The San Francisco 49ers took a step back at the start of the new league year when they traded away defensive anchor DeForest Buckner to Indianapolis.
The Niners now get to start seeing the results of that deal with an extra first-round pick at No. 13 overall that they hope can help get them over the hump after falling one quarter short of a Super Bowl title.
“You never stay the same,” general manager John Lynch said at the scouting combine. “You’re either getting better or getting worse. We’re into getting better. It becomes trickier with less draft equity and things of that nature, but we’ve got a lot of good players that are part of us moving forward as well.”
In order to get better, the Niners gave away Buckner, who was voted the team’s MVP last season by the coaching staff and was one of the game’s most dependable players.
That trade created salary cap room used to keep free agent defensive lineman Arik Armstead and safety Jimmie Ward. Now comes the pick that could fill potential holes at defensive tackle, receiver or elsewhere.
San Francisco also has the No. 31 overall selection, along with two picks in the fifth round, one in the sixth and two in the seventh.
The trade of Buckner and departure of Sheldon Day in free agency leave a big hole in the middle of San Francisco’s defensive line. Buckner ranked fifth among all interior rushers with 143 quarterback pressures the past four years, according to NFL NextGen stats. Replacing that in the draft won’t be easy. But San Francisco could look hard at South Carolina DT Javon Kinlaw, who had 39 pressures last year, according to SportsInfo Solutions.
The passing game took a big hit when Emmanuel Sanders left for New Orleans in free agency. Sanders’ arrival midway through last season provided a big boost for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo; his absence will be notable. San Francisco still has Deebo Samuel at one spot, but could use another starter with Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd more suited to smaller roles. This draft has plenty of good options, from speedster Henry Ruggs III to playmaker Laviska Shenault to slot stars Justin Jefferson and K.J. Hamler.
While the Niners have no glaring immediate holes on the offensive line, they could use more help on the interior, where center Weston Richburg has been hampered by injuries and Tom Compton appears slotted in as the starting right guard. San Francisco also could look for a long-term replacement for left tackle Joe Staley, who will be 36 this season. A player such Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, who could play guard this season before moving over to tackle, could be an intriguing option.
PLANNING AHEAD, PART 2
San Francisco also could target some potential openings in the secondary in 2021. Cornerbacks Richard Sherman, K’Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley, along with safety Jaquiski Tartt are all entering the final year of their contracts. Finding a defensive back in the first round who could contribute this season and take a bigger role in 2021 could be the direction the Niners go with one of their two first-round picks.
QUIET DAY 2
The way things stand right now, the Niners won’t make a pick at all on the second day of the draft. After the 31st pick in the first round, San Francisco isn’t scheduled to pick again until No. 156 overall, the 11th pick of the fifth round. The 49ers traded the second-round pick for defensive end Dee Ford and the third and fourth-rounders for Sanders and an extra fifth-round pick. That long gap could lead the Niners to consider trading down in the first round for a couple of second-day picks instead.
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