Quinnen Williams

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 rumors: Cardinals will not take Kyler Murray with No. 1 pick

NFL draft rumors: Cardinals will not take Kyler Murray with No. 1 pick

Ever since the Arizona Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury as their head coach, rumors began to swirl about them drafting Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick. 

As the draft has drawn closer, the speculation that Arizona will draft Murray and trade Josh Rosen has turned into an assumed likelihood.

But with the draft just five days away, it now appears the Cardinals might look to go in a different direction at No. 1, according to CBS Sports NFL insider Pete Prisco. 

"Initially, the ownership pushed for Kyler Murray," Prisco recently said on CBS Sports HQ. "That much I know -- I was told that.

"The reason they did is they are having a hard time selling tickets. Well, they put it out there. Arizona was lukewarm to it. All of a sudden, they are pulling back, and from what I've been told, they are going to go in a different direction. They are not going to draft Kyler Murray."

How's that for a pre-draft bombshell?

So, let's unpack this a bit.

First of all, it's entirely possible the Cardinals are putting this out there because they want to see what offers they can get to move out of the No. 1 spot, should a team really want Murray or perhaps Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa. And if they don't receive an offer that blows them away, they'll stay in that slot and draft Murray anyways. 

Rosen also complicates things for the Cardinals. Drafted with the No. 10 overall pick last year, Rosen struggled in his rookie campaign through little fault of his own. Saddled with mediocre offensive weapons and a porous offensive line, the UCLA product was rudely welcomed to the NFL. If the Cardinals were to draft Murray, they would need to find a taker for Rosen, and they're reportedly looking for a team willing to pay a steep price for him in order to save face. It appears Arizona is having trouble finding such a suitor.

If the Cardinals do pass on Murray for Bosa, the 49ers will be put in a little bit of a bind. For weeks, it's been looking like the 49ers will take Bosa, the draft's top prospect, when he falls into their lap, and Arizona passing on Murray could throw a huge wrench into their draft plans.

If Bosa is unavailable at No. 2, San Francisco could look to move back in the draft, collect assets and still take an edge rusher with high upside in the middle part of the first round. 

Meanwhile, the Raiders sit at No. 4, and it appears only Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock and a few trusted advisors know the Silver and Black's plan.

Rumors leaked earlier this week that the Raiders could be planning a "big move" to trade up and take Murray or Bosa, but if the Cardinals don't draft Murray, the electric quarterback could fall right into Oakland's hands at No. 4. Of course, if Quinnen Williams also is on the board, the Raiders' brass will have a difficult choice to make.

[RELATED: Should Raiders try to move up and draft Kyler Murray?]

In five days time, we'll know if Kingsbury's Air Raid offense will be manned by Rosen or the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner. What the Cardinals choose to do will have wide-spread consequences on the entire first round of the draft.

Buckle up.

NFL rumors: Raiders are 'super impressed' with QB Dwayne Haskins

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NFL rumors: Raiders are 'super impressed' with QB Dwayne Haskins

The Raiders will have some decisions to make next week during the NFL draft.

With four picks in the top 35, the Silver and Black have the ability to restock their franchise with top-tier talent should they make the right decisions. Most experts expect the Raiders to draft a defensive cornerstone like Quinnen Williams with the No. 4 overall pick, but after that things could get interesting.

If the Raiders stand pat, they could add a cornerback at No. 24, perhaps running back Josh Jacobs at No. 27 and a wide receiver or a tight end at No. 35. But with sufficient ammunition to move around in the draft, don't count out the idea of Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden electing to try and select a quarterback early on. 

And we aren't talking about Kyler Murray, although he reportedly also could be an option.

Before Murray spurned baseball for football, Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins was seen as the top quarterback in the class, and the Raiders reportedly have been "super impressed" with the Heisman finalist, according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora.

In his latest insider notes column, La Canfora reported he has heard the Raiders like Haskins a lot and he could see them passing on him at No. 4, but packaging the Nos. 24 and 27 picks to move back into the top 15 to take the former Buckeye.

Derek Carr currently is expected to be the Raiders' quarterback when the season begins, but Mayock has left the door open for the Silver and Black to make a change if he sees fit. 

[RELATED: Brutal road stretch could define Raiders' 2019 season]

Whether or not the Raiders elect to move up in the draft likely will be tied to how the draft shakes out after they pick at No. 4.

If a few players they like appear to be slipping into the 20s, don't be surprised if the Raiders hang on to their picks and try to restock a defense that needs help at all three levels.

Quarterback can always wait, right?