49ers

49ers draft pick Justin Skule proved himself playing SEC competition

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49ers draft pick Justin Skule proved himself playing SEC competition

Justin Skule did not play a snap at guard during his four-year career at Vanderbilt, but he will be willing to go wherever on the offensive line the 49ers decide to send him.

“Whatever position I have to play to help the team, I’m willing to do,” said Skule, whom the 49ers selected in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft with the No. 183 overall pick.

Skule (6-foot-6, 318 pounds) was drafted as a tackle. He started the final 40 games of his college career, and regularly went up against top competition in the loaded SEC.

“I felt like he won at a high rate,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said after the club selected Skule. “It wasn't always beautiful, pretty, but just kind of a scrapper who at the end of the play was on his guy and won his leverage at a very high rate.

“When you find those guys, you look at the level of competition. Well, his level of competition was as good as it gets in college football.”

As a senior, Skule allowed only one sack in 473 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. That sack – a sack-strip surrendered to Kentucky’s Josh Allen – ended Vanderbilt’s hopes of a late-game comeback. Skule managed to hold his own against Allen, whom he considered the best pass-rusher he faced, for most of the game.

“My mindset is every play you have to be ready to go,” Skule said. “Every week you’re getting a really good player, so every play, you got to come ready to play. If you take a play off, it could be a crucial part of the game.”

The 49ers were the first team to speak with Skule at the East-West Shrine Game, he said. Skule was not among the 57 offensive linemen invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. Offensive line coach John Benton and Lynch called to speak with Skule in the days leading up to the draft.

“(He’s) maybe not the prototypical tackle that will go early in the draft like you see a lot,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “So you look at the end, who has a chance to make it in this league and the game is not too big for him? He has the ability to make it, and to me he's got as good of a mindset on what's inside of him as anybody out there.”

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Skule is expected to initially compete against Shon Coleman for the role of the swing tackle, serving as the backup to both Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey. Skule said he is familiar with both of the 49ers’ starting offensive tackles.

“Those are both really good players that I know I can learn a lot from and have played a lot of good football,” Skule said. “So I’m excited to get to work with them.”

49ers' need perfectly timed with loaded 2020 NFL Draft receiver class

49ers' need perfectly timed with loaded 2020 NFL Draft receiver class

Timing is everything.

The 49ers were arguably the most well-rounded team in the NFL last season on their way to finishing runner-up to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. San Francisco had the best defense in the conference, and the second-most productive rushing offense in the league. Jimmy Garoppolo finished 22 passing yards short of 4,000, and only five other teams finished the regular season with more takeaways than the reigning NFC champions.

When looking up and down the 49ers' 2019 roster, they were strong across the board. There weren't any holes, and certain areas were tremendous strengths. However, it goes without saying that some of San Francisco's position groups are stronger than others. While the defensive line is arguably the best of its kind, the wide receiver group, for instance, isn't nearly as dominant or impressive.

Deebo Samuel had an exceptional rookie season, and Kendrick Bourne emerged as a consistent contributor. But if the position group was strong enough entering the season, the 49ers wouldn't have had reason to make a midseason trade for Emmanuel Sanders. The 10-year veteran hit the ground running as soon as he joined San Francisco and immediately became one of Garoppolo's go-to targets. However, Sanders, 31, is an unrestricted free agent, and while Samuel would like for his mentor to return, there is no guarantee that he will.

Whether or not the 49ers re-sign Sanders, they couldn't have asked for a better draft to beef up their receiving corps than the one upcoming in April. The 2020 NFL Draft is absolutely loaded at wide receiver, with NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah going so far as to call the draft class the "deepest" he has ever seen.

In addition to giving 27 receiver prospects a top-three-round grade, Jeremiah also has nine receivers ranked among his top 50 prospects overall. The cream of the crop includes Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, LSU's Justin Jefferson, Clemson's Tee Higgins and Colorado's Laviska Shenault, among others. Depending on what happens with Sanders, it's certainly possible one of those top prospects gets selected by San Francisco.

As things currently stand, after picking No. 31 overall in the first round, the 49ers won't be on the clock again until the fifth round, partly the result of sending their own third- and fourth-round draft picks to the Denver Broncos in the trade for Sanders. While San Francisco's receiving corps could use a boost, the team has additional needs that would make it difficult to rationalize using a first-round draft pick on a pass-catcher, especially if Sanders is re-signed. 

[RELATED: Why 49ers could look to add Gabriel to wide receiver mix]

As such, a more plausible scenario is the 49ers trading back out of the first round to acquire more draft picks. With those additional selections, they would still stand a great chance of having a great receiver prospect fall to them, as there inevitably will be a greater supply of standouts than the demand. While every team in the league would love to get their hands on a big-time playmaker, almost all of them have far more pressing and numerous needs than San Francisco does, and each team only has so many picks.

If Sanders is re-signed, the 49ers' need for improvement in the receiving corps will be severely diminished. But, given his age, one could argue San Francisco needs to draft at least one more receiver this coming April -- and if Sanders isn't re-signed -- probably more than one.

Lucky for the 49ers, the timing should work out quite well.

Why 49ers could be interested in adding Taylor Gabriel to receiver mix

Why 49ers could be interested in adding Taylor Gabriel to receiver mix

When the 49ers signed wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on the first day of free agency in 2017, coach Kyle Shanahan envisioned using him in a role similar to what he designed previously for Taylor Gabriel.

Now, Goodwin’s time with the 49ers appears to be coming to an end at the same time that Gabriel is set to become available. The Bears on Friday released Gabriel.

Gabriel was scheduled to make $5.5 million this season with the Chicago Bears for the 2020 season. Goodwin is on the books to cost the 49ers $4.5 million this year and is expected to be released in a cost-cutting move.

The 49ers could look to replace Goodwin with Gabriel, who has a valuation of $1.864 million, according to OverTheCap.com. But the move would have to be a low-risk deal, as Gabriel missed the final five games of last season after sustaining his second concussion of the season.

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Gabriel, 29, played in nine games for the Bears last season. He caught 29 passes for 353 yards and four touchdowns. If the 49ers have interest in Gabriel, it would be to add him to the roster to compete for a spot as a part-time player to stretch the field.

Gabriel had the two highest yards-per-reception averages of his career with Shanahan calling the plays. In 2014 with the Cleveland Browns, Gabriel caught 36 passes for 621 yards (17.3-yard average). And in 2016, he caught 35 passes for 579 yards (16.5 average).