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Ranking 49ers' NFL Draft needs is no easy assignment

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AP/USATSI

Ranking 49ers' NFL Draft needs is no easy assignment

Here's the latest edition of 49ers Mailbag with questions submitted to our Facebook page. . . 

What are the 49ers' biggest needs in the draft? (Steven Downs)
This is not an easy excercise. And if you ask me tomorrow, the list might be in a different order. The 49ers have nine draft picks, so here is my subjective list of the 49ers' top draft needs

1. Edge rusher
2. Cornerback
3. Offensive guard
4. Inside linebacker
5. Offensive tackle
6. Wide receiver
7. Tight end
8. Safety
9. Running back

The 49ers have capable players starting – or competing to start -- at every position. Now, they must create more competition and build the back end of their roster.

--There are not many edge rushers who can step in and make an impact, so it's possible this need goes untouched in the draft. The 49ers hope to develop the guys already on the roster – players such as Jeremiah Attaochu, Cassius Marsh, Eli Harold, Pita Taumoepenu – and get more from DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead, too.

--Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon are slated to start at cornerback. The 49ers need a lot more help at this spot because it is rare that both starting cornerbacks remain on the field together for any length of time. The 49ers are still looking to sign a veteran cornerback so that all the competition at the back end of the roster in training camp does not include undrafted rookies.

--Last year through most of training camp, coach Kyle Shanahan did not believe the 49ers had one, let alone two, starting-caliber offensive guards. Laken Tomlinson was acquired just before the start of the regular season. Now, Tomlinson, Jonathan Cooper, Joshua Garnett and, possibly, Erik Magnuson will be competing for the two spots. Plus, the 49ers could add another guard in the draft.

--The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office has not announced whether it will pursue criminal charges against Reuben Foster. With his status unresolved, the 49ers should add to the depth at inside linebacker.

--The 49ers must start looking for a succession plan at the tackle positions. Trent Brown enters the final year of his contract. The 49ers seem unconvinced about making a long-term financial commitment to him. Joe Staley will be 34 when the regular season opens, and it’s uncertain how much longer he can play at a high level.

Do you think the 49ers will trade for OBJ? Possibly for the #9 pick plus more? (James Dizon Masajo)
I do not.

The New York Giants are reportedly asking for two first-round draft picks for wide receiver Odell Beckham. That is a high of a price to pay for a team, such as the 49ers, looking to build something sustainable.

Plus, Beckham will seek a contract worth $20 million a year.

I’m sure the 49ers would do their homework to determine whether Beckham would fit into the team structure, too. If the 49ers pay that kind of money to a player, the rest of the locker room will be sent a message.

At the NFL scouting combine, Shanahan touched on his philosophy:

“Players watch who you pay. And I want to pay guys who do things the right way. And I also want to pay the best guys — not all overachievers who aren't that great. They've got to be good and they've got to do stuff the right way. When you do that, it adds to your team. But if you start paying guys who don't do that stuff, your team starts saying, ‘OK, we don't have to listen.’”

Are Tartt and Colbert the starting safeties going into camp? (Kelly Fielder)
Don’t forget about Jimmie Ward.

The 49ers plan to play Ward at cornerback throughout the nine-week offseason program while Richard Sherman is rehabbing. But when training camp begins, it seems like a reasonable expectation that Ward will be back at free safety to compete for a starting job.

Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert will get the first crack during the offseason program to line up at the safety positions.

Also, the 49ers could add someone, such as Derwin James, in the first round. On the surface, the 49ers appear set at safety this season with three starter-caliber players. But Ward and Tartt have contracts that expire at the end of the season, so there is some uncertainty beyond the upcoming season.

Thoughts on Eric Reid? (Jonathan Austin)
Eric Reid is good enough to be a starter in the NFL. But the 49ers do not consider Reid a starter on their team right now with Ward, Tartt and Colbert on the roster. Reid said the 49ers have not offered him a contract. That should not be considered a surprise.

It would be an insult to Reid if the 49ers were to offer him a one-year contract at “backup money.” And there is no reason at this stage of the offseason for Reid to accept a one-year, prove-it contract from any team.

Perhaps a team will step up – before or after the draft – with a contract offer. Perhaps, there will be an injury in training camp that will prompt a team to get in touch with Reid.

To begin with, the safety market has been soft. And there are enough questions about Reid’s overall game that likely have prevented teams from prioritizing him for a multi-year contract. Of course, it would be naïve to think Reid’s protest against racial inequality has not produced a negative impact, too.

John Lynch explains how Dee Ford can make 49ers defense dominant force

John Lynch explains how Dee Ford can make 49ers defense dominant force

PHOENIX — General manager John Lynch wants to make the 49ers' defense a dominant force in the NFL and he thinks the signing of Dee Ford can help him achieve that vision.

