The 49ers’ Biggest 2021 Draft Needs

Brian Renick
Apr 13, 2021 at 12:34 PM1


The 49ers' front office has hit an absolute home run so far this offseason. Not only did it bring back every priority free agent that was poised to leave the team, it did so on relatively affordable contracts outside of the monster deal that it gave left tackle Trent Williams. The team also cleared significant cap space with some deft contract restructures for defensive end Dee Ford and the likely-to-retire center Weston Richburg.

Then the 49ers traded two future first-round picks (2022 and 2023) and a future third-round compensatory pick in 2022--which they received through the NFL's new minority hire rule when Robert Saleh was hired by the New York Jets as their new head coach and Martin Mayhew was hired as the GM for the Washington Football Team--in order to swap first-round picks this year with the Miami Dolphins to move up to pick #3. That move is assumed to be for a quarterback, and head coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch confirmed as much in their most recent press conference. If the front office makes the right move with the third pick, this offseason becomes a grand slam.

The excellent position that the team finds itself in heading into the draft is one of having a starting-caliber player at every position on both sides of the ball. This gives the team flexibility to draft the best player available in each round.

However, there are some needs that the team has heading into the draft because, while the starting-22 are set, some quality depth will be necessary at some key positions to weather the inevitable injuries that will befall the roster during the 2021 season.

Cornerback


Current Players on Roster
Jason Verrett
Emmanuel Moseley
K'Waun Williams
Ken Webster
Dontae Johnson
Tim Harris, Jr.
Mark Fields II
Briean Boddy-Calhoun
Adonis Alexander

This is arguably the position on the team with the least depth. Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley are the presumed starters on the outside, and K'Waun Williams will be the slot cornerback. Last year, Verrett played his first injury-free season since 2015, Moseley missed four games due to injury, and Williams missed eight games as well. Out of the nine players currently on the roster, outside of the starters, the only two players who can be relied upon to take snaps if an injury occurs are Johnson and maybe Webster, though he is more of a special teams ace. Tim Harris, Jr. is a wild card because we still have not seen him on the field since he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He has intriguing size at 6'2", 197lbs, but that's about all we know of him.

The team will need to invest at least one pick in the early to mid-rounds, and probably one or more in the late rounds to provide the depth necessary to make it through the 2021 season, but it also must look to the future at the position because Verrett and Williams are both on one-year deals, and they will both be 30 years old when the season starts. I'd like to see the 49ers use their second- and third-round picks at the position with an eye towards those players becoming starters in 2022. Moseley is on a two-year deal, and has positional flexibility to play in the slot, so the team doesn't necessarily need to look to draft "nickel only" players to replace or back up K'Waun.

Possible Targets in the Draft

Player/School Height Weight 40-Yard Dash Arm Length
Asante Samuel, Jr. Florida State 5'10" 180 4.38s 30 ⅛"
Elijah Molden, Washington 5'9" 192 4.6s 29 ½"
Eric Stokes, Georgia 6'0" 194 4.29s 32 ¾"
Tyson Campbell, Georgia 6'1" 193 4.36s 32"
Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse 6'2" 205 4.48s 32 ¼"
Paulson Adebo, Stanford 6'0" 198 4.44s 31 ½"
Benjamin St-Juste, Minnesota 6'3" 202 4.52s 32 ⅝"
Marco Wilson, Florida 5'11" 191 4.34s 30 ¾"
Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina 6'4" 212 n/a 34"

Interior Offensive Line


Current Players on Roster
Alex Mack
Jake Brendel
Daniel Brunskill
Laken Tomlinson
Colton McKivitz
Dakoda Shepley

The 49ers signed Alex Mack to come in and take over at the center position. Mack played under Kyle Shanahan in both Cleveland and Atlanta and did so at an incredibly high level. Center is an important position in Shanahan's offense because that player is tasked with calling out the protections along the line. The entire offensive line struggled as a unit last year largely due to the lack of stability at the center position. Mack should not only upgrade the position, but the entire line should see an uptick in production as well, especially in pass protection.

The problem that the team faces is that Mack will turn 36 years old during the season and is likely a one-year stopgap solution. Finding an heir apparent who can learn behind Mack, while also simultaneously upgrading the right guard position currently manned by Daniel Brunskill, should be a high priority for the front office in this draft. On top of that, drafting a player to plug in at right guard would allow the team to move Brunskill back to swing tackle, which is a position that he played incredibly well during the 2019 season.

Possible Targets in the Draft

Player/School Height Weight 40-Yard Dash Arm Length
Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma (C) 6'4" 302 5.08s 32 ¼"
Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater (C) 6'2" 320 4.99s 33 ⅜"
Drew Dalman, Stanford (C) 6'3" 299 5.00s 32"
Drake Jackson, Kentucky (C) 6'1" 293 n/a 31"
Wyatt Davis, Ohio State (G) 6'3" 315 n/a 33 ⅞"
David Moore, Grambling State (G) 6'1" 330 5.13s 34 ⅛"
Royce Newman, Ole Miss (G/C) 6'5" 310 5.13s 33 ¾"
Sadarius Hutcherson, South Carolina (G) 6'3" 321 5.00 32 ⅜"

Wide Receiver


Current Players on Roster
Brandon Aiyuk
Deebo Samuel
Richie James, Jr.
Trent Sherfield
Mohammed Sanu
Travis Benjamin
River Cracraft
Jalen Hurd
Jauan Jennings
Kevin White
Austin Proehl
Matt Cole

At first glance, there seems to be a glut of players at the wide receiver position, but in reality, there are likely only four players on that list who are a locks to make the 53-man roster: Aiyuk, Samuel, James, and Sherfield. Sherfield was signed to a one-year deal this offseason after three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and is considered a special teams ace, but will likely get an opportunity to contribute as a receiver as well. Aiyuk and Samuel are the starters, but the team is looking for a reliable third option after Kendrick Bourne signed with the New England Patriots during the offseason.

Shanahan has been looking for a reliable option out of the slot since taking over in 2017 but has yet to get consistent production from the position. Bourne was a decent option, and put up nice numbers, especially on third down and in the Red Zone, but he was not the prototypical small, shifty slot receiver, or a big matchup nightmare in the slot. The enigmatic Jalen Hurd, who 49er fans have been waiting to see on the field since a breakout preseason performance against the Dallas Cowboys in 2019, will likely get a solid opportunity to fill that latter role of "big slot" as long as his knee is fully healthy. The team should look to the draft to fill that former role of small, shifty, quick slot receiver. If that player can return punts and/or kicks, that would be a bonus as well.

Possible Targets in the Draft

Player/School Height Weight 40-Yard Dash Arm Length
Elijah Moore, Ole Miss 5'9" 178 4.35s 30 ⅛"
Rondale Moore, Purdue 5'7" 181 4.31s 28 ¼"
Dyami Brown, North Carolina 6'0" 189 4.44s 32 ¾"
Amari Rodgers, Clemson 5'9" 212 4.51s 30 ⅜"
D'Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan 5'8" 190 4.39s 33 ⅞"
Shi Smith, South Carolina 5'9" 186 4.43s 31 ⅞"
Jaelon Darden, North Texas 5'7" 174 4.44s 30 ⅝"
Demetric Felton, UCLA 5'8" 189 4.59s 31 ½"

EDGE


Current Players on Roster
Nick Bosa
Arik Armstead
Dee Ford
Samson Ebukam
Alex Barrett
Jordan Willis

Nick Bosa will be back. Nick Bosa will be back. Nick Bosa will be back. Alright, that felt really good.

Now, let's focus on the other side. The Wide-9 defensive front that the 49ers prefer requires a speed rusher opposite the "big end." We saw this dynamic create havoc in 2019 when Nick Bosa was on one end and Dee Ford was on the other. The team and Dee Ford seem pretty confident that he will return to the field at some point during the 2021 season, which would be a tremendous development for the defense. However, with Ford's back injury, hoping and wishing is not a winning strategy, so the team signed Samson Ebukam, formerly of the Los Angeles Rams. Ebukam fits the physical traits the 49ers look for at the position and they are hoping that a transition to DE full-time, along with the coaching of Kris Kocurek, can unlock the potential that his physical traits hint at.

The team will look to the draft to find another player to develop in that speed rusher role, and it wouldn't hurt to find some depth behind Bosa as well, since returning from an ACL injury is no guarantee. The team looks for certain physical traits when it comes to the speed rusher role, with the prototypical size for the position being around 245-260 pounds. The "big end" tends to be in the 260-275 pound range.

Possible Targets in the Draft

Player/School Height Weight 40-Yard Dash Arm Length
Joe Tryon, Washington 6'5" 259 4.65s 34"
Carlos Basham, Jr., Wake Forest 6'3" 274 4.59s 32 ⅞"
Joseph Ossai, Texas 6'3" 256 4.62s 33 ⅞"
Quincy Roche, Miami 6'2" 245 4.68s 32 ¼"
Daelin Hayes, Notre Dame 6'3" 253 4.73s 32 ⅞"
Joshua Kaindoh, Florida State 6'5" 260 4.65s 34 ½"
Shaka Toney, Penn State 6'2" 242 4.52s 33"
Hamilcar Rashed, Jr., Oregon State 6'2" 251 4.60s 33 ½"


The 49ers already have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. They are going to draft their quarterback of the future (and likely present) with the third overall pick. They then have eight subsequent picks to either move around the board and get players that they've targeted or use them all to draft for depth and the future.

The 49ers have hit a home run this offseason. They can make it a grand slam with a great draft.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


1 Comment

  • Andrew
    What about the running back position? Tevin Coleman and Jerrick McKinnon are free agents so we have to get a running back in the draft.
    Apr 13, 2021 at 1:42 PM
    1

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