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NFL draft: 49ers should find starters at edge rusher, wide receiver

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NFL draft: 49ers should find starters at edge rusher, wide receiver

The 49ers should be able to net major contributors – one on offense and one on defense – in the upcoming NFL draft.

But a few other newcomers will have an opportunity to work themselves into key roles if some of the projected starters stumble or are sidelined.

After filling some of the team’s starting needs in free agency, here’s a look at the 49ers’ top positional priorities heading into the draft, which opens Thursday in Nashville with the first round:

Edge rusher

Behind quarterback, the edge rusher spots are the most important positions on a football team. The 49ers added Dee Ford in a trade. The Kansas City Chiefs initially prevented Ford from becoming a free agent by tagging him with their franchise designation.

Now, the 49ers need another threat on the outside to complement Ford and inside pass rusher DeForest Buckner. More than likely, the 49ers will place a checkmark next to this position with their first-round draft pick.

Assuming the Arizona Cardinals select Kyler Murray at No. 1, the 49ers are widely expected to go with Nick Bosa. If Bosa is gone, then they could eschew an edge rusher to select another defensive tackle, Alabama’s Quinnen Williams. But outside linebacker Josh Allen is also a strong possibility in that spot.

A year ago, the 49ers top edge rushers were Cassius Marsh and Ronald Blair. Marsh was cut shortly after the acquisition of Ford. Blair and Marsh tied for second on the team with 5.5 sacks. Blair is solid, but the 49ers’ defense would be a lot better if his role were reduced because they were able to bring in someone better.

Wide receiver

It is a high priority for the 49ers to add a starting-caliber wide receiver in the draft, in order to have the luxury of dialing back Marquise Goodwin’s role in order to accentuate his strengths and make him more effective.

Among the wide receivers the 49ers are known to have brought into their Santa Clara facility for pre-draft visits are A.J. Brown (Mississippi), Hakeem Butler (Iowa State), N'Keal Harry (Arizona State), Jalen Hurd (Baylor) and Deebo Samuel (South Carolina). All of those players could be available when the 49ers pick at No. 36 overall.

Dante Pettis, the 49ers’ second-round pick a year ago, looks to be on solid footing as a starter. Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne and Jordan Matthews have opportunities to work into significant roles on the outside. But the 49ers need to find another wideout who can carve out a niche. The newcomer does not need to be an every-down player. He just needs to have a unique skill set that coach Kyle Shanahan can implement.

Safety

The 49ers entered the free-agent signing period with Jaquiski Tartt, Adrian Colbert and Marcell Harris as the most-likely starting options. Then, they re-signed Jimmie Ward.

Despite Ward's history of injuries, the 49ers coaching staff – every 49ers coaching staff over the time he has been with the organization – has a high opinion of Ward because of how hard he plays. When he exited the lineup last season with his second season-ending fractured forearm in two years, Ward was playing better than anyone else in the team's secondary.

So Ward at free safety and Tartt or Harris at strong safety is how the 49ers envision opening the season. The 49ers could add more competition to the mix if they select a safety such as Jonathan Abram (Mississippi State), Darnell Savage (Maryland) or Nasir Adderley (Delaware) in the second round.

Cornerback

Among a group that features Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore, the 49ers should pluck out two starters and good depth. But there are enough questions about each of those four players that should prompt the 49ers to look hard at this position in the draft again.

Sherman is a bit of a mystery. He did not appear to be moving nearly as well as he did during his time with the Seahawks. That is understandable, considering he was returning from a torn Achilles. But Sherman was never really challenged because the 49ers had such large issues on the other side.

Verrett is a starter, but he has been unable to remain healthy. Witherspoon and Moore, the team’s most-recent third-round picks, have the size and skills to be reliable NFL starters. Now, they have to prove it through consistency.

Offensive line

The starting offensive line appears solid with tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, guards Laken Tomlinson and Mike Person, and center Weston Richburg. The 49ers need to cover themselves with better depth.

Guard is a spot where a newcomer can step in and conceivably beat out Person and Joshua Garnett. The 49ers could use a mid-round pick on a versatile lineman who could start off at guard and eventually transition into tackle.

[RELATED: Jimmy G opens up about work with Mike Shanahan]

Other needs

Outside linebacker: Malcolm Smith and Mark Nzeocha are in line at the team’s starting strongside linebacker. More competition could be on the way.

Tight end: The 49ers would like to bring in a tight end to serve as George Kittle’s backup or pair with him in two-TE formations.

Punter: Bradley Pinion signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent. Justin Vogel, who was out of the NFL last season, is the only punter on the roster. Day 3 could be the spot for the 49ers to draft a replacement.

Kicker: Robbie Gould is conceivably locked up. But the 49ers showed that they are at least entertaining the thought of bringing in someone else when they showed interest in New England’s Stephen Gostkowski before the Patriots re-signed him.

