The national TV audience will begin to evaporate and the names called will not be as familiar, but Friday will be every bit as important as Day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft.
“Everybody talks about the first round, but this draft is all about the second, third and fourth rounds,” an NFL West Coast scout told NBC Sports Bay Area.
The depth of this year’s draft makes every team’s selections on Day 2 potentially just as important and impactful as those chosen in the first round.
The 49ers own four picks within the top 104 selections. General manager John Lynch is set to pick at No. 2. After that, the 49ers have scheduled selections at Nos. 36 (second round), 67 (third round) and 104 (fourth round).
Here are some options for the 49ers on Day 2 of the NFL draft:
WR Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
There is something about Samuel’s movements, patience and ability to separate quickly versus man coverage that would seem to be attractive for coach Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers struggled mightily in the red zone the past two seasons, and Samuel would give the team a boost in that area.
After the 49ers spent a week with him at the Senior Bowl, Samuel was provided a plane ticket to also meet with the 49ers in Santa Clara. New receivers coach Wes Welker had not joined the staff when the club was in Mobile, so Welker was able to spend some quality time with Samuel in the Bay Area.
The 49ers’ pick at No. 36 would be a logical spot at which to target Samuel.
WR Hakeem Butler, Iowa State
Butler is massive. He is 6-5, 227 pounds. He is a wide receiver. And the first reaction is that he looks like a formidable red zone target. But Shanahan has never liked the randomness and low-percentage nature of the fade route or jump ball near the end zone.
The question with Butler is much the same as the question with N’Keal Harry of Arizona State. Can he regularly and routinely find separation against bigger, faster, stronger, more-skilled NFL cornerbacks?
Butler should be among a group of wide receivers that fly off the board in rapid-fire succession on the second day of the draft.
S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida
Different teams might view him in different ways. And for the 49ers, that kind of versatility is certainly not a bad thing.
He is 5-11, 210 pounds and ran a 4.48 at the NFL Scouting Combine. He had three sacks and nine tackles for loss last season, which points to his ability to play close to the line of scrimmage. He also led the Gators with four interceptions, so he could also be viewed as a single-high safety.
When the 49ers choose in the second round, there should be plenty of starter-caliber safeties from which to choose.
S Juan Thornhill, Virginia
Thornhill (6-0, 205) is another in the cluster of safeties who should be available at No. 36 but not when the 49ers select in the third round. It’s a group that includes Gardner-Johnson, Darnell Savage (Maryland), Nasir Adderley (Delaware) and Taylor Rapp (Washington).
The 49ers are coming off a season in which they set the NFL record for fewest interceptions in a season with two. Thornhill has experience at cornerback and showed those coverage skills when he moved to safety. He recorded 13 interceptions in his final three college seasons.
The 49ers might even be tempted to move him to cornerback, like they did a year ago with third-round draft pick Tarvarius Moore.
CB Lonnie Johnson, Kentucky
He might not be able to win a starting job immediately, but he should be a big special-teams performer from Day 1 and work into a significant role on defense. At 6-2, 213, Johnson is a good fit for the 49ers’ defensive scheme.
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He is at his best re-routing receivers off the line of scrimmage. He should be able to handle the requirements of the 49ers’ preferred cover-three defense. In addition, he is an aggressive hitter who will be good in run support.
Is 36 too high for him? Perhaps, but he could be a target in Round 3.