The 49ers always knew there was a chance they would be without Reuben Foster for at least a portion of the 2018 season.
But, now, after the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office last week filed two felony domestic violence charges and one felony charge of possession of an assault weapon, the 49ers must prepare as if they will never see him on the football field again.
The 49ers signed veteran inside linebackers Brock Coyle and Korey Toomer during free agency. And there figure to be plenty of options as the 49ers look to fortify the middle of their defense in next week’s draft, too.
There could be two enticing possibilities at linebacker in front of the 49ers when their turn comes up in the first round with the No. 9 overall pick. Here are five legitimate options for the 49ers if they remain in their original draft slot:
1. LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
There might not be a player in the draft with more upside than Edmunds, who is big (6-5, 253), exceptionally athletic and will not turn 20 until the week after the draft.
Any team that Edmunds him will have the opportunity to mold him into their system at whichever of the many positions he has the skills to play. He can line up at any of the linebacker spots, and he also has untapped potential as a pass-rusher.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh could have a lot of fun with the options of how to deploy Edmunds in the 49ers’ scheme.
2. LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
The advantage Edmunds has over Smith is his size. Smith is a bit on the small side (6-1, 236). But that’s about the only knock on him.
In addition to his unique athleticism (he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds at the NFL scouting combine), Smith also is a leader with great instincts and football smarts. While he probably could step in and play middle linebacker, he is likely a better fit for the weakside position.
3. DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
The 49ers like Jimmie Ward because of his ability to play all five positions in the secondary. Fitzpatrick is much the same way -- but only bigger, better and, seemingly, more durable.
Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are entering the final seasons of their contracts, so the addition of Fitzpatrick would make sense. He can step and in immediately compete with K’Waun Williams at nickel back or linebacker in the 49ers' sub packages. He play either of the 49ers’ safety positions. In a pinch, he might also be able to play cornerback. Fitzpatrick would be an outstanding asset within the 49ers’ three-deep zone due to his ability to make game-changing plays.
4. DE Harold Landry, Boston College
The more time the 49ers spent on Landry, the more they were sure to like him. He had his breakout season as a junior, recording 16.5 sacks. But his return for his senior season did not turn out as planned.
Teams were left scratching their heads about how his production fell off so dramatically. But a lot of his decline can be traced to an ankle injury that limited his effectiveness. Landry recorded five sacks in eight games.
His stock rose with an exceptional workout at the combine. His size (6-3, 252) is not a huge concern for the 49ers, who would play him at their pass-rush end position. He has all the other attributes of an elite edge rusher with his eye-popping 20- and 60-yard shuttles and three-cone drill.
5. DE Marcus Davenport, Texas-San Antonio
Do the 49ers really need another tall defensive lineman? They selected Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner in back-to-back years, then drafted another defensive lineman, Solomon Thomas, with the No. 3 overall pick last year.
Davenport, however, is different. He is a legitimate pass-rush threat. And that’s an element the 49ers need to add to their defense. Davenport (6-6, 264) was a stand-up rusher in college. He got away with simply being the biggest and best at his level in college.
The star potential is there. He could be a home run. But there is probably a lower downside than with many of the other players the 49ers will consider with the No. 9 overall pick.