A.J. Brown

NFL draft 2019: 49ers enter second round with receiver atop list of needs

NFL draft 2019: 49ers enter second round with receiver atop list of needs

Now that defensive end Nick Bosa has been secured with the team’s first-round draft pick, the 49ers can shift focus toward addressing their biggest remaining need.

If the team’s list of 30 visits is any indication – and it most certainly is – the 49ers want to add a wide receiver very soon. Nearly half of the 49ers' visits were filled with wide receivers. And the 49ers will have the opportunity to add a wideout after waiting through three selections in front of them Friday in the NFL draft.

“There’s a lot of guys who we like and there’s different reasons to bring them in,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said this week of the class of receivers. “Just like any position, that may be a spot where we try to improve our team. Fortunately, in this year’s draft, it seems to be a good stable of guys who can help.”

That help could come quickly.

The Arizona Cardinals will kick off the second round Friday with the No. 33 overall pick. The 49ers own the 36th selection. The 49ers are also scheduled to pick at No. 67 overall on Friday, the third draft slot in the third round.

Teams that finish with the same record rotate positions after each round. The 49ers, New York Jets and Raiders finished with 4-12 records, so those teams switch draft slots among themselves in each round.

In Thursday’s first round, only two wide receivers were selected, leaving the 49ers in position to take a player who ranks highly on their board.

Oklahoma speedster Marquise Brown was the first receiver off the board, going to the Baltimore Ravens with the 25th overall pick. The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots used the final pick of the first round on N’Keal Harry of Arizona State.

The player that many pundits ranked as the top receiver in the draft class, D.K. Metcalf of Ole Miss, does not figure to be someone who would interest the 49ers. Metcalf and the 49ers clashed during a meeting at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Metcalf has unbelievable physical tools to go along with his size. He is 6-foot-3, 228 pounds and ran a blazing 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash. But he is not known to be a good route-runner, an attribute that coach Kyle Shanahan values above all others.

There may also be some medical concerns about Metcalf after he sustained a neck injury during his final year of college.

The 49ers are determined to land a starting wide receiver in the draft to pair with Dante Pettis, the team’s second-round draft pick of a year ago. Marquise Goodwin had a breakout season in 2017 before seeing his production diminish last year due to injuries. The 49ers would like to bring in a starting-caliber receiver to enable them to find a more specialized role for Goodwin, similar to how Shanahan used Taylor Gabriel during their time together with the Atlanta Falcons.

Kendrick Bourne, Jordan Matthews, Trent Taylor, Richie James round out the 49ers' corps of veteran receivers.

Here are some legitimate options at wide receiver for the 49ers in the second round:

Deebo Samuel, South Carolina

Samuel (5-11, 214 pounds) opened some eyes during the Senior Bowl with his route-running while playing for the 49ers-coached South squad. He has a running back’s body, and he utilizes his frame to be difficult for defensive backs to bring down after the catch. He ran a 4.48 in the 40 at the combine.

The 49ers have struggled in the red zone, and Samuel proved to be very good near the goal line with his ability to get open quickly. In his final season at South Carolina, he caught 62 passes for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns.

A.J. Brown, Mississippi

Metcalf might have gotten all of the pre-draft hype due to his physical skills, but Brown was the much-better receiver during their time together in college. Brown (6-0, 226 pounds) was ultra-productive, catching 85 passes for 1,320 yards and six touchdowns during his final college season.

Brown is a very good route-runner and produces yards after the catch. He ran a 4.49 at the combine and exhibits good short-area quickness, which would enable him to line up at a variety of positions, including the slot.

Riley Ridley, Georgia

Ridley is a very polished receiver who certainly did not help himself at the combine with a 4.58 time in the 40-yard dash – a clocking that was much slower than expected. But the film shows him to be an accomplished route-runner, which scores him some big points with the 49ers.

Ridley (6-1, 199 pounds) caught 44 passes for 570 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior before opting to declare for the NFL draft. He will be selected at some point Friday.

Parris Campbell, Ohio State

Campbell is a home-run hitter who helped himself with his showing of speed and hands at the NFL Scouting Combine. Campbell (5-11, 205 pounds) ran a blazing 4.31 in the 40. A knock on him are his hands, but he caught the ball effortlessly during drills in Indianapolis.

He is coming off a productive season at Ohio State, where he caught 90 passes for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball due to his explosion with or without the ball.

[RELATED: 49ers receive straight-A grades for picking Bosa]

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford

Whiteside had a great senior season at Stanford, catching 63 passes for 1,059 yards. Both of his parents played pro basketball in Europe, and he flashed his basketball skills in the red zone by boxing out defenders and going up to catch 14 touchdowns.

But, like with Butler, the 49ers will have to be convinced that Arcega-Whiteside (6-2, 225 pounds) runs routes well enough to get open against top-level competition at all spots on the field. His favorite route is the back-shoulder fade.

Hakeem Butler, Iowa State

Butler looks the part, for sure. When he made a recent visit to the 49ers’ team complex in Santa Clara, he stood out among the other receivers due to his 6-5, 227-pound frame. He has an inherent advantage in the red zone because of his size, but Shanahan wants receivers who can get open in the middle of the field. That is the only question about Butler.

He caught 60 passes for 1,318 yards and nine touchdowns. He ran a strong 4.48 in the 40. But does he have the change-of-direction skills to get open against NFL defensive backs?

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.

NFL draft: Who should 49ers target or avoid if they trade back from No. 2?

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NFL draft: Who should 49ers target or avoid if they trade back from No. 2?

So what happens if the Arizona Cardinals select Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa with the No. 1 overall pick?

Until the Cardinals actually announce their decision – as most have believed for a while – that Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is their man, there remains a bit of intrigue. The 49ers must wait patiently at No. 2.

If Bosa goes No. 1, the 49ers would likely listen to offers to trade out of No. 2. That’s where things could get very interesting. And it opens up a lot more possibilities for the 49ers to consider with their first- and second-round draft picks.

Here are a couple of players the 49ers could consider if they trade back from No. 2 – either with their first or second-round selection -- and a couple of highly rated players they should not be tempted to select:

Boom?

In a trade-back scenario, the 49ers could still get their edge rusher.

Florida State edge rusher Brian Burns has size, athleticism and room to get better. Just a shade below the first wave of edge rushers, Burns might end up topping them all. He played three seasons in college and finished with 10 sacks in 12 games last season before declaring for the draft.

At 6-foot-5, 249 pounds and with 4.53 speed, Burns would be used immediately as a nickel pass-rush specialist. That is fine. That is what the 49ers need, and eventually that role can expand.

Bust?

Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary should have been a dominant player in college. He was not. He has measurables off the charts, but not the production that should go along with it.

His skills and athleticism are freakish. But after three seasons of college football, he recorded a total – a total – of just 9.5 sacks. And, now, we’re supposed to believe that he is going to get 9.5 sacks a season while going up against better competition?

Gary has started his own sports agency. It seems like the best plan of attack would be to get established as a really good NFL player before devoting so much attention to marketing.

Boom?

Their new wide receivers coach was not there to work with him at the Senior Bowl, but South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel already showed what he can do in the 49ers’ offense.

Samuel has a trait that coach Kyle Shanahan likes in his wide receivers – the ability to get open. He is a very good route-runner, and he is tough. At 5-foot-11, 214 pounds, he might not have the size of some of the other receivers the 49ers might consider in the second round, but he has the ability to separate quickly.

Samuel would give the 49ers a nice tool in the red zone, where the club has struggled mightily the past two seasons.

[RELATED:  Jimmy G couldn't disappoint 49ers with eyes on him during rehab]

Bust?

The 49ers probably will not have the opportunity to pass on Ole Miss D.K. Metcalf in the second round, and that will be just fine for them.

Metcalf has otherworldly measurables. But Metcalf was far-and-away the second-best receiver on his college team. The 49ers should prefer A.J. Brown to Metcalf, who turned off more than a few people with the 49ers during their contentious meeting at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Metcalf is 6-3, 228 pounds. He ran a 4.33 at the combine. Yet, he put up pedestrian numbers in college – approximately half the production of Brown. Some team will take him in the middle of the first round, and that team will probably end up being disappointed.