49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin announces birth of his daughter Marae

49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin announces birth of his daughter Marae

February 19 was a day Marquise Goodwin and his wife, Morgan, never will forget.

After suffering two miscarriages since November 2017, the Goodwins welcomed their daughter, Marae, to the world. Marquise announced the birth via his social media channels Sunday.

The Goodwins first revealed their pregnancy struggles to the world on Nov. 13, 2017, when the 49ers wide receiver caught an 83-yard touchdown pass shortly after Morgan delivered their stillborn son.

Goodwin blew a kiss to the sky and dropped to his knees after the score. After the game, he posted to Instagram explaining the tragedy that had befallen his family hours before the game.

In 2018, Goodwin had to fly home the day before the 49ers played in Tampa Bay against the Buccaneers after Morgan had a miscarriage while carrying their twin boys. 

[RELATED: Mock draft: Updated 49ers first-round pick]

Goodwin's future with the 49ers is uncertain, but for now, all that matters is he's a #GirlDad.

49ers roster analysis: Future secondary needs warrant action now

49ers roster analysis: Future secondary needs warrant action now

This is the eighth installment of a nine-part series that examines the 49ers’ roster coming out of the 2019 season, looks ahead to 2020, and outlines the offseason challenges facing general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan on a position-by-position basis.

Today, a look at the 49ers’ defensive backs.

Under contract (signed through)

-CB Richard Sherman (2020)
-S Jaquiski Tartt (2020)
-CB K’Waun Williams (2020)
-CB Ahkello Witherspoon (2020)
-S Tarvarius Moore (2021)
-CB/S D.J. Reed (2021)
-S Marcell Harris (2020)
-CB Tim Harris (2022)
-CB Teez Tabor (2020)
-S Jacob Thieneman (2021)
-CB Jermaine Kelly (2021)
-S Chris Edwards (2021)
-S Derrick Kindred (2020)

Sherman enters the third year of the three-year, $27.15 million contract he negotiated with the 49ers after the Seattle Seahawks released him in March of 2018. Tartt and Williams also are on the final years of their contracts, so the 49ers could look to extend any of them during the offseason.

Expiring contracts

-S Jimmie Ward (UFA)
-CB Jason Verrett (UFA)
-CB Dontae Johnson (UFA)
-CB Emmanuel Moseley (EFA)

Ward is a priority to re-sign. It’s just a matter of how much attention he receives on the open market (if he gets that far) and how far the 49ers will go to re-sign him.

A year ago, Verrett signed a one-year, prove-it contract. He went on injured reserve early in the season.

Moseley will be back on the team. He has no outside negotiating power because of his status as an exclusive-rights free agent.

What needs to happen

The defensive backfield situation might be the most complex to figure out for the 49ers this offseason. Ward is scheduled to be a free agent, but the 49ers also have three of their other top-five defensive backs entering the final years of their contracts.

First things first, they have to figure out how to approach Ward. They would like to retain him, but there might also be some hesitancy because of his injury history. Ward finally played a 16-game season, but that was only after missing the first three games, then picking up three games in the postseason.

Sherman, who turns 32 next month, had an outstanding regular season. Do the 49ers open talks with him about extending his contract?

On the other side, Moseley ended up as the starter over Witherspoon, who enters the final year of his deal. After the demotion, Witherspoon asked to play more special teams. Moseley generally played well, but he was in the middle of the biggest play of Super Bowl LIV.

Tartt, the starting strong safety, also enters the final year of his contract. He and Ward were high-school teammates and work well together.

Williams, one of the top nickel backs in the league, also is entering the final year of his deal.

The 49ers have just one pick in the first four rounds of the draft. This is why it makes a lot of sense to trade back (and trade back and trade back) to acquire selections in the second, third and fourth rounds.

This is a good draft for defensive backs. And while drafting for need is not often advisable, it becomes a lot better of a plan when it is a need that is projected a year down the road.

[RELATED: Ascending linebackers should make group better in 2020]

Expectations

The 49ers had the best pass defense in the league last season. Despite playing with a lead for most games, the 49ers allowed just 169.2 yards passing per game. That was the lowest average passing yards allowed in the NFL in more than a decade.

It will be nearly impossible to match that level of pass defense of a year ago. So much of the success the 49ers experienced against the pass was a product of the team’s pass rush. That will likely have to be the case again next season.

Teams generally shied away from Sherman’s side. But Sherman gave up a couple of big plays in the postseason, including one late in the Super Bowl. He likely will be challenged more in 2020, which will give him more opportunities to add to his career total of 39 interceptions (including postseason).

The 49ers must find more consistency on the other side. Moseley enters the offseason as the starter. Witherspoon is competing for a role. Tartt appears locked in as one starting safety, but the other spot is wide open at this point.

If Ward does not return to the team, Moore could be next in line to step in as a starter.

If the 49ers use an early draft pick on a safety or cornerback (or both), then competition could potentially lead to a rookie or two in the team’s starting defensive backfield.