in fact, select Kyler Murray with the first pick. If Bosa is not there, I think the Niners will do everything they can to trade that now-golden position to a quarterback-starved team for a treasure trove of return draft picks. This would lead them to go with an edge either later in the First Round or with their Second Round pick, Number 36 overall, with an eye on someone like Montez Sweat. As I said, however, I am assuming that Bosa goes to them and the edge issue is hopefully addressed. Their primary needs at that point would be at wide receiver, safety, outside linebacker, swing tackle or guard and cornerback. They might go after a tight end as well, but given the few picks that they hold, 6 total, the more pressing needs would take priority.

Many people believe that the team should take a receiver with the second-round pick, someone like N'Keal Harry or J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (unless Hakeem Butler or A.J. Brown somehow falls that far, which is not likely). I am not of the opinion that such a move would be the wise one, and I feel that the team is both more confident in its current receiving corps and sees players such as Riley Ridley and Deebo Samuel as being available with a later pick and more viable options to fit into Kyle Shanahan's offensive scheme. I actually think that Parris Campbell, who ran a blistering 4.31 40-yard dash as well as putting up a 4.03 short shuttle, which is something to which Shanahan historically pays close attention, would fit just as well. Whatever the case, all three of those receivers, or at least two of them, should be available in the third round. This means that the team could fill another need with pick number 36. Nasir Adderly, the safety out of Delaware, might be the pick here, as he showed some ballhawking ability in college (5 picks last year). The reality is that I believe that unless Butler falls to them, or another highly-rated player they could use slips, the smart move would be to try to trade this pick to acquire more draft capital in the second through fourth rounds. In fact, I think that it is possible that the Niners are strongly considering doing something exactly like this. This is because I believe that the team is planning on shifting Richard Sherman to free safety in the next year or two.

Sounds crazy, you say? I'm an idiot, you say? Maybe. I've certainly been called that and worse in my lifetime. However, this move would not only make a lot of sense for the team, it would make sense for Sherman as well as prolonging his career. It would also explain why the Niners never made any sort of run at any one of the available free safeties on the market this offseason. I mean, there were so many available. Weddle. Thomas. Amos. On and on and on. Nothing from the team, despite there being a gaping hole in the deep middle of the field through which Odell Beckham, Tyreek Hill and numerous other receivers (remember the Dallas game?) ran free. Bringing back Jimmy Ward on a one-year deal made no sense unless they were looking to move on from there. Sherman was the best corner on the team last year, but that wasn't saying much. He was obviously slower than he had been before the Achilles injury, and bailed earlier and earlier in an effort to not let his man beat him deep. He is a warrior, the kind of player every team would love to have, and keeping him around as a player and a leader for a few more years, hopefully long enough to make some noise in the postseason, would help the 49ers grow into a playoff team and let him play well into his 30's. He is big enough, tackles well enough, yet has the ball skills of a cornerback. He would slide into that spot seamlessly. It solves an enormous problem for the longer-term future and allows the team to really focus on drafting and developing cornerbacks for the future. But which ones?

The 49ers have quite a few young corners on the team already, from last season's roster as well as newly signed Jason Verett, who they ope bounces back from his own Achilles injury. The draft class this year is pretty weak as far as cornerbacks go, with Greedy Williams and then a huge drop off. I think that the team could actually wait until the fourth round to go after Jamel Dean out of Auburn or Justin Layne from Michigan State. Both are long, with Dean measuring 6'2" and Layne 6'3". Dean ran a 4.30 40 at the combine, while Layne was slower at 4.50; however, Layne's short shuttle time, which measures quickness and change of direction, was incredible at 4.09. Dean's short shuttle time was 4.19. Both excellent. Both viable options. One or both should be available in the 4th round, and if the Niners traded their second-round pick to a team in the middle of the draft rounds, they could ostensibly receive a second-round pick and a fourth in return. That would allow them to possibly take both corners and have four viable options (Verett, Witherspoon, Dean and Layne) to look at in 2019, hoping that at least two of them pan out.

So now we've got Rounds 1 and 4 filled, and corner, safety and edge addressed. The team would have a second-round pick somewhere in the middle of the round and their original 3rd-rounder. The second round pick could be used to fill the offensive line need, say with Greg Little, a tackle out of Ole Miss, or a guard, such as Bobby Evans out of Oklahoma or Dalton Risner from Kansas State.

This leaves the 3rd-round pick, number 67, which could be used to fill the need at outside linebacker, with either Vosean Joseph out of Florida, Utah's Chase Hansen or Terrill Hanks from New Mexico State. All three should be there at that point, and the team could choose who best fits their scheme.

I'm sure many readers are apoplectic over the fact that what many perceive as the team's greatest need, wide receiver, remains untouched with only the team's two sixth-round picks remaining. To those people, I offer Keelan Doss from UC Davis and Jalen Hurd out of Baylor. Two big targets who produced in college to add to the mix at wide receiver. Doss is my draft crush, admittedly, but having watched a fair amount of his film, while he is not blazingly fast, he has everything else you want in a player, and was a team leader in college as well. Hurd, who once played running back, would bring toughness to the position as well as a 40 time in the 4.4 range. It may be a stretch to hope that Hurd falls this far, but he had knee surgery which led to a fairly slow showing when he ran for scouts. He is also a bit raw at the position, which might scare teams off. I do not think that the Niners should hesitate to snap him up if he is there.

So to wrap up - Bosa in the first, trade the second to a team like Green Bay or Atlanta for their second and fourth. Draft an offensive lineman in the second, I'll go with Greg Little, and Vosean Joseph in the third. Two corners in the fourth round, Jamel Dean and Justin Layne, and two receivers in the sixth, Keelan Doss and Jalen Hurd. Move Sherman to free safety in 2020 and the defense will hopefully be set as the receivers round into shape. If it all works out, the team could be poised for a serious run by that time. With some luck and a willing trade partner, the 49ers could go a long way toward filling the remaining holes in their roster leaving them to focus on developing the talent they have into a future champion.
  • Written by:
    Matt Mani is a lifelong Bay Area resident, having benefitted from attending every Niner home game from 1973 to 1998. Along the way, he developed a deep love of the game and for the team. He is a practicing attorney in Marin County and, aside from pulling hard for the Niners, Warriors and GIants, writes in his spare time. He is father to three sons who all bleed red and gold. He somehow convinced the editors at 49ers Webzone to give him a chance to prove himself as a content provider, which has fulfilled one of his life's dreams.