Going into this year’s NFL Draft, my philosophy is “In Lynch and Shanahan I Trust”. In other words, no matter what they do in the draft, the team will be improved. In one year, they have turned this franchise from worst to fun-to-watch-respectable. To reach “first”, they still have some work to do but the arrow is clearly pointing in the right direction.
While they are drafting in the #9 position, there are 4 and maybe 5 teams ahead of them who are likely to pick a QB. This benefits the Niners tremendously as they already have their franchise QB in Jimmy Garoppolo. Thus, they will have their choice of the top 4 or 5 non-QB players in the draft.
The Niners need to address these weaknesses on their roster: Pass Rusher, Interior Offensive Line, Line Backer, Corner Back, and Wide Receiver in that order. They have already made some off-season moves to improve on these weaknesses.
The Niners re-signed Cassius Marsh to a 2 year contract as he had a good year and showed flashes of brilliance as a pass rusher.
Jeremiah Attaochu (San Diego Chargers): 6-3, 243 lbs: Attaochu was a 2nd round 2013 draft pick by the Chargers and had 2 sacks in his rookie season. He then broke out and had 6 sacks in his second year. Injuries limited him the last two years. The Niners signed him to a 1 year contract for $2.5 million making this a low risk deal. The Niners are still hopeful that Arik Armstead can develop into an Edge Rusher but injuries have also plagued his career.
Bradley Chubb (NC State): 6-4, 275 lbs: Chubb is the premier pass rusher in this year’s college draft. He will not be available by the time the Niners pick at #9. If, by a miracle, Chubb is still on the board at #9, Lynch should not hesitate to draft him.
Harold Landry (Boston College): 6-3, 250 lbs: Landry is a pure speed rusher who racked up 158 tackles, 48 for losses with 25 sacks.
Marcus Davenport (Texas-San Antonio): 6-6, 264 lbs: Davenport is a legitimate pass rushing threat and could turn out to be a home run.
Both Landry and Davenport will be available at #9 and one or both will be available at #12. If either one of these two prospects are at the top of Lynch and Shanahan’s board, they should try to trade down with Buffalo who have 2 picks in the first round… #12 and #22. They also have 2 picks in the second round… #53 and #56. Buffalo needs a QB. Lynch should ask for #12 and #22 along with another draft pick or another player like Kelvin Benjamin who is the big young WR that the Niners are looking for (6-5, 243 lbs). This works only if one of the top QB that Buffalo likes is available at #9 and they are worried that their QB may be taken before #12.
Interior Offensive Line:
Weston Richburg (Center for NY Giants): 6-4, 300 lbs: The Niners signed Richburg during the off season to a 5 year contract. He was at the top of Lynch’s free agent list and fills a major weakness. Richburg is only 26 so his prime years are still ahead of him. By far, the most valuable signing for the Niners during this off season.
Jonathan Cooper (OG for Dallas): 6-2, 312 lbs: Cooper was a first round (7th overall) pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2013 and played 13 games for the Dallas Cowboys last year on a very good offensive line. The Niners signed him to a one year low risk deal. He will be competing for a starting job at Right Guard along with Joshua Garnett and Erik Magnuson. Laken Tomlinson appears to have the Left Guard starting job locked up for now.
Joshua Garnett (Niners): Age 23, 6-3, 315 lbs: Can’t dismiss Garnett as a possible starting Guard in 2018. He was a 1st round pick in the 2016 draft and was placed on IR for the entire 2017 season. Apparently, he has transformed his body to better fit the zone blocking technique used by Shanahan’s offense. He stated that he is ready for a “monster” comeback in 2018.
Quenton Nelson (Nortre Dame): 6-5, 329 lbs: The top rated Guard in this year’s draft. He may be off the boards by the time the Niners pick at #9. If Nelson is available, Lynch should draft him without considering trading down.
With the unfortunate situation with Reuben Foster, a position of strength is now a position that the Niners must address. They did re-sign Brock Coyle to a 3 year deal as he had a great season with the Niners last year. Also, we can’t forget that the Niners still have Malcolm Smith who missed last year with a torn pectoral. He was a valuable member of the World Champion Seattle Seahawks team and won the Super Bowl MVP that year. Since our Defensive Coordinator, Robert Saleh, came from Seattle, Smith fits in perfectly with his scheme.
We also have Pita Taumoepenu who the Niners drafted in the 6th round last year. According to Saleh, he has the smarts, speed and instincts. He needs to improve his strength, then he’ll be hard to keep off the field. Pita has had an entire off season to get stronger.
Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech): 6-5, 253 lbs: Exceptionally athletic and is still only 19 years old.
Roquan Smith (Georgia): 6-1, 236 lbs: Has great instincts and has quickness to get to the runner. Also has good pass coverage skills.
