As fans anxiously await the start of the 2020 NFL Draft, Voice of the 49ers, Greg Papa joins 49ers.com to answer various fan-submitted questions ranging from San Francisco's immediate needs, trading back, the vaunted "R" word and a number of other topics.
Without further ado, here's the 49ers pre-draft mailbag:
Ryan Smith: Do the 49ers need to replace Buckner in the draft or is his replacement already on the roster?
Papa: Yes and no. DeForest Buckner was a dominant player. Arguably one of your top two or three players on defense. And certainly, a centerpiece. But I do understand that trade. I think a variety of people will wind up taking his snaps. He had 810 defensive snaps last year. But I would say D.J. Jones is a burgeoning star. We saw some games where he just flat out dominated the football game. That Green Bay game on the Sunday night, even the game he got hurt in New Orleans - he was running around before the high ankle sprain making plays. So, I think D.J. in the base will join your group there.
I'd like to see D.J. become a three-down player in this league. I think he has the ability, because he's so explosive and quick and that would lend itself to going after the quarterback. He shows up big time in the run game holding his gap. You've got a bunch of young guys that could mix in. But if I had to nominate one guy, it would probably be D.J. Jones to start. I think it's time for Solomon Thomas to start wreaking havoc. Even though they traded one first round draft pick defensive lineman, they still have four on this team when you include Dee Ford as well.
Martin: In his pre-draft press conference, John Lynch admitted that trading away Buckner was one of the hardest decisions he's had to make as a general manager. And rightfully so when you think about not only his performance on the field, but what he meant to the 49ers locker room.
In addition to Jones and Thomas, Lynch mentioned several other in-house candidates who are primed to step up in 2020: Kevin Givens, Jullian Taylor and Kentavius Street. Arik Armstead, who was signed to a contract extension this offseason, adds to this list as another guy who has flexibility to play inside in nickel situations as well. So, I agree with Greg, yes and no. The 49ers still have plenty of depth where guys can shuffle around. But that doesn't mean if a difference maker falls to them in the draft, that they won't go after him.
Chris Marinos: What do you think are our Top 3 needs to address in the draft?
Papa: I would say wide receiver. Emmanuel Sanders was a great player, no doubt, with how he improved the wide receiver room and Jimmy Garoppolo's numbers when he arrived. So, you've got to replace Emmanuel Sanders. I think Kendrick Bourne, Deebo Samuel and a few of the younger guys can elevate, but you're talking about probably your No. 1 guy. So, I think you've got to address that.
I do think they've got to get more youth on the offensive line. I think if they had won the Super Bowl, Joe Staley may have retired. But now we don't know. It's a different world we're living in right now. How does he prepare for this? He's had two or three different injuries last year. But even if Joe comes back, you've got to prepare for what to do there.
And then I think your cornerback situation. Richard Sherman can't play forever. He may try, but you're going to have to upgrade there. Everybody in that quartet, Ahkello Witherspoon, Emmanuel Moseley and K'Waun Williams included - none of those guys have contracts beyond 2020. You want to address everywhere, but I would say wide receiver, getting more youth on the offensive line and the cornerback position would be my pecking order.
Martin: The beauty of the 49ers offseason is that outside of Buckner and Sanders, the team managed to retain a good amount of players. Because of that, the 49ers enter the draft with flexibility in terms of what route they choose to take. This is an opportunity for the 49ers to add depth at certain positions as well as begin to game plan for the future. Greg brought up good points when discussing shoring up spots behind some veterans. What stands out most is replacing a guy like Sanders - someone who can complement Samuel, Kittle and Bourne in the passing game, the offensive line and at cornerback.
Hugo CaZa: CB or WR with the pick from the Colts?
Papa: Tell me who went in the first 12 picks of the draft and then I'll let you know. If (Ohio St. cornerback) Jeff Okudah isn't gone, I think I take him at 13. I love (Alabama wide receiver) Jerry Jeudy. He's my favorite player in this draft. I think the three best players in this draft are (LSU quarterback) Joe Burrow, Jeff Okudah, Jerry Jeudy. I think Jerry Jeudy has veteran poise. I think he'll walk right into the NFL and play like an eight-year veteran.
Assuming Okudah is gone, then I would say, wide receiver. But I also think offensive tackle would be an interesting proposition. There are a couple of young guys that are going to be in this draft: Jedrick Wills out of Alabama, Tristan Wirfs out of Iowa, Mekhi Becton, who was just a physical freak from Louisville, and Andrew Thomas from Georgia. So in order to make that call, we'd have to know who's still left at 13.
Martin: This is a case where I think the 49ers look for the best player available and that depends on who they have on their draft board. Both can be looked at as positions of need. For receiver, the 49ers obviously would like to fill the void of Sanders. And at cornerback, almost the entire position group is only signed through this season. Lynch and Co. haven't (and won't) tip their hand at what direction the they're likely to take at 13, but a lot will be weighing on availability and who they could potentially have their eye on in later rounds (especially if they shore up more picks along the way).
Brandon Harvey: Stick with Jimmy G but still draft a QB?
Papa: Well I know there's a theory that you should draft a quarterback every single year. I've heard people like Bill Walsh make that comment. I think as far as somebody coming in to unseat Jimmy, or Nick Mullens or C.J. Beathard, I don't see that.
But by and large, I like the theory that you should always have a quarterback you're grooming. Mullens and Beathard are probably past the grooming stage. They're both ready to play and win right now. So, I don't think it's a need. We've heard some quarterbacks that have been aligned to the 49ers that had Zoom visits that maybe you could sign right after the seventh round is over. I don't think it's a need right now. I think with Jimmy and Nick and C.J., I think you're pretty solid for now.
Martin: I second with Greg. If an unbelievable talent falls to the 49ers at some point in the draft, there could be an opportunity to find a quarterback to bring into training camp. The past few years, the 49ers have brought four quarterbacks into camp. I also wouldn't be surprised if the 49ers pick up an undrafted quarterback at the close of the draft.
@WhiskyNiner49: Which of the two first round picks do you think is the more likely to be traded?
Papa: It depends on how the draft goes. Say your fourth-overall player in the draft is there at No 13. Are you going to trade back? You'd probably just take him at 13. If you could trade back from 13 to one of those spots at 14, 15 or 16 and still get the player you would have taken at 13 and be able to procure an extra draft pick, of course you do that. And then that 31 pick is going to be really interesting, because say (Utah quarterback) Jordan Love is still available late in the round and somebody wants to trade up to go get him at that spot. And I think there's a little more value in that spot because the first round are five-year contracts. The second round are four-year contracts, so you would have that player for an extra year just by taking him at 31 as opposed to taking him at 33.
So I think that's a question you can't answer until draft day on April 23 and you know who are the 12 that have gone before. I've often wondered of trading up to get a player the 49ers like. So, I think we'll have to wait to see what unfolds and see which way they go. But I think they're open to doing anything with 31. Remember, the 49ers don't have a second round pick because of the Dee Ford trade. They don't have a third or fourth rounder because of the Emmanuel Sanders trade. So just in theory, maybe take 31 and drop back to get more picks and you could do that again and again and wind up with five picks out of one. We'll see, but I think they're open minded on doing anything. It's like a football game, you wait and see what you're going to do after the first drive of the game, right?
Martin: Lynch revealed that the 49ers currently have six or so prospects who they'd consider "foundational players" that San Francisco could grab at No. 13 overall. However, if those six are gone before the 49ers are on the clock, they have no problem trading down to acquire more picks.
What this tells us is if the 49ers stand pat at 13, it could mean one of two things: San Francisco is truly set on the player available or they didn't find an adequate trade partner for that top half pick. But having no Day 2 picks, I wouldn't be surprised if one of those picks were traded to obtain more draft capital.
Scott Hansen: With the 49ers potentially drafting a TE to fill roster holes and reduce Kittle's workload, what qualities do you think they're looking for, and what prospects fit that mold?
