Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports


Steals the 49ers Should Target in the 2021 NFL Draft

Apr 19, 2021 at 8:30 AM


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Throughout the past couple of weeks, the anticipation and coverage around who the Niners will take with the third pick in the draft has dramatically built to the expense of the discussion on who they should take in the later rounds of the draft. The 49ers' offseason signings and new free agency acquisitions have certainly exceeded expectations but there are certainly still plenty of holes and weak patches on the roster. Addressing these roster spots efficiently in the draft is crucial as the players they pick will be inexpensive and productive, leaving room for even more cap space for next year's free agency.

This year, San Francisco has the following picks: 3 (1st Round); 43 (2nd Round); 102 (3rd Round); 117 (4th Round); 155, 172, 180 (Round 5); 194 (Round 6); 230 (Round 7).

Now let's get into the Draft Steals.

Asante Samuel Jr., Cornerback


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Though San Francisco was able to retain all of its cornerbacks besides Ahkello Witherspoon, who signed with Seattle this offseason, it still has considerable concerns regarding the future at the position. Jason Verrett, coming off a Pro Bowl-caliber season, has a plethora of injury concerns that might resurface this season and if they don't, he will likely get a massive contract next offseason, something the Niners won't be able to afford. Furthermore, K'Waun Williams will re-enter free agency next year and will demand far more than the $2.4 million he will make this season. The solution to this problem is drafting a cornerback early in the draft.

Asante Samuel Jr. is a 5'10", 184-pound cornerback from Florida State slated by most to go in the mid-second round just after the 49ers. The primary knock against his game that drops him from being a lock in the middle of the first round is his size. This concern is a bit overblown for a couple of key reasons. His size makes him a fit in the 49er system as he can replace K'Waun Williams as the nickel corner in certain sets and he is the same height as Jason Verrett, who is also 5'10'' and matches up well with the majority of the receivers in the league, meaning this issue should not be too big of a deal.

Samuel Jr's strengths, however, far outweigh any of the drawbacks he could potentially present. The Florida State CB brings solid athleticism with elite acceleration to reach his top speed immediately. His silky feet allow him to stay pressed to his man and switch routes on demand. For a small frame corner, he contests jump balls and high velocity throws at an elite level as he achieved 33 passes defended in just 32 total games in college. His anticipation and awareness guarding receivers are remarkable and he is able to trust his reads to get ahead of the offensive personnel on plays.

These great characteristics in addition to being a stout run supporter and tackler make Asante Samuel Jr. a match for San Francisco.

Chuba Hubbard, Running Back


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Over the past couple of years, the 49ers have had an incredibly solid running back committee, but lack a true productive #1 bell-cow running back. All of the intriguing players the 49ers have considered for this position, including Jerick McKinnon, Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, or many more former 49ers, have been either incredibly injury-prone or have been disappointing. Jeff Wilson Jr and Raheem Mostert have both been productive in stints, but both tend to get injured often as neither of them played more than eight games in 2020.

In an era during which running back is no longer a premium position, the 49ers cannot afford to spend big money or high-end draft capital at the position. The solution to San Francisco's running back consistency dilemma could be Chuba Hubbard from Oklahoma State, a running back projected to go in the 5th round of the draft at the very earliest.

In college, Hubbard was the definition of a bell-cow running back as he rushed for 3,459 yards, 33 touchdowns, and a staggering 5.9 yards per carry over three years. In his most productive season, the star back ran for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns, leading college football in rushing.

Hubbard has several characteristics that make him an optimal candidate for the 49ers. Being a decorated track athlete in high school, he has elite speed that could complement Mostert's game-breaking speed. In addition, he also has the patience and a feel for run lanes that develop as the play progresses. At the pro level, this strength of his would likely only be amplified in San Francisco's heavy run-protection system in which its elite run-blocking offensive linemen (Trent Williams, Mike McGlinchey, Laken Thompson, and Alex Mack) create major lanes for their running backs to thrive in. Hubbard runs hard and builds major acceleration with a muscular overall body build. Using his field vision, Hubbard makes strong cuts and exploits open holes in the defense with his explosive speed. His consistent and stable speed also make him a prime candidate for long runs, something the 49ers could stand to benefit from.

Another area in which the 49ers could use this prospect is the special teams game. San Francisco has had below-average return play over the last year and an elusive, explosive back could help address that problem. Hubbard was an above-average kick returner in his first year at Oklahoma State and could look to do the same with the Niners.

With his running skill and value Hubbard looks to be an intriguing prospect to target.

Nico Collins, Wide Receiver


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Though the decision to draft a wide receiver in this draft may be a bit perplexing considering the impressive careers of Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel so far, it gets a little less confusing when you take a look at the current personnel on the 49ers this season. Outside of their first two up-and-coming stars at the receiver position, the Niners have little depth. Richie James Jr. has shown flashes of becoming a decent wide receiver but has gotten injured in the past and is often inconsistent. Even Samuel and Aiyuk have injury problems that have caused chaos at that position, especially in 2020. Drafting a premium wide receiver to get a quality contributor at a cheap price looks to be a good option.

Perhaps the most under-the-radar prospect out of the steals mentioned is Michigan's Nico Collins, slated to go in the late 3rd round at the very earliest. Collins is a good target for the 49ers in the third round or even later. The Wolverine senior's best season came in 2019 when he caught 37 receptions for 729 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns. The primary reason why these statistics weren't even higher was due to very inconsistent quarterback play, something the Niners will look to replace in the first round.

Physically, Collins is everything you want from an elite modern-day receiver. He sizes up as a 6'4'' 216-pound physical pass catcher. Besides George Kittle, the 49ers lack this kind of pass catcher who represents a prototypical offensive weapon. With these athletic tools and outstanding hands and ball control, Collins is able to catch 50/50 jump balls at a remarkable rate, something a young quarterback could stand to benefit from. His vertical speed and agility are deceptive and he can match up with fastest corners with a speedy 4.45 40-yard dash. The Michigan wide receiver totaled 20 yards per catch in 2019, showing the deep threat prowess he presents, contrary to an existing wide receiver like Deebo Samuel who thrives on adding yards after the catch.

The weakness in Collins' game seems to be an obvious lack of good ability to maintain after the catch speed and production. He is not elusive in this scenario and only 26.7% of his college production came after the reception. For the 49ers specifically, this doesn't project to be that much of a problem considering the existing YAC weapons in Kittle, Aiyuk, and Samuel.

A big bodied, athletic receiver like Nico Collins could add yet another dimension to Kyle Shanahan's offense.

Ultimately, considering the limiting financial situation of the 49ers, the picks after the first round in this draft could determine the team's success in the near future.

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.


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