There are currently four first-round picks on the 49ers' defensive line; Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas and now Ford.

Buckner had his best season in 2018, registering 12 sacks, 67 tackles, 44 of which were solo and 17 for a loss. He also recorded 20 quarterback hits. Lynch detailed how adding Ford will increase Buckner's productivity.  

“We felt we were just missing that edge piece,” Lynch said. “If we just had one guy there. It’s not like brain surgery. I think DeFo is a guy who has played at a high level but he’s had so many rushes that he hasn’t been able to finish because they aren’t getting it from the edge. 

“Now we have that. Dee is known, I think, for having the best first step in football coming off the edge. All of a sudden you have a tackle who doesn’t feel so good about hanging in here to help on DeForest because ‘If I do that Dee’s gone.’” 

Lynch doesn’t believe that the defensive line will be too crowded. The 49ers are very open to the idea of adding another first-round selection to the defensive line on April 25th. The defensive line room could potentially have Nick Bosa, Josh Allen or Quinnen Williams added to it on Day 1 of the NFL Draft. 

“I think there’s enough to go around,” Lynch said. “I think you want to be great at something. I think some people want to think that’s one guy. Well, for us, that’s always been collective.” 

There were games in 2018 when it seemed like a challenge to get every defensive lineman playing time.

Lynch explained the thought process behind the rotations. 

“We walked into a situation where there were some guys that had been drafted very high,” Lynch said. “I think two years in, we’re figuring out what everyone does best. What I would say is there is enough snaps to go around, but collectively we want to become a dominant force there, because we think that’s very important. It can really change the course of a game.”

[RELATED: 49ers considering all options with No. 2 overall pick]

Lynch has recently mentioned needing "closers" and "game changers" on the defense. He may not only have one of those in Ford, but he also may have just given the team their personality.

“You start to get excited about all those things,” Lynch said. “Those still have to come to fruition but I think we put the pieces in place. That’s the vision we have for that group.” 

NFL draft: 49ers considering all options, including trade of No. 2 pick

NFL draft: 49ers considering all options, including trade of No. 2 pick

PHOENIX – The 49ers have not necessarily narrowed down their list of potential targets for the No. 2 overall pick.

Although there is reason to believe former Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa tops the team’s list, the 49ers are still formulating a plan to consider all options, including potential trades, that could become available prior to next month’s draft.

The 49ers have six draft picks, including the No. 2 overall selection.

“We’re looking at a ton of people right there and kind of figuring out, ‘OK, if we’re here, this is what we’re doing,’ ” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “If not, we got to be prepared to understand who are the guys we like that we think can make us a better football team.”

The NFL owners meeting is a time when coaches and general managers can get together over a cold, icy or neat beverage to discuss different trade scenarios.

On the surface, the 49ers’ decision at No. 2 looks simple: Come up with two names, in order. If the Arizona Cardinals take the first player on the list at No. 1 overall, select the second guy on the list.

Boom! There you go.

But 49ers CEO Jed York said it’s imperative for Lynch, coach Kyle Shanahan and executive vice president of football operations Paraag Marathe to have a more detailed plan in place.

“We’re very, very happy with players who will be there at two,” York said. “And we need to be prepared, if somebody offers a trade that is too good to pass up, we need to know what we’ll do if we move back and what would we not take.

“You have to have that planned out beforehand because if you’re trying to figure all that stuff out, it’s OK in the second or third round, but when you’re the second pick in the draft, you can’t do that on the fly. It’s way, way too hard, so you need to get a sense of it.”

Bosa, Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen are scheduled to visit the 49ers next month. Each is worthy of serious consideration for a high draft pick.

“You really want to come out of it with a player who is really going to be able to change the fortunes of your franchise,” Lynch said. “This year is a draft that’s very deep and there are also very good players at the top, so I think we’re in good position.”

The 49ers finished last season with a 4-12 record to be assigned the No. 2 overall pick. They need at least one difference-making player to make an immediate impact.

“I don’t expect to be drafting in the top two again, and if that’s the case, you have to add really, really talented players,” York said. “Or you have to get a ton of capital in order to move back, so you can make up for maybe not getting that No. 2 guy in the draft, but you’re getting a lot in return if you’re going to give up that opportunity.”

[RELATED: Lynch says McKinnon fits 49ers' plan for upcoming season]

The first wave of free agency has ended, and the attention shifts toward the three-day draft, which kicks off on April 25. The conversations at the owners meeting are an important part of the draft process.

“Things aren’t fully in focus, yet, in terms of what everybody is going to do,” York said. “But this week helps you at least get a better sense of that and just keep working toward your plan so you’re ready when the whistle blows come draft day.”