Papa: I think you want to, in part, lessen George's workload. But Kyle Shanahan is a matchup coach. Why does Kyle Juszczyk play so many snaps at fullback? He is a mismatch because you get Kyle matched up with slower linebackers. The same theory goes for George. I think that's just a scheme and Shanahan wants to play the ultimate master chessboard.
I do understand the thought process of matching George with a similar tight end. This is a matchup league. When the New England Patriots were at their best was when they had Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. They were really difficult to deal with.
I can't tell exactly what tight end they'd be looking at. It could be a really strong inline blocker, more like a wide tight end, or a detached guy that could do both. The 49ers like versatility. So, we'll see what they ultimately choose to do soon.
Martin: You have to take into account what Kittle is capable of when looking to reduce his workload. Kittle rarely came off of the field in 2019, playing 90 percent of snaps in the 14 games he appeared in. He's widely known for his pass catching abilities, but certainly can't be overlooked as an efficient run blocker. In the 49ers run-first offense, that will be crucial in any tight end they could potentially add.
Lydia: Is there any truth to the rumors that Joe Staley may retire rather than finish out his contract?
Papa: Again, who knows. The bottom line is, Joe Staley played hurt this year. It was the second game of the year when he had the injury in Cincinnati. He came back against Seattle against (Seahawks edge rusher Jadeveon) Clowney, and got hurt again with a finger. It took him a long time to get back to full health. But let's face it, Joe is obviously closer to the end of his career than the start. Left tackle is something you have to look at. And I know they have Daniel Brunskill and Justin Skule on the roster and they played well last year. Those guys are good players. They could be elite. They could be Pro Bowlers. But those guys can get hurt. So you've got to have a lot of them. You've got Shon Coleman, who got hurt in the first preseason game last year. He's a swing tackle that could play both. But, I think you'd like him to be the third tackle.
So right now it's a huge question mark with Joe, but I think once you hear the "R" word with any player, you've got to prepare for their eventual retirement. You've got to have a succession plan in place, whether it's this year or later.
Any of the top four prospects - Wills, Wirfs, Thomas and Becton, can play inside at guard. Even if you draft them at 13 and Joe stays, you can move them to guard. And then when Joe retires, you can kick them out to tackle. A lot of Hall of Fame players started their tackle careers by playing guard initially. So you don't know, but I think you have to prepare that the end is relatively coming soon for Joe.
Martin: Lynch revealed he has been in contact with Staley this offseason and is optimistic that the veteran left tackle will return for his 14th season and final year of his contract. According to Lynch, he's heard nothing that would lead him to believe that Joe's not playing in 2020 and is “encouraged” that Staley will be a part of the team moving forward.
However, I wouldn't be surprised if the 49ers seek his eventual successor to groom for the time being sooner rather than later.
@49erFan2001: If LB Isaiah Simmons is available at Pick 13, should they draft him?
Papa: He will not be there at 13. I think he could go as early as four to the New York Giants. I've seen some mocks where they had him going at six to the Los Angeles Chargers to pair him with Derwin James. I love Isaiah Simmons, but I'm very content with Dre Greenlaw, Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander and Azeez Al-Shaair. I think they're fine. I don't think they really have to do that, and I don't think they'll be in a position to. I would not advocate trading up to get Simmons. I love Simmons, I think he's an interesting guy. I don't know exactly where to play him. Part of me wants to just make him a middle linebacker with his long arms and just wreak havoc on all those crossing routes. But I think what they'll do with him in the NFL is what he did in college and use him even more. Derwin James is a fantastic young player, and his injury, I think, derailed the Chargers last year. Derwin James is a safety, playing in the box at times. He can blitz. He can do anything. I think Isaiah Simmons is a linebacker who can play a little safety, he can go in the slot and cover receivers. But I will be pretty confident and say, the 49ers will not have the ability to draft him at No. 13. He will be long gone.
Martin: I believe the 49ers have more pressing needs than linebacker. Whether he would be the best player available at that point depends on how the other 12 teams draft. But this is something we'd have to wait till Thursday to see!