49ers

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 losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. San Francisco had the best defense in the NFC 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 arguably is 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, the 49ers won't be on the clock again until the fifth round after picking No. 31 overall in the first 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 probably more than one if Sanders isn't re-signed.

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

49ers Mailbag: Do 49ers approach draft as if Joe Staley won't return?

49ers Mailbag: Do 49ers approach draft as if Joe Staley won't return?

The NFL offseason continues on . . . sort of.

And the questions continue, too.

Thanks to all the folks who submitted their questions via Twitter for this edition of 49ers Mailbag.

General manager John Lynch seemed confident Joe Staley would be back for at least another season when he was asked last month about the six-time Pro Bowl left tackle.

I don’t know that Staley has told the team, definitively, he plans to return. Staley, who turns 36 in August, dealt with more physical issues last season than at any point in his 13-year career. Perhaps he just wants to take some time to see how his body feels later in the offseason.

The 49ers certainly would want clarity on Staley’s status before the draft. And it’s also likely they would not want word to get out before the draft because they would love for other teams to be in the dark whether left tackle is or isn’t a high draft priority for them.

Mike McGlinchey appears locked into right tackle, and there does not seem to be a plan to move him to the other side to ultimately replace Staley.

On the depth chart, the 49ers re-signed Shon Coleman. Justin Skule also returns after starting eight games with mixed results.

If the top available player on the 49ers’ board at any point is an offensive tackle, I think that’s the way they would go.

Weston Richburg is clearly the team’s top option at center. But after he underwent surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon in December, Ben Garland stepped in and played well enough to keep the offense rolling.

If Richburg is healthy, it’s his job. Until then, the 49ers have to feel confident Garland can keep things afloat.

Like most positions, it’s personal preference.

The Raiders also figure to be in the market for a wide receiver with the No. 12 pick. If the 49ers have one receiver ranked far above the rest, and Las Vegas takes that player, then the 49ers could look to trade back or go with a different position.

For a breakdown of the top three wide receivers, see above video.

If everyone comes back healthy, the 49ers have quite a few options at wide receiver. Of course, none of them really are proven.

I agree the 49ers must look to strengthen their cornerback position. And looking a year in advance, there is no guarantee Richard Sherman will be back in 2021. And, even for the 2020 season, Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon are the only other corners with starting experience on the roster.

Cornerback is a priority, especially because the trade of DeForest Buckner likely means the pass rush will not be as dominant.

I doubt the 49ers will sign a starting-caliber defensive tackle at this stage of free agency. Maybe they bring in a player who has a chance to compete for a spot in the D-line rotation, but I doubt it.

I believe the trade of Buckner was all about the contract they were going to have to give him to keep him, as well as the draft pick there were able to pick up in a trade.

Solomon Thomas is under contract for just one more season. They certainly will not pick up the fifth-year option on Thomas, but that does not mean he is gone after this season. The 49ers could look to sign Thomas to a minimum-type contract next year, and he might be willing to accept such a deal.

Buckner rarely came off the field during his four seasons with the club. Now, the 49ers must incorporate more of a rotation to take strain off Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa. That rotation should include Thomas, Dee Ford, D.J. Jones, Ronald Blair, Jullian Taylor, Kentavius Street and, perhaps, a draft pick.

Dang, you’re making me think with this question. How dare you!

I don’t believe it signals a shift, per se. The 49ers’ stated goal is to be a contender every season. The trade was not done for the benefit it provides the team this season as much as what it will do two, three, four years down the road.

That said, Kyle Shanahan never felt like the 49ers’ offense last season was an unstoppable force – at least, not like he felt with Atlanta during the 2016 season. Still, the 49ers were fourth in the NFL in total yards and No. 2 in scoring.

So maybe the 49ers’ offensive production last season proved to Shanahan that it can become a dominant force in 2020 with some specific upgrades, such as a wider variety of third-down options.

[RELATEDThree key 49ers' position battles to watch when training camp begins]

I was shocked last month when Shanahan said, definitively, the 49ers would not release Marquise Goodwin. Of course, I can understand why he would say that. The 49ers want to see if they can trade him.

But with this draft class, I have a difficult time believing any team would surrender a draft pick and pay Goodwin $4.5 million for the upcoming season in salary and bonuses.

Let’s put it this way: I’d be surprised if Goodwin is on the field the next time the 49ers are able to get together on the field.

The NFL has put together guidelines leading up to the draft to level the playing field. General manager John Lynch said on Friday that there will be “no excuses.” I don’t know if the 49ers have an advantage over the other teams in the league, but they certainly have no disadvantage when it comes to technology.

Where the 49ers could have an advantage over some teams is that Lynch and Shanahan work well together, so the communication between the personnel department and coaching staff is very good. Not all teams are like that.

The NFL has to be planning for everything at this stage. Is it possible, under the right circumstances, that games could be played without crowds? TV ratings would be astronomical. But I’m just spit-balling. I have no idea.

What I wonder about is when it will be safe to gather in large crowds. Hopefully, the actions taken by mayors and governors will slow the spread of COVID-19. And, hopefully, we start to see a flattening of the curve within a month.

But if a vaccine is still a year or more away, does that mean we risk outbreaks that compromise our healthcare system until that point? I have no idea.

49ers hold pre-draft 'visits' with Kenny Willekes, Cordel Iwuagwu

49ers hold pre-draft 'visits' with Kenny Willekes, Cordel Iwuagwu

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the reality for everyone and sports has been no exception.

For the NFL, the pre-draft process has changed with pro days and visits canceled as we all work to flatten the curve. While this pre-draft process will be different, general manager John Lynch has promised to make no excuses and that the 49ers will be as prepared as possible for the draft, which now reportedly will be held in a TV studio and not in Las Vegas.

As such, the 49ers had two FaceTime visits with Michigan State defensive lineman Kenny Willekes and TCU offensive lineman Cordel Iwuagwu, the prospects told Justin Melo of The Draft Wire.

Willekes, 6-foot-3, 264 pounds, is an edge rusher whose motor and competitiveness are his best traits. While not the most athletically-gifted rusher in the class, Willekes still was ultra-productive during his time at Michigan State. A former walk-on, Willekes racked up 22 sacks and 47.5 for a loss from 2017-2019 for the Spartans. He was named first-team All-Big Ten twice and also was named the 2018 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.

He projects as a high-floor player who will at the very least be a solid rotational 4-3 defensive end. He is projected to go in the fourth or fifth round. The 49ers do not currently own a fourth-round pick, having traded it to the Denver Broncos in the Emmanuel Sanders trade. They do own two fifth-round picks, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them trade down earlier in the draft to recoup assets.

As for Iwuagwu, the 6-foot-3, 309-pound offensive guard is very athletic but needs to work on maintaining blocks at the second level. He's able to get to the second level easily due to his athleticism but needs to be more polished as a run-blocker. He's expected to be a late-round pick or a preferred undrafted free agent signee.

[RELATED: Raiders bet big, 49ers surprise among NFL draft bold predictions]

Most of the attention on the 49ers' draft will be focused on what they do at No. 13 overall after acquiring the pick from the Indianapolis Colts in the DeForest Buckner trade. With a loaded receiver class, the 49ers could land CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs. They also could look to fill the hole left by Buckner by drafting South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.

While that No. 13 pick will get all the attention, later-round guys like Willekes and perhaps Iwuagwu are what make a rookie class complete.