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Ultimate luxury? Why 49ers drafting Waddle at No. 12 makes sense

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Jaylen Waddle making catch against Georgia

The 49ers’ rather thorough first week of free agency has provided the personnel department with a lot of flexibility heading into next month’s draft.

San Francisco has the pieces in place to form a stable and effective offensive line.

The 49ers re-signed starting-caliber cornerbacks in Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley, as well as top nickel back K’Waun Williams.

Edge rusher Samson Ebukam is moving up from Los Angeles to play a big role while Dee Ford’s future remains a big question mark.

General manager John Lynch can go almost any conceivable way in the draft without being held prisoner to the 49ers’ current set of needs.

Quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker and defensive back are all spots the 49ers could address at any point with their nine scheduled picks. And it's wide open what the 49ers can do with their top selections at Nos. 12, 43 and 102 overall.

At this stage, the 49ers have players to fill virtually all of the elements of situational football on both sides of the ball. The one exception might be at wide receiver, where the 49ers have not found a reliable player to run patterns out of the slot.

 

After spending a second-round draft pick on Deebo Samuel and a first-round draft pick last season on Brandon Aiyuk, it would still make a lot of sense for the club to invest their first-round draft pick on a dynamic slot receiver.

If Jaylen Waddle of Alabama is not chosen within the first 11 picks, the 49ers could select him to bring an added dimension to their offense.

Ja’Marr Chase of LSU is widely considered the top wide receiver in the draft class. DeVonta Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama, is likely a top-10 pick, too.

Waddle is much different in style than Samuel and Aiyuk, who are physical receivers and outstanding on jet sweeps.

Waddle (5-foot-10, 182 pounds) is best-suited, at least initially, as a slot receiver in the NFL. He would provide Kyle Shanahan’s offense with an element he has not enjoyed since his arrival with the 49ers in 2017.

In the first Lynch-Shanahan draft, the 49ers selected Trent Taylor in the fifth round. He showed plenty of promise in his first NFL season, catching 43 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns.

But Taylor’s career was derailed due to back and foot injuries.

After sitting out the entire 2019 season after multiple foot injuries, Taylor was not the same player last season upon his return. He caught just 10 passes for 86 yards entering, and now he remains unsigned as a free agent.

Waddle appeared in 34 college games. He caught 106 passes for 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also averaged 19.3 yards and scored two touchdowns on 38 punt returns.

The 49ers have lacked a solid slot receiver, let alone a game-changing presence from that spot. Waddle's presence would give the 49ers’ offense more versatility and an ability to switch things up on a series-to-series basis.

The 49ers would still figure to have one of the league’s best running games with fullback Kyle Juszczyk stationed in two-back formations in front of Raheem Mostert or Jeff Wilson Jr.

They can also use play-action off that personnel grouping to get the ball into the hands of tight end George Kittle, Samuel, Aiyuk or their backs.

On third downs -- or against defenses that present favorable matchups -- the 49ers could make things a lot easier on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to exploit mismatches.

Waddle would be a tough cover for any nickel back. He could take this offense to another level with big-play potential coming from another spot on the field.

Think about the 49ers adding Waddle to their offense, and flooding the field with him, Kittle, Samuel and Aiyuk.

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Garoppolo would have four options who can run routes at any depth and take it the distance from any spot on the field.

Would Waddle be a luxury pick at No. 12 overall? Sure. But he would also make an immediate impact in taking the 49ers’ offense to higher, more-explosive levels.

The work the 49ers accomplished during the first week of free agency set themselves up to enjoy such a luxury, such as Waddle, when the draft rolls around.