The 49ers' Super Bowl run in 2019 was fueled by a ferocious pass rush led by Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and, when healthy, Dee Ford.
Things are different for the 49ers as they enter this offseason. Buckner was traded to the Indianapolis Colts last offseason and Ford's constant battle with injuries make him an unreliable pass-rush partner for Bosa. The 49ers own the No. 12 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but ESPN's draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. doesn't see the 49ers using that pick to give Bosa a running mate to terrorize opposing quarterbacks with.
"This year, in terms of the first round, it's not going to be that type of player," Kiper said Monday on a conference call when asked which edge rushing prospect would fit well in the 49ers' scheme if they go that route at No. 12.
"There's just nobody to consider that high in terms of the first round. I don't have a defensive player going until 10. I don't have a defensive lineman going until 21. Now, [Gregory] Rousseau can play outside and can play inside. He was pretty effective inside, that's where he was able to really do a good job at Miami two years ago. [Jaelan] Phillips is an outside guy so Phillips could be that guy. Kwity Paye could be that guy, but it's too early when you're talking about the 12th pick in the draft. That's what I'm saying, I think some of these guys, if you trade down off of 12, you could. But I think 12 is way too high."
As Kiper stated, there isn't a dominant edge rusher in the current crop. There isn't a Bosa or a Chase Young. Paye, Rousseau, Philips and Georgia's Azeez Ojulari are believed to be the top four edge rushers in the class, but neither has separated themselves from the pack yet.
In his latest mock draft, Kiper has the 49ers trading up to No. 7 to select Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, electing to give themselves a clear upgrade over Jimmy Garoppolo at the quarterback position.
Quarterback, however, is far from the 49ers' biggest need this offseason.
With Richard Sherman, K'Waun Williams, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon and Jaquiski Tartt all slated to be unrestricted free agents, the 49ers will have to revamp their secondary, which could include them drafting a top cornerback like Patrick Surtain II or Caleb Farley at No. 12.
San Francisco also has to bolster its offensive line. That starts with re-signing left tackle Trent Williams, who will command a monster deal after his stellar 2020 season. If the 49ers can't re-sign Williams, they will need to address the tackle position early in the draft, perhaps with Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw or Northwestern's Rashawn Slater. Even if they do bring Williams back, Slater could be the ideal selection as he can play guard, center or play right tackle and allow the 49ers to move Mike McGlinchey inside if they believe it will help him improve in pass protection.
The 49ers likely will address their edge rusher need on Day 2 of the draft. That could come in the form of Texas' Joseph Ossai, Penn State's Jayson Oweh or if one of the players mentioned above slips into the second round.
John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan find themselves in a good draft slot at No. 12, and they hope not to be picking this high again for the foreseeable future. That means it's imperative that they get it right.
That could mean drafting a quarterback at No. 12 in order to shift and extend their title window. Or, the 49ers could choose to draft the highest remaining player on their board and don't worry about need.
This draft is a key piece in what is a critical offseason for Shanahan and Lynch. The 49ers still have a solid roster, and with the right tweaks and proper additions, it should once again be Super Bowl-ready in 2021. But a draft reach can set them back, and it's clear that taking one of the top edge rushers at No. 12 would be a mistake that could be tough to recover from.