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ESPN's Mel Kiper Pinpoints Two Positions of Need for 49ers at No. 12

The San Francisco 49ers could go a number of ways on April 29th and many of their decisions will rely on the moves over the next few weeks. More than 35 members of the 49ers are slated to hit free agency, set to begin on March 17th, including several players in prominent positions on the roster.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. held a 90-minute conference call on Monday and discussed several directions the 49ers could take with the 12th-overall pick in the upcoming draft, including his prediction that San Francisco moves up to secure a signal caller.

In his latest mock draft, Kiper Jr. projects five of the top quarterback prospects to be selected within the first nine picks. With that, he predicts the 49ers to jump up five spots (in exchange for a hefty chunk of capital) with the Detroit Lions for the No. 7 overall pick to nab Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.

"I think when you look at him, the mobility, he's going to run athletically and from a speed standpoint, he's going to test incredibly well," Kiper Jr. said. "He's going to probably run maybe a 4.4 (40 time). His arm strength, his competitiveness, his passion for the game, he loves to study the game, study film, study the opposition, and he'll be the first one in and the last one out of the building."

The majority of draft analysts have Fields slated as a Top-10 pick, with some foreseeing the Ohio State product slipping all the way to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 24. Fields (6-foot-3, 228 pounds) has been regarded for his arm strength, athleticism and accuracy, completing over 70 percent of his passes for 2,100 yards last season, while throwing 22 touchdowns to six interceptions.

But before jumping on the Fields train, there's a lot to consider when it comes to the 49ers opting to go that route. The first being, what would it cost San Francisco to move up in the draft? Draft picks are likely to be at a premium in 2021 with the decline of the salary cap limiting many teams' ability to add free agent talent.

Secondly, general manager John Lynch has doubled (maybe quadrupled) down on his stance on Jimmy Garoppolo's future in San Francisco. Lynch joined the “Eye Test for Two” podcast last week, where he emphasized the 49ers commitment to Garoppolo in 2021.

Additionally, there's truly no telling which prospect will be available at what point next month until names start coming off the board.

In that case, Kiper Jr. sees cornerback as an equally important direction for the 49ers at No. 12. The 49ers currently have five cornerbacks set to hit free agency later this month, namely, Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett and Ahkello Witherspoon. Kiper Jr. believes the 49ers could look to the first round to shore up the cornerback position with one of the top defenders in this year's draft.

"I would think cornerback at that spot than any other position. So, if it's not quarterback, I think it would be a corner."

Kiper Jr. mentioned Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley as an impactful defensive option for San Francisco, and potentially one of the first cornerbacks off the board. Farley opted out of the 2020 season amid COVID-19 concerns. However, in his two seasons with the Hokies, he appeared in 23 games and notched 56 total tackles, 43 solo, one tackle for loss, six interceptions, one touchdown and 19 passes defended.

Another name Kiper Jr. mentioned was Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II, who has regularly been mocked to San Francisco. Surtain II helped lead Alabama to a National Championship in 2020. He finished his college career appearing in 40 games over three seasons with the Crimson Tide, and registered 116 total tackles, 82 solo, six tackles for loss, four interceptions, one touchdown, 24 passes defended, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

There's no telling which direction San Francisco could take with the No. 12 overall pick, but the picture could become a bit clearer if the team is able to retain some of their starting talent before they hit the open market later this month.