49ers

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.

Why 49ers' impressive 6-0 start to season might portend Super Bowl run

Why 49ers' impressive 6-0 start to season might portend Super Bowl run

It wasn't pretty, but the 49ers slid past Washington in Week 7 to get to 6-0.

With the New England Patriots still to play on Monday night, the 49ers currently are the only team that surely will enter Week 8 with an undefeated record. The 49ers have played the easiest schedule in the NFL thus far, with their six opponents combining for an 11-28 record to this point.

Still, you only can control what's in front of you, and Kyle Shanahan's club has taken care of business at every turn. On the back of a stingy defense led by Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and a dominant defensive line, the 49ers are holding opponents to 223.5 yards per game and 10.7 points per game. While the defense has been impossible to score on, Jimmy Garoppolo and the offense has done what's been needed to get wins. After the 9-0 win over Washington, Garoppolo now has back-to-back games with zero touchdowns and one interception, but it didn't cost them against either the Rams or Washington.

But just how legitimate are the 49ers? Are they Super Bowl contenders or paper tigers?

Well, based on NFL history, a Super Bowl run could indeed be in the future for the red and gold. The 49ers are the fifth team in NFL history to start a season 6-0 after winning less than five games in the previous season. Two of the first four teams to achieve the feat made an appearance in the Super Bowl. 

The 49ers return home in Week 8 to face a Panthers team that has won four games in a row and is in the thick of the NFC South race. It's uncertain if Cam Newton will return from his foot injury to face the Niners or if Kyle Allen will get the nod for the fifth straight game. After that duel with the Panthers, the 49ers will take on Kyler Murray and the Cardinals before a massive NFC West showdown with the Seahawks in Week 10.

[RELATED: Grading 49ers' offense, defense in win vs. Washington]

At 6-0, the 49ers appear to be flying toward the playoffs. With an elite defense, efficient running attack and innovative coach, a Super Bowl run certainly could be in the cards.

Fantasy football waiver wire: Four non-QBs you should target in Week 8

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Fantasy football waiver wire: Four non-QBs you should target in Week 8

Whether you're an optimist or a pessimist, your fantasy team's glass can't be half-empty, nor can it be half-full right now.

That's because we're more than halfway done. Assuming your league's playoffs start in Week 14, we've now entered the backstretch. Seven weeks down (minus Patriots vs. Jets on Monday night), six to go. Buckle up, people. It's about to get bumpy.

Week 7 saw numerous injuries to key fantasy players, as well as some standout performances from lesser-used entities. Some of those injuries will linger into Week 8, in which both the Cowboys and Ravens will be on bye. The waiver wire is your best source to fortify your roster and start off the second half of the fantasy season on a high note. With that in mind, here are four non-quarterback to consider for waiver claims Tuesday morning, all of whom are in positions to be major contributors next week and beyond, and are owned in fewer than 15 percent of Yahoo and ESPN fantasy leagues.

DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins WR

13 percent owned in Yahoo leagues, 9 percent owned in ESPN

DeVante Parker shouldn't be eligible for this list at this point, but alas, for whatever reason, he hasn't been added by enough teams. On Sunday, he caught five of his team-leading 10 targets for 55 yards and a touchdown against the Bills, his third consecutive game with a score. And that's been with an inconsistent quarterback play.

While he's yet to top 75 receiving yards in any game this season, you can bank on the Dolphins trailing in every game they play from here on out, just as they have in every game thus far. They'll probably put together a victory eventually, but the point remains: Miami is going to be throwing a lot, and more often than anyone else, Parker likely will be the intended recipient of that pass.

And let's not forget that Parker was a first-round draft pick in 2015. He's got the size, speed and pedigree to be worthy of a spot on your roster, and not just for next week.

Kenny Stills, Houston Texans WR

12 percent owned in Yahoo leagues, 16 percent owned in ESPN

Okay, Kenny Stills really shouldn't be on this list. He's technically not eligible, since he's owned in 16 percent of ESPN leagues, but given the minuscule difference, his inclusion was too pertinent to pass up.

The Texans have one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL. Deshaun Watson is hands-down one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and he's got a talented group of receivers to throw to, led by DeAndre Hopkins. Houston's No. 2 receiver, Will Fuller, left Sunday's game early with a hamstring injury, and Stills wasted no time filling his shoes, catching four of his five targets for 105 yards.

Stills has been a big-play deep threat throughout his career, and with Fuller's injury and Watson at quarterback, he has both the opportunity and surrounding talent to maximize his skill set. There's a reason why Fuller's ownership is in the 90s. Get the same production for comparatively little cost.

Ty Johnson, Detroit Lions RB

0 percent owned in Yahoo leagues, 1 percent owned in ESPN

Parker and Stills are more household names, but Ty Johnson might be the priority pickup of the week. If you're looking for a running back, this is your guy.

Johnson had 13 carries on the season entering Week 7. He nearly doubled that on Sunday, rushing for 29 yards on 10 carries against the Vikings. Obviously, that's nothing to write home about, but almost all of that production came after starter Kerryon Johnson went down with a knee injury.

Kerryon was seen in a brace after the game, putting his status for Week 8 into doubt. The Lions host the lowly Giants next Sunday. If Kerryon can't go, Ty will start for Detroit, and he might for your fantasy team, too.

Alex Erickson, Cincinnati Bengals WR

1 percent owned in Yahoo leagues, 0 percent owned in ESPN

Andy Dalton threw two interceptions on consecutive passes Sunday against the Jaguars -- including one for a touchdown -- but when he wasn't throwing it to the other team, he usually was throwing it to Alex Erickson.

Erickson tied with Tyler Boyd for the team-lead in targets with 14 against the Jaguars, but Erickson was far more productive with his, catching eight balls for 137 yards. Much like the Dolphins, the Bengals stink, and just like Miami, Cincinnati is going to be throwing a lot

[RELATED: Why Whitner believes 49ers need to add true No. 1 receiver]

Sure, A.J. Green will change the dynamic if and when he is healthy enough to play, but that's a big if and when. Until Green plays -- or in the event he gets re-injured or traded -- Erickson likely will have plenty of target volume, and that's valuable for fantasy purposes.