NFL Draft 2020: 49ers consider all options while preparing at combine

NFL Draft 2020: 49ers consider all options while preparing at combine

INDIANAPOLIS -- One year ago when the 49ers descended upon the NFL Scouting Combine, they knew they would be able to select their most-prized draft prospect.

In part because of the way defensive end Nick Bosa produced after being the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, the 49ers will be waiting a long time this year before making their first selection.

“It’s fun this time of the year having the low (draft pick) and being able to look at the Bosas of the world and those guys, but it’s a lot more fun playing deep into the year so you take the later pick,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said.

The 49ers finished the regular season with 13 wins, won the NFC West, earned homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and advanced to the Super Bowl. The 49ers would rather be drafting at No. 32. But after letting a 10-point lead get away in a 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, the 49ers select at No. 31.

The options of which player the 49ers could end up with their first pick are endless. They also know they will not be in a position of selecting a player who will be guaranteed big money throughout the course of a four-year contract.

“There's not as much pressure getting to know all the top guys in the draft,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.

The 49ers dealt away their picks in the second, third and fourth rounds to acquire edge rusher Dee Ford and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The 49ers’ next scheduled pick after their spot near the end of the first round will come in the fifth round.

“We don’t have as much equity as we’ve had in year’s past so we’ve got to figure out a way,” Lynch said. “We’ve got to be creative. We got to be exhaustive in all the avenues we look at to improve our football team and we are committed to doing that.”

The strength of the 49ers’ roster is near the top of the NFL. But the club still has several areas to address, such as wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line and the defensive backfield. What occurs for the 49ers during free agency, which begins in mid-March, will determine the immediate needs the team will look to fill in the draft.

Shanahan and his staff are about five weeks behind their usual offseason because of their Super Bowl run. The team’s coaches are working on going through their season evaluations of each of the players from last season. They are also working on evaluating the options on the free-agent market and in the draft.

The coaches came to the combine to begin the process of learning about the draft prospects. Shanahan and his offensive assistants completed interviews with players on that side of the ball on Wednesday and were on the first flight out of Indianapolis on Thursday morning. They will watch the on-field workouts on video back at the team’s headquarters in Santa Clara.

“You can eliminate a lot of people when you're at No. 2,” Shanahan said. “You don't have to put as much time into everyone. You still do it, but when you're at No. 31, you have to be ready for anything.”

“Also, you don't just sit there and look at your draft and say, 'All right, we've got to know (Nos.) 1 through 31, but then we can chill to the fourth or fifth round and take a day off.’ Things change. There's always trades and different draft picks.”

It seems logical the 49ers would want to accumulate more draft picks. If they can find a team that wants the No. 31 overall pick, the 49ers could move back -- and, perhaps, move back again and again -- to acquire a selections in the second, third or fourth rounds.

[RELATED49ers should watch these receivers during the combine

“I think the important part right now is that we are prepared for all scenarios and so the best way to do that is to do our due diligence in terms of getting ready for the draft class, the free-agent class and evaluating our own players,” Lynch said.

“So that’s our mind set. I think those things will take care of themselves is our plan, and kind of our vision for making our team better this year develops further. But, right now, the most important part is that we work really hard in trying to assess the talents and the opportunities to improve our team.”

1. First round: Own pick; No. 31
2. Fifth round: Denver pick from WR Emmanuel Sanders trade; No. 156
3. Fifth round: Own pick; No. 176
4. Sixth round: Own pick; No. 210
5. Seventh round: Detroit pick for LB Eli Harold, 2018; No. 217
6. Seventh round: Own pick; No. 245

Original picks traded:
Second-round pick traded to Kansas City for DE Dee Ford

Third- and fourth-round picks traded to Denver for WR Emmanuel Sanders

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 Las Vegas team is also figures 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 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 is really 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 points.

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.