Two seasons ago, Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo represented the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. Behind a loaded defense, San Francisco pushed Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs to their limits. Ultimately, the 49ers fell short of their goal and suffered a brutal 2020 campaign marred by injuries. Shanahan faces high expectations in 2021 despite parting ways with many heroes from the 2019 Super Bowl run.
The 49ers complicated their offseason by trading up to third overall with the Miami Dolphins. The move itself isn’t unexpected. Rumors swirled early in the offseason about Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch shopping Garoppolo. However, San Francisco parted ways with three first-round selections to move from up from 12th overall.
After parting ways with so much draft capital, the 49ers must find their quarterback of the future. Failure to find an eventual franchise starter would likely doom San Francisco’s current regime and plunge the 49ers into the NFC West’s basement.
Shanahan and the 49ers have Super Bowl aspirations this coming season. They face several challenges, including heavy roster turnover, a cutthroat division, and the pressure of drafting at third overall. Coming off a 6-10 campaign, San Francisco has a chance to go from worst to first in the NFC West. However, the burden of high expectations might crush this fledgling regime.
I used The Draft Network’s mock draft machine and Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator to justify each of my selections. At least one website had the chosen players available at their listed picks over several simulations. I didn’t predict any trades and included an “ideal pick” after every selection for optimistic fans.
Round 1 (No. 3): Justin Fields, QB Ohio St.
Let me make this clear: If Mac Jones is the pick at three, I’ll gladly eat a slice of humble pie. I’m not going to believe it until Roger Goodell stands at the podium, gets showered in boos, and reads the card, only to get showered in even more boos. The 49ers bet the farm on getting their quarterback of the future at third overall. They can’t blow this decision.
If Lynch and Shanahan want Jones, they’re fools for trading up to three. They could’ve gotten him at a significantly lower spot and not traded away three first-round picks in the process. I’m not unconvinced they could’ve gotten Jones at 12th overall.
Jones enters the NFL to some serious questions. I don’t care about his pocket passer style. That’s an overblown storyline. I care about his inability to make every throw in the book because of a lack of arm strength. I care about his weak off-platform throws. There’s also the concern that Jones played on an All-Star college team with the nation’s best offensive line, running back, and wide receivers. He’s going from that to a normal NFL offense. That’s a big learning curve.
On the other hand, Fields is a strong, tough, mobile quarterback that ran the same 40-time as Kyle Pitts. He’s been an NFL prospect since his freshman year at Georgia, and he finished in the top-seven for Heisman voting in 2019 and 2020. Yes, Fields was in the Heisman race last year despite the narrative that he had an awful season.
Ohio St. didn’t ask Fields to make too many complicated reads, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of it. There are still plenty of successful examples where he works through progressions and throws a laser. We were concerned about Justin Herbert being able to read defenses last year, but it turned out Oregon’s offense and coaching put him at a disadvantage. He turned into the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
In the NFL, you either draft a prospect, or you play against him. I’d rather face Jones than Fields because one guy can hurt you in more ways than you can count. Stop overthinking this and draft Fields already.
Ideal pick: Fields
Round 2 (No. 43): Landon Dickerson, IOL Alabama
The 49ers aren’t drafting Dickerson to play center, at least not yet. Lynch and Shanahan envision Dickerson as a starting right guard early in his career. When Alex Mack reaches the end of his contract after 2023 or retires, Dickerson can take over. This move gives San Francisco an upgrade inside and finds them a succession plan they could activate as soon as next year. There’s an out in Mack’s contract after this season.
San Francisco turned Laken Tomlinson from a bust into a quality starting left guard. Perhaps the scheme is good enough to eliminate the need for elite guard play. If that’s how Shanahan views his offense, the 49ers can continue rolling with Daniel Brunskill at right guard. Otherwise, it’s hard to pass over a player as captivating as Dickerson.
Speaking of upgrades, Jamin Davis could usurp Samson Ebukam or Dre Greenlaw quickly. The Kentucky product saw his draft stock skyrocket after dominating at his pro day. The one-year wonder ran a 4.37 40-time and had two of the best jumps by a linebacker this year. Davis also wowed scouts with 33-inch arms. Imagine him lining up alongside Fred Warner.
Ideal pick: Jamin Davis, LB Kentucky
Round 3 (No. 102): James Hudson, OT Cincinnati
Hudson is a developmental offensive tackle that doesn’t fill an immediate need for San Francisco. The 49ers are in win-now mode, so this selection might immediately infuriate the team’s fan base.
San Francisco has one of the NFL’s best tackle combinations in Mike McGlinchey and Trent Williams. However, Williams hasn’t started an entire 16-game season since 2013, and the league just expanded the year to 17 games. Meanwhile, McGlinchey is one year away from his expensive fifth-year option and two years away from signing a lucrative contract.
Hudson has the potential to become a starting tackle two or three years down the line. He’s relatively new to the position and has limited game experience, but the Michigan transfer had an exceptional season for Cincinnati. He should fit in well with San Francisco’s zone blocking scheme.
Ideal pick: Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB Syracuse
Round 4 (No. 117): Trill Williams, CB Syracuse
Ideally, the 49ers get Williams’ teammate Melifonwu in the third-round, but the other Syracuse corner is a hot commodity. That’s not to say that Williams is a bad pick either. The 6-2 corner has prototypical height and ran a respectable 4.42 at Syracuse’s pro day. He has fluid hips and enough burst to close on receivers quickly and contest catches.
Williams spent some time in the slot while at Syracuse, but the 49ers should try him out wide. His talent and athleticism are wasted in the slot. Even if Williams doesn’t see much playing time in 2021 and focuses on developing his game, he’ll become a starter or significant role player in 2022. The 49ers lose cornerbacks Dontae Johnson, Jason Verrett, and K’Waun Williams in free agency next year.
San Francisco would love to add Notre Dame’s Tommy Tremble. He has many attributes that remind analysts of a smaller George Kittle. Comparisons to All-Pros are almost always exaggerated, but Tremble is a tremendous blocker and a solid athlete. His route running is still in its early stages.
Ideal pick: Tommy Tremble, TE Notre Dame
Round 5 (No. 155): Thomas Graham Jr., CB Oregon
Graham produced consistently during his time at Oregon before forgoing the 2020 season. In 40 games, Graham intercepted eight passes and defensed 32. Playing in zone coverage or near the line of scrimmage in press should protect Graham from his physical limitations. There’s a slim chance Graham develops into a starter, but he lacks the fluidity and high-end speed of top cornerback prospects.
Graham didn’t athletically do himself any favors at Oregon’s pro day. He checked in with below-average arms and ran unimpressive times in the short shuttle and three-cone. Graham’s 4.45 40-yard dash was his best result of the day.
Ideal pick: Hamsah Nasirildeen, S Florida St.
Round 5 (No. 172): Caden Sterns, S Texas
The 49ers seem comfortable with their situation at safety, but that could change quickly when Jaquiski Tartt enters free agency next year. San Francisco also has an out in Jimmie Ward’s contract after this coming season. The out costs the team four million in dead money but saves seven and half million against the cap.
Sterns is a good athlete that plays an aggressive game. Unfortunately, he takes poor angles to the ball, which creates missed tackles. He has a history of minor injuries but possesses experience in man and zone coverage. Sterns’ scheme versatility should keep him from falling below the fifth-round.
Ideal pick: Rashad Weaver, EDGE Pittsburgh
Round 5 (No. 180): Chauncey Golston, EDGE Iowa
Despite his 6-4, 269 lb. frame, Golston didn’t dominate during his collegiate career. His senior season netted a career-high 5.5 sacks, but Golston’s production remained relatively consistent for the past three years. During that time, he recorded 127 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, and 12 sacks. He’s not an every-down defensive end right now. Instead, the 49ers could work him in as a rotational player.
At Iowa’s pro day, Golston ran some of the slowest times by an edge rusher I’ve seen this year. However, he flashed explosiveness in the jumps and measured in with nearly 35-inch arms. Golston plays with a hot motor, and he’ll pile up tackles in pursuit. He also makes plays occasionally rushing from the interior, which creates some positional versatility.
Ideal pick: Kylin Hill, RB Mississippi St.
Round 6 (No. 194): Cornell Powell, WR Clemson
People are going to start getting mad if I keep mocking Powell to teams in the sixth-round. I’m sorry, but it’s such an easy fix for wide receiver corps that lack depth. The 49ers have playmakers in Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, but the receiver depth quickly vanishes after that. Mohamed Sanu isn’t a threat at this point in his career, and Richie James doesn’t separate himself from a roster that also includes Travis Benjamin, Jalen Hurd, and Kevin White.
Powell doesn’t do anything special. He just finds ways to get open and create space. Powell flashed some potential as a vertical threat last year, averaging over 22 yards per reception in four games, three of which were standout performances.
Ideal pick: Pooka Williams, RB Kansas
Round 7 (No. 230): Luke Farrell, TE Ohio St.
If the 49ers don’t get Tremble, they can still draft one of this year’s best blocking tight ends. Ohio St. rarely used Farrell in the passing game, but he showed promise when given a chance. We’ve seen this song and dance before with Nick Vannett. Unlike Vannett, Farrell isn’t going on Day 2. He’s purely a Day 3 prospect that might even go undrafted.
Farrell is a good pass protector and thrives as an in-line blocker. He could carve out a role in San Francisco’s zone rushing offense or land a spot on the practice squad.
Ideal pick: Nick Eubanks, TE Michigan