With free agency in the past, the 2020 NFL Draft is upon us. With it, the reigning NFC Champions have answered plenty of questions they were posed when the offseason began.
The solution for General Manager John Lynch was to sign key defenders Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward to long-term extensions. The 49ers re-signed six of the their restricted and exclusive rights free agents, brought back center Ben Garland, defensive end Ronald Blair, and renegotiated the deals of Kwon Alexander, Weston Richburg and Jerrick McKinnon.
Lynch then shocked the NFL by trading star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in exchange for a first-round pick. Trading Buckner created a need on the defensive line, but rearmed the team with draft capital and resolved San Francisco’s cap space issue.
Even with the Buckner trade, the 49ers only have seven picks in the upcoming draft and none in the second, third or fourth rounds. Lynch will likely explore trading back one of his two first-round selections to secure extra mid-round selections.
The 49ers are also likely to put out of favour veterans on the trade block to pick up more draft capital. Marquise Goodwin looks a likely candidate to fetch a late pick, while Matt Breida could attract a suitor early on Day 3. Solomon Thomas could be dealt, but his cap number would be an issue. So how will Lynch play the board and who will they take in the draft?
First Round (#13)- WR CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)
The wide receiver position is the 49ers’ biggest need entering the draft. Deebo Samuel is a star in the making, but beyond him, the receiving corps has too many question marks. Other members in the depth chart include Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd and Dante Pettis.
Fortunately, this draft class is loaded with wide receivers and the Buckner trade puts the 49ers in prime position to grab one of the standout prospects. Jerry Jeudy will likely be gone when the 49ers get on the clock, but Lamb is an explosive playmaker who can add yards after the catch. If Lamb is still on the board, this is a pick that just can’t miss.
*Second Round (#38)- DT Raekwon Davis (Alabama)*
Lynch will almost certainly trade back from the 31st pick and there will always be teams looking to add a fifth-year option on a player by trading back into the first round. In this scenario, the 49ers and Panthers agree to a trade.
Even without Buckner, the 49ers still have a strong defensive front. However, they will need to find a replacement if they are to maintain their key strength of rushing the passer with just a four-man attack. Davis has the athletic profile San Francisco likes and offers a similar skill set to Buckner.
*Projected Trade with Panthers*
*Fourth Round (#113)- CB Amik Robertson (Louisiana Tech)*
In return for the 49ers’ first round selection, the Carolina Panthers have additionally given up their fourth-round pick. With it, it’s important to note that Richard Sherman is one of four starters in the secondary scheduled for free agency next year. San Francisco will almost certainly re-sign some of their standout talent, but adding young talent is a necessity.
Amik Robertson from Louisiana Tech looks to be a fit. He could play in the slot or on the boundary and has shown excellent anticipation and reading of the game. He has also proved an effective defender against the run, despite a relatively small frame.
*Projected Trade with Panthers*
Fifth Round (#156)- TE Harrison Bryant (Florida Atlantic)
Head coach Kyle Shanahan would love a second play-making tight end to ease George Kittle’s workload. The draft stock of Bryant will likely fall due to his small school status, potentially putting him in fifth-round range; where the 49ers coincidentally previously drafted Kittle. Bryant can add yards after the catch and block effectively, giving Shanahan the disguise he desires in play calling.
Fifth Round (#176)- CB Josiah Scott (Michigan State)
The 49ers need to keep taking shots at cornerback. Scott has the twitchy feet needed to succeed on the boundary at the NFL level and has the athleticism San Francisco is looking for. He missed half of the 2018 season due to injuries, raising red flags, but he’s at worst a backup and special team asset who could develop into more.
Sixth Round (#210)- OT Alex Taylor (South Carolina St)
The biggest question mark still hanging over the 49ers is whether Joe Staley be back for the 2020 season. If Staley retires, then San Francisco will have to address their need in the earlier rounds. Even if he stays, it would be wise to add another developmental tackle to their roster. Taylor is athletic and has shown plenty of potential. There are concerns over his commitment to the game, but his upside makes him a late-round steal.
Seventh Round (#217)- DE Travis Gipson (Tulsa)
The 49ers are stacked on the defensive line, but at this stage of the draft picking the most talented player overrides positional need. Gipson is a long rangey edge defender with an explosive first step but will require time and coaching to refine his technique. The 49ers would be a perfect landing spot for a rough diamond like Gipson whose long term potential is worth gambling on late in the draft.
Seventh Round 245th- Trishton Jackson (WR, Syracuse)
In such a deep wide receiver class, there will be talented pass-catchers still on the board. With Marquise Goodwin likely to leave this offseason, Jackson offers a similar deep threat with his speed and ability to separate that Shanahan values.
Shanahan and Lynch have rightfully received the plaudits for rebuilding their respective roster. However, their draft history has been problematic at times. In 2017, five of their picks did not pan out as hoped. However, the team continued to learn and ended up finding franchise players in George Kittle, Mike McGlinchey, Fred Warner, Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel.