We're just a day away from the start of the 2018 NFL Draft, and there's still no clear indication as to what the San Francisco 49ers might do with the ninth-overall pick. That's somewhat new territory to be in as draft experts have been pretty spot on the last three years.
Solomon Thomas was widely regarded as a lock to be the second-overall pick in 2017 (he ended up going third following a trade with the Chicago Bears). Two years ago, everyone had DeForest Buckner tabbed to the 49ers with the No. 7 pick. Even in 2015, when the 49ers entered the draft with the 15th-overall pick, many saw Arik Armstead as San Francisco's likely choice (he went 17th following a trade with the San Diego Chargers).
The amount of unknowns ahead of this year's draft adds to the intrigue of the first round. We have no idea who is going to go pick Nos. 1-8, let alone what San Francisco will do with the ninth pick. In this mailbag we'll talk through some of the many potential outcomes.
I'll go with Georgia's Roquan Smith, Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds and Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick.
As far as the two linebackers go, it depends whether or not you want Smith's polish or Edmunds' potential. Smith was the far more productive player in college. Edmunds, who measured in at 6-foot-5 and 253 pounds, has been compared to Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, but he's also far less of a sure thing.
Fitzpatrick is my pick for the best defensive back in this year's class. His position versatility will allow him to match up with a wide variety of offensive skill players. By all accounts, he's a leader, a diligent worker and will be a great addition to any locker room.
I truly don't think you can go wrong with any of the three.
It makes sense to group these three questions together. Don't be surprised if the 49ers move back in this year's draft. Unless there's a player still on the board that is a clear-cut choice based on the 49ers grading scale, it just makes sense to trade backwards and acquire additional draft capital. This entire process is an inexact process. General managers who hit on 50 percent of their draft picks are usually seen as some of the league's top personnel men. Teams work diligently to improve their hit rate by mere percentage points.
So if you know going in that you're not going to shoot 100 percent, doesn't it make sense to give yourself as many shots as possible? Now, whether or not John Lynch finds himself fielding trade offers all depends on which quarterbacks are still on the board. Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen may all go in the top eight. But if one falls to No. 9, San Francisco will be in a prime spot to trade back. There's also an outside shot that a team becomes enamored with Lamar Jackson and looks to move into the top 10.
I'll base my ideal trade scenario on what Lynch said earlier this week. He noted that the 49ers have given 12 players Pro Bowl grades. If the quarterback-needy Buffalo Bills look to trade with San Francisco, the 49ers would end up at pick No. 12 and be guaranteed one of their top 12 prospects.
Potentially. This seems more likely if the 49ers move out of the ninth pick and acquire additional selections. After pick No. 9, San Francisco doesn't go on the clock again until the end of the second round at pick No. 59 (from the New Orleans Saints). Both Mike Gesicki and Equanimeous St. Brown could go earlier than that.
Gesicki should go first as he's viewed as one of the top pass-catching tight ends in this class. The Penn State product caught 57 passes last season for 563 yards and nine touchdowns. St. Brown, while his production at Notre Dame wasn't huge in 2017 (33 receptions, 515 yards and four touchdowns), is one of the draft's few big-bodied receivers (6-foot-5). It's very plausible that a team falls in love with his size and potential and grabs him earlier than expected.
Harold Landry remains this year's most intriguing prospect in my opinion. He's a complete wildcard in that opinions on him are all over the map. The Boston College pass rusher has obviously become wildly popular among 49ers fans. And yet, not a single expert predicted that the 49ers would take Landry on our final Mock Draft Monday (out of 17 total mocks).
He's clearly an athletic freak with measurables that compare favorably to a few standout NFL players. It also makes sense that 49ers fans would love to see Landry become the elite edge rusher that doesn't currently exist on the roster. But Lynch and Co. simply aren't going to reach for Landry unless they believe he's capable of becoming that elite guy. It's possible (I have no idea where he ranks on the 49ers big board), but I'd be surprised.
I'd imagine so. Quenton Nelson is a unanimous top five prospect, and I'm yet to see anyone provide a legitimate knock on his game. He'd be a plug-and-play monster who would project to be a Pro Bowler sooner rather than later. I'd be shocked if he made it to No. 9, though.
I'm guessing you're referring to what Lynch said on Monday about how Solomon Thomas might play LEO on early downs before moving inside on passing downs. I don't think that statement has any impact on what the 49ers will do in the first round. If the 49ers don't take a pass rusher with the ninth pick, I think that would speak more to who's left on the board at that point. N.C. State's Bradley Chubb will almost assuredly be scooped up before the 49ers go on the clock. We covered Landry earlier, but I also think most would see UTSA's Marcus Davenport as a reach as No. 9.
The caveat here, once again, is whether or not the 49ers trade back. Landry or Davenport could be options if they find themselves picking somewhere in the teens.
I'd be very surprised, both because Kyle Shanahan has made it clear that he feels good about the wide receivers currently on the roster and because there isn't a top 10 caliber receiver in this year's draft. Alabama's Calvin Ridley and SMU's Courtland Sutton are widely regarded as the top two pass catchers, but most project them to go in the mid-teens at the earliest.