With Super Bowl LV now in the books, the NFL can officially put the obscure 2020 season behind them. The attention now turns to the 2021 season and how teams can improve their rosters through the draft and free agency ahead of Week 1. As the league inches near the March 17 free agency period, the 49ers will have a number of decisions to make, and potentially, a number of holes to fill in the ensuing draft.
Leading up to Day 1 of the NFL Draft, experts and analysts continue to forecast what the San Francisco 49ers will do with the 12th-overall pick. Here is the latest compilation of projections as the NFL closes the chapter on 2020:
Brent Sobleski, Bleacher Report: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
"The San Francisco 49ers could look very different in 2021 depending on what the team decides to do with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and left tackle Trent Williams, who is an impending free agent.
"While the offense gets the most attention, San Francisco's entire secondary needs to be reworked since Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, K'Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon, Dontae Johnson, Jamar Taylor and Jaquiski Tartt are free agents.
"With DeMeco Ryans' elevation to defensive coordinator, the system shouldn't change drastically from the one Robert Saleh left behind to become the New York Jets head coach.
"As such, long and physical corners who excel in zone coverage are a must. Alabama's Patrick Surtain II is an imposing defender and the most well-coached defensive back coming into the league. He can step in immediately to help offset San Francisco's losses."
Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network: EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan
"San Francisco is another team who figures to be in the market for a quarterback but their lukewarm offer for Stafford (they reportedly did not offer their first-round pick) seems to indicate that the 49ers could take or leave major investments into upgrades at quarterback. After all, the team has found plenty of success with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo. The challenge for San Francisco is that no one was healthy last year. The 49ers current team identity was forged by investing premium picks in the trenches. Kwity Paye? Opposite a healthy Nick Bosa? That'll keep the heat on Stafford, (Russell) Wilson, and (Kyler) Murray in the NFC West."
Joe Marino, The Draft Network: QB Zach Wilson, BYU
- TRADE: Miami Dolphins trade No. 3, No. 18, No. 81, Tua Tagovailoa, Xavien Howard, and a 2022 first-round pick to the Houston Texans for Deshaun Watson and pick No. 120. San Francisco 49ers trade No. 12, No. 44, No. 116 and a 2022 first-round pick to the Houston Texans for No. 3 overall.
"Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch just watched their division-rival Rams make an aggressive move to upgrade their quarterback position with the trade for Matthew Stafford, so it's time for their counter move. Instead of giving up two first-round picks for a 33-year-old quarterback, the 49ers can 'one-up' the competition by making an aggressive move up the order for Zach Wilson. Not only can Wilson hit the rhythm throws in Shanahan's offense, but he brings mobility and an exciting vertical passing component to the table that has been missing in San Francisco. Wilson has the skill set to take Shannahan's offense to the next level and provide a long-term answer to the position."
Chad Reuter, NFL.com: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
"Starting corners Richard Sherman and Jason Verrett will be free agents in March. Farley's versatility would allow the 49ers to play him outside or at safety if they require help there in the future."
Lance Zierlein, NFL.com: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
"Lance could go higher with a run on quarterbacks. If he's available at 12th overall, he might be too enticing to pass up. His background and skill set fit perfectly within Kyle Shanahan's offense."
Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
"The 49ers will likely undergo big changes on defense this offseason, with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh gone and cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon and Jason Verrett all unrestricted free agents. That's why it makes sense to target a corner early. Surtain, my top-ranked corner, could be a starter on Day 1. He had 27 pass breakups and four interceptions over three seasons at Bama. At 6-2, Surtain has the size and speed to play on an island and lock down wideouts. Depending on whether San Francisco can bring back free-agent left tackle Trent Williams, offensive line could also be a position to target."
Michael Renner, Pro Football Focus: EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan
"Arik Armstead's versatility can slot in a lot of places along the defensive line. The 49ers defense relies on that front four to get home, and Paye's freak athleticism could benefit from learning across from Nick Bosa."
Dalton Johnson, NBC Sports Bay Area: OL Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
"Not a sexy pick, but a smart one. Is Slater a tackle? A guard? A center? The beautiful thing is, he can play all positions across the line.
"If the 49ers fail to re-sign Trent Williams in free agency, they can slot Slater in at tackle. If he returns, he could play guard or center. This might even make Mike McGlinchey move inside.
"In this case, the top four QBs are off the board, as are the top two cornerbacks. The 49ers could go with an edge rusher here, but I believe Slater is the best available option, and perhaps the smartest."
Vinnie Iyer, SportingNews.com: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
"There's a growing chance the 49ers go in a different direction at quarterback, like offering up Jimmy Garoppolo in a trade for Kirk Cousins. They do have a major issue looming in their defense with a slew of cornerbacks headed to free agency, led by veteran leader Richard Sherman. That lines up well with this selection. Surtain, with his pedigree, size and ball-hawking skills, has the potential to be a true shutdown player."
Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
"Horn possesses the size, athleticism and bloodlines (son of former Pro Bowl WR Joe Horn) to be a tenacious cover corner and enticing option for a team in desperate need of a long-term answer at the position."
Ryan Wilson, CBS Sports: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
"Kyle Shanahan said in recent weeks that Jimmy Garoppolo is his QB for 2021 but that doesn't mean the team can't (or won't) plan for the future. And now that Matthew Stafford is headed for L.A., San Francisco turns to the draft. Trey Lance has the athleticism and arm strength to be a legit NFL QB, he only lacks experience. But if anyone can get the most out of his abilities it's Shanahan, who did just that with Robert Griffin III during his rookie year in Washington back in 2012."
Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
"How amazing would a Pitts and George Kittle TE duo be in Kyle Shanahan's offense?"
Josh Edwards, CBS Sports: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
"San Francisco adds arguably the best cornerback in the draft midway through the first round. Richard Sherman will not be playing forever, but Kyle Shanahan intends to be around much longer."
Dalton Miller, Pro Football Network: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
- TRADE: Dallas Cowboys trade the 10th-overall pick to the 49ers.
"The situation in San Francisco is perfect for a developing Trey Lance. First, he doesn't have to start immediately. As long as the relationship between him and Jimmy Garoppolo hasn't deteriorated to the point of no return, Head Coach Kyle Shanahan can start Garoppolo for a year as they develop Lance.
"But the bigger plus to this selection is that the offense is a great fit for Lance. He comes from a heavy personnel, play-action dominated passing attack. His high-end athleticism will be a treat for Shanahan, who has dealt with immovable objects in the pocket for years now."