The 49ers are in an interesting position.
They have two first-round picks in next week’s NFL draft after losing two starters, DeForest Buckner and Emmanuel Sanders, from their NFC Championship-winning roster. Yet there’s a 125-slot gulf before they’re scheduled to pick again in Round 5. They traded away their second-round pick last spring for pass rusher Dee Ford while their third- and fourth-round selections went to Denver in the midseason swap for Sanders in October.
Which has led to logical speculation the team is looking to trade down for more bites at the apple because they have needs beyond defensive tackle and receiver.
They could use an eventual replacement for 35-year-old left tackle Joe Staley and cornerback Richard Sherman, who’s one of the team’s four top cornerbacks unsigned beyond the coming season (K’Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley could hit free agency in 2021).
Would the 49ers trade back from No. 13, the pick they received from the Colts in exchange for Buckner? Or would they rather move back from their original pick at 31st overall? They’ll certainly consider both, though it seems more likely they would trade down from 31 after netting a plug-and-play starter at 13 that could help defend their conference crown.
So what would a trade haul look like in such a scenario?
Fortunately, we have last year’s draft to provide an example. The Rams, coming off their Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, swapped the No. 31 pick and a sixth-round choice to the Falcons for picks No. 45 (Round 2) and No. 79 (Round 3). Atlanta wound up taking offensive lineman Kaleb McGary at No. 31.
The Rams traded down again, this time with the Patriots, sending pick No. 45 for Nos. 56 (Round 2) and 101 (Round 3).
In essence, Los Angeles turned its first-round pick at 31 into three selections, one in the second round and two in the third.
What could that look like for the 49ers?
Say they draft a receiver at 13 before trading down twice for three picks on Day 2. That would give them an opportunity to add an offensive tackle like Josh Jones (Houston), Austin Jackson (USC) or Ezra Cleveland (Boise State) to groom and eventually replace Staley.
Or the club could go after a cornerback by targeting Jaylon Johnson (Utah), Trevon Diggs (Alabama), A.J. Terrell (Clemson), Noah Igbinoghene (Auburn) or Bryce Hall (Virginia).
Day 2 candidates at defensive tackle include Ross Blacklock (TCU), Neville Gallimore (Oklahoma), Jordan Elliott (Missouri) or Raekwon Davis (Alabama).
Say San Francisco drafted Javon Kinlaw at 13 to replace Buckner, there could be a slew of viable receiver options in rounds 2 and 3 like Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State), Jalen Reagor (TCU), Michael Pittman (USC), Tee Higgins (Clemson) and Denzel Mims (Baylor). Round 3 wideouts to watch include Brian Edwards (South Carolina) and Van Jefferson (Florida), who are both considered excellent route runners and good values at that point.
A case could be made the 49ers have had more success finding impact players in the middle of the draft than Round 1. They whiffed on Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster in 2017 before making good choices in 2018 (Mike McGlinchey) and 2019 (Nick Bosa). That’s a 50-50 hit rate.
Meanwhile, receiver Deebo Samuel (Round 2, 2019), linebacker Fred Warner (Round 3, 2018), tight end George Kittle (Round 5, 2017), linebacker Dre Greenlaw (Round 5, 2019) and defensive tackle D.J. Jones (Round 6, 2017) have all proven to be quality additions and core members of the roster found outside Round 1.
All of which makes the case for San Francisco to trade back, giving coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch a chance to continue replenishing the roster with affordable talent on cheap rookie contracts.