Both of these top rated LB’s should be available at #9. In my mind, it’ll depend on whether Lynch values Edge Rushers higher than LB’s in this year’s draft.
Richard Sherman (Seattle): 6-3, 195 lbs: The Niners snatched Sherman after he couldn’t come to an agreement with the Seahawks management over his contract extension. While he is recovering from an achilles tear, Sherman says he will be ready in time for training camp.
Sherman, along with Ahkello Witherspoon are earmarked as CB starters.
The Niners have also said that they will work very hard with Jimmy Ward at the CB position this year. This raises an interesting question about what the Niners intend to do with Ward’s Free Safety position. When Ward suffered a broken arm to end his season, the Niner’s 7th round pick, Adrian Colbert, played fantastically well at that position. This either means that the Niners have seen enough of Colbert to make him their starting Free Safety, or they will be looking at the Draft for another FS. The best Free Safety in this year’s draft is Derwin James, 6-3, 212 lbs. James is being compared to Jalen Ramsey of the Jaguars. He will likely be available at #9 so the Niners would turn some eyes if they drafted James instead of an Edge Rusher, Interior Lineman, Line Backer, or Corner Back.
In terms of CB’s in this year’s draft, all the talk is about Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama), Denzel Ward (Ohio State), and Josh Jackson (Iowa). I’m thinking that the Niners will not draft a CB in the first round and instead go after either Isaiah Oliver (Colorado) in the 2nd round or Quenton Meeks (Stanford) in the 3rd or 4th round. Both have the size and speed that the Niners like. Oliver played with Witherspoon at Colorado so they’ll have an instant connection if the Niners go after him.
Lastly, the unsung value of Richard Sherman will be his teaching skills with this young group of CB’s. He did it in Seattle and there is no doubt in my mind that he can turn this group into one of the better defensive backfields in the NFL.
Wide Receiver and Running Back:
There is so much talk about the lack of good receivers on the Niners squad. I dispute that notion and think that the Niners have a solid set of receivers on their team already. Additionally, I grouped the RB position together with the WR’s because the Shanahan offensive uses the RB as a WR in a large percentage of their plays.
The Niner receivers (Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Kyle Juszczyk, George Kittle and Garrett Celek) all had career years with most of their catches coming in the last 5 games with Jimmy G at QB.
Do the Patriots have any All-Pro WR’s? They don’t need any as they have Tom Brady.
Pierre Garcon (Niners): Age 31, 6-1, 211 lbs: Can’t forget about Garcon who went on IR in November. He’ll be back in 2018. If Garoppolo can make Niner receivers have career years in 5 games, can you imagine what kind of year Garcon can have this year? Also, Garcon happens to be very good in the Red Zone.
Jerrick McKinnon (Minnesota): Age 25, 5-9, 216 lbs: With the signing of McKinnon, the Niner RB position went from being respectable to being great. Carlos Hyde ran with power but McKinnon runs with power, shiftiness, and speed. McKinnon also has great hands and runs great routes which makes him doubly dangerous. With the defense having to worry about McKinnon coming out of the backfield, this alone will make the receivers that much better.
There is a WR in this year’s draft that I feel can be had in the 3rd or 4th round.
Equanimeous St. Brown (Notre Dame): 6-5, 203 lbs: St. Brown comes off the line of scrimmage well, showing good, quick feet in his release. Despite his size, St. Brown played regularly both in the slot and out wide with the Fighting Irish. Although his long-term projection should be as an outside wide receiver, St. Brown repeatedly displayed the feel for space and comfort in traffic to succeed inside. He finds space underneath really well. On vertical routes and over the middle of the field, St. Brown sets up his breaks with false steps and creates separation that way. Lastly, he has the size that the Niners are lacking in the Red Zone.
The top rated RB’s will be long gone by the end of the 2nd round (Saquan Barkely (Penn St), Derrious Guice(LSU), Ronald Jones II (USC), Nick Chubb (Georgia), Sony Michel (Georgia). With the acquisition of McKinnon, spending a high draft pick on a RB would be unwise. There is a RB that I like in the draft that could be available in the 4th or 5th round.
Rashaad Penny (San Diego St): 5-11, 220 lbs: Penny is a well built back and runs with exceptional balance and strength. Penny also has great athleticism for the next level and is impressive in the way he runs with speed, burst, and power.
It’ll be interesting to see what value that Lynch and Shanahan places on Corner Backs vs Wide Receivers in the middle rounds of the draft. Will they value CB’s like Oliver and Meeks higher than a WR like St. Brown? This is why I would prefer that they trade down from their #9 position to gather more draft picks.
To summarize, I trust Lynch and Shanahan to do the right things to improve the team. In one year, they have already made dramatic improvements to the point that they will be competing for the NFC West title with the Rams in 2018. With the free agent acquisitions and confidence that they will add quality players in this year’s draft, Niner fans will be treated to some exciting years ahead.