Sitting at 0-9 and with starting quarterback CJ Beathard taking a pounding weekly, it’s time to take a look at how the San Francisco 49ers can improve going into next season. The 2018 NFL Draft and Free agency provides teams with an opportunity to improve their team and build for the future. I’ll be focusing on the 2018 NFL Draft, as things stand the 49ers would have the first overall pick in the draft. The fortress of misery — also known as the Cleveland Browns sit at 0-8, and hold the second overall pick thanks to a bye week. The 49ers currently have nine draft picks, one first-round pick, one second, two third-round picks, one fourth, one fifth, one sixth, and two seventh-round picks.
General Manager John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan have a plethora of tough decisions on their hands moving forward, but with college football rapidly approaching its playoff round, a number of players have stood out. The national spotlight will give many NFL franchises looking to improve or cement their top statuses hope. Before moving forward, I’d like to point out that as it stands my team needs for the 49ers are: edge rusher, offensive-line, wide receiver and cornerback with two very special running backs making the list. This segment will also be done in two parts, one focusing on the offensive and one for the defensive players in the draft respectively. We begin with the offensive side of the ball.
By acquiring quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots, the 49ers made a statement to the rest of the league saying that they want to be competitive in 2018. If that is the case, a significant investment will be needed along the offensive-line. Why should we upgrade this position? Well, for starters versus Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, quarterback CJ Beathard was sacked 5 times and hit 11 times in total. Former starting quarterback Brian Hoyer (who has since been released) endured a similar fate. The interior offensive-line is a mess, to put it mildly. Laken Tomlinson gave up three sacks, one hit and two hurries on Sunday. Kilgore gave up one sack, two hits and a hurry per PFF.
The line has looked over matched and overwhelmed for the majority of the season, I’d recommend Mr. Lynch starts by upgrading the center position. Current starting center, Daniel Kilgore, has not looked like the same player since he broke his leg in 2014. Unfortunately for the 49ers, Kilgore is beaten constantly and embarrassed by the sheer power of certain interior defensive linemen. My fix? Frank Ragnow of Arkansas (#72) a 6’5, 317lbs. (school measurement) center who has started over twenty games for Arkansas. Ragnow is known as a superb run-blocker, and is very durable. He brings a mean streak that is much needed at the position in the Bay Area. Ragnow could be drafted in the late-second or early-third round. I just really love this guy.
The other position I’d upgrade would be the offensive-guard position. Current starter Brandon Fusco has