It's that time of year again as pundits and fans alike turn their attention to how teams can better improve their roster with young, up and coming talent through the draft. The 2021 NFL Draft is set to take place in Cleveland, with the first round beginning on April 29. Rounds 2 and 3 will be on April 30, while Rounds 4-7 finish up on May 1.
Leading up to Night 1, national analysts will boast a series of projections of where collegiate players will land and potential moves teams could make to steadily improve their respective rosters. After finishing the season 6-10, the 49ers currently own the 12th-overall pick in this year's draft.
Projections are likely to change over the next few months given the impact of the NFL Scouting Combine, free agency and a number of other factors that can alter a team's needs (Of note, the 49ers have 41 impending free agents). With that, here is the first (of many) Mock Draft Mondays looking at what several draft analysts predict the 49ers to do with the 12th-overall pick.
Todd McShay, ESPN: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
"The 49ers pass defense was a strength this season, ranking fourth in yards allowed per game (207.9). But here's the list of pending unrestricted free agents at cornerback: Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon, K'Waun Williams and Dontae Johnson. Injuries hurt San Francisco all over this season, but there isn't a bigger question mark on the team going forward than at corner. Enter Farley, a 2020 opt-out with terrific ball skills. He had four interceptions for the Hokies in 2019.
"Could the Niners make a change at QB? Of course, especially if Justin Fields were actually to fall this far. (He is dropping in this mock mainly because there aren't any trades.) Jimmy Garoppolo is only under contract for two more seasons, has very little guaranteed money still owed to him and has battled injuries during his time with the 49ers."
Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports: OL Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
"Regardless of who's at quarterback for San Francisco next season, he'll need better blocking. Slater can play guard or would be an awesome eventual replacement for Trent Williams at left tackle."
Michael Renner, Pro Football Focus: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
- TRADE: 49ers acquire No. 4 overall pick
"There are a few reasons why I strongly believe the 49ers will be the team most likely to sell the farm for one of these quarterbacks. The first is that quarterback classes like this don't come around every year. The 49ers are too good to truly bottom-out, and they end up in a position to take one here.
"Also, head coach Kyle Shanahan has never had himself a true franchise guy since taking over for the 49ers, and we saw what he did with one in Atlanta. The final reason is that all of the top guys are mobile — an element we've seen take run games around the league to the next level. Shanahan created magic with RG3 as a rookie, and I believe he could do something similar with Fields."
Brentley Weissman, The Draft Network: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
- TRADE: San Francisco receives 4th-overall pick from Atlanta in exchange for 12th-overall pick, 44th-overall pick and a 2022 first-round pick.
"OK, am I going off the rails a bit here? Possibly, but this is my mock and this is what I would do for both teams. The Falcons could consider a quarterback here, but I think it's in this franchise's best interest both short- and long-term to acquire picks and continue to build this roster and add youthful talent. The Falcons are in cap hell, and will need to gut this roster to even field a team. I'd rather have picks to build this team up now, rather than have a young quarterback on the bench.
"The team can then look to get their QB of the future next year when their overall situation is a little more stable. The 49ers have to be aggressive in adding a quarterback. We have seen how good of a coach Kyle Shanahan is, and how when healthy, this roster is ready to win. Jimmy Garoppolo remains a major question mark from a health standpoint, and I believe Shanahan wants to get his own guy at the position. Trey Lance is the forgotten guy in this quarterback class, and I wonder if that would be the case if he was able to play more than just one game this season.
Lance has a big arm, is very athletic and can make every throw on the field look easy. If we do have a combine, I wouldn't be shocked at all to see Lance begin to push for QB3 or even QB2—that's how talented of a thrower he is. With his skill set and Shanahan as his coach, the sky's the limit for Lance."
Ryan Wilson, CBS Sports: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
"Kyle Shanahan said recently that Jimmy Garoppolo is his QB for 2021, but that doesn't mean the team can't (or won't) plan for the future. 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."
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
"Lance is slowly climbing back up boards with his massive upside. As more teams see tapes of his one statistically brilliant lone season as a starter (2,786 yards passing, 28 TDs, no INTs, 1,100 yards rushing, 14 TDs) it's harder to ignore the impressive physical and athletic skills he displayed in his first full season of action. The 49ers can get out of Jimmy Garoppolo's contract and needs to shoot for the QB ceiling to better dominate with their array of offensive skill talent, including George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Lance's running would add a new dangerous element to Kyle Shanahan's scheme and he has the head, quick release and accuracy to handle the passing precision of it all."
Josh Edwards, CBS Sports: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
"Patrick Surtain II has not seen many passes thrown his way this season and he may not see much more moving forward as the talented San Francisco defensive line returns from injury in 2021."
Joe Marino, The Draft Network: OL Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
"The 49ers face a contract decision with Trent Williams—they should make every effort to retain him. Even if they do, the San Francisco offensive line needs an upgrade on the interior. In Slater, the 49ers would have an immediate starter at either guard or tackle, providing either a boost to the interior or a replacement for Williams."
Ian Cummings, Pro Football Network: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
"It's time for the 49ers to get a quarterback who simply does more. Zach Wilson is the ideal pick with his moxie and off-script ability, but Trey Lance is an excellent consolation prize.
"Lance has superior athleticism and also has good arm talent and deep throwing ability. He can add another element to San Francisco's offense, although pairing him with a veteran in his first year would be beneficial."
Cory Kinnan, WithTheFirstPick.com: CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
"The second cornerback comes off the board in this 2021 NFL Mock Draft as the San Francisco 49ers come on the clock with the 12th pick. With the Richard Sherman era coming to an end, and with Ahkello Witherspoon, Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley also in need of a new contract, the 49ers must prioritize upgrading their secondary this offseason.
"With the 12th-overall pick here, the Niners land the scrappy and physical South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn. He is the son of a former NFL wide receiver, so he has NFL in his DNA, and he has the play on the field to back up his high level of competitiveness. From South Carolina to San Francisco, the Niners land Horn here."