To remain atop the mountain, you must always be improving. The 49ers did that in spades during the 2020 NFL Draft.
To dethrone a king you must make all the right moves. The NFC West, by in large, did not do that.
The 49ers entered the draft with two first-round picks, a hole at defensive tackle, a need at wide receiver and a retiring left tackle to replace. What they did, coupled with some curious moves from their rivals, should widen the gap in what was a nip-and-tuck division race last season. At least, on paper.
But while a few of the 49ers' rivals spent the draft chasing their tail, there seems to be a rising sun out in the desert.
Let's get to the breakdown.
Draft picks: DT Javon Kinlaw, WR Brandon Aiyuk, OL Kolton McKivitz, TE Charlie Woerner, WR Jauan Jennings
Trade acquisition: LT Trent Williams
This is what a home run draft looks like. The 49ers drafted Kinlaw, a powerful, athletic defensive tackle to fill the void left by DeForest Buckner. Kinlaw should come in right away and contribute on a defensive line that was the 49ers' strength last season. After Aiyuk slipped past No. 22, the 49ers trade up to select the YAC king out of Arizona State, giving them a receiver who can make plays with the ball in his hands, has an 81-inch wingspan and will fit perfectly in Kyle Shanahan's offense.
With Joe Staley informing the 49ers he would be retiring, John Lynch sprang into action, trading away two draft picks to Washington for Williams, a seven-time Pro-Bowl selection who will make sure the 49ers' offense doesn't miss a beat in 2020.
The 49ers also drafted Jennings in the seventh round. Another missed tackle maven, the Tennessee product could wind up being the steal of the draft and gives Shanahan a YAC army to torment defenses with.
Allowing Shanahan to draft Aiyuk and giving Robert Saleh Kinlaw is like giving Thanos a seventh infinity stone. Best of luck.
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Draft picks: LB Isaiah Simmons, OT Josh Jones, DT Leki Fotu, DT Rashard Lawrence, LB Evan Weaver, RB Eno Benjamin
The Cardinals needed to improve their offensive line because Kyler Murray is no good to them lying on his back. Most expected the Cardinals to draft one of the elite tackles at No. 8, but instead, they had an absolute gem fall into their lap.
The Carolina Panthers passed on Clemson do-everything linebacker/safety/edge rusher/athletic mutant Isaiah Simmons at No. 7, and that was too good for the Cardinals to pass up. Simmons played everywhere for Brent Venables' defense. He'll initially play linebacker in Arizona, but expect him to move around as he gets more comfortable. The Cardinals gave up 22.6 points and 341.7 yards per game a season ago. Simmons gives them a playmaker on defense who can start to change the defensive culture in the desert.
Passing on a tackle at No. 8 was a gamble, but it paid off for the Cardinals. Houston offensive tackle Josh Jones was projected by many to be a first-round pick, but he fell and the Cardinals were able to snap up a first-round talent in the third round to give Murray his protector.
Adding Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence should give them a boost at defensive tackles and Eno Benjamin has the skill set to thrive in the Air Raid offense.
After adding DeAndre Hopkins and shedding David Johnson, the Cardinals put together an impressive class that shows their rebuild could be successful. While they still aren't going to challenge the 49ers for the NFC West crown, Murray and coach Kliff Kingsbury should be even more of a thorn than they were a season ago.
Draft picks: LB Jordyn Brooks, DE Darrell Taylor, G Damien Lewis, TE Colby Parkinson, RB DeeJay Dallas, DE Alton Robinson, WR Freddie Swain, WR Stephen Sullivan
The Seahawks were within 1 yard of the NFC West crown last season. Russell Wilson remains one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks, so as long as he's healthy they'll be a threat.
But Seattle's draft was curious. They drafted Texas Tech linebacker Jordyn Brooks at No. 27. Brooks is a fast and physical linebacker who thrives at coming downhill and creating collisions. He's sorely lacking in the coverage department, which makes him not an ideal selection for the NFL in 2020. Brooks is the type of linebacker Shanahan will find ways to torment when the two teams meet next season.
Wilson is 31 and the Seahawks need help on the offensive line and at wide receiver. With Bobby Wagner and K.J Wright still under contract, linebacker wasn't an immediate need and Brooks isn't exactly a can't-miss pick.
Taylor has the length Seattle wants in its edge rushers but he's unrefined and will take time to mold. As for Lewis, he's an absolute road grader as a run blocker but struggles in pass protection. None of it makes any sense.
The Seahawks will compete in the NFC West because of Wilson's greatness, but the front office didn't do him any favors in the draft.
Draft picks: RB Cam Akers, WR Van Jefferson, EDGE Terrell Lewis, S Terrell Burgess, TE Brycen Hopkins, S Jordan Fuller, LB Clay Johnston, K Sam Sloman, OG Tremayne Anchrum
Ah, the once and former kings. Sean McVay might need a few more beers after this draft.
After going all-in on Jared Goff, the since-cut Todd Gurley, the newly-traded Brandin Cooks and Co., the Rams now must reset.
The Rams had the 31st ranked offensive line per Pro Football Focus last season. So, what did they do? Waited until their final pick to draft an offensive lineman. Yeah, that checks out.
Akers is a tough running back who thrived behind a junk offensive line at Florida State so perhaps he can do the same behind the sled dummies upfront in LA. Jefferson is a polish route-runner who no doubt will be a good fit in McVay's system, but it was a bit of a reach at 57. Lewis is an all-world talent with a body that won't cooperate. Burgess looks like a steal and should pair nicely with Taylor Rapp in the backend.
Akers, Jefferson and Burgess are nice adds. But the game is won in the trenches and the Rams apparently plan to run it back with the swiss cheese unit that was mauled a year ago. With Goff regressing to the expected mean and now frequently running for his life, it could be a long year in Southern California.
In short, the 49ers distanced themselves from the rest of the pack in the NFC West with a stellar draft and a massive trade that filled all their needs. Shanahan and Lynch know their window is now and they are doing what they can to maximize their title chances.
The Seahawks will threaten but the failure to fix the offensive line will prove to be a massive issue when the two teams face off.
Murray and the Cardinals will be an issue next season and could be division contenders by 2021. They had a smart draft and added two top talents in Simmons and Jones.
The NFC West will be a slugfest again, but no team appears to have the pieces to take down a fully-healthy 49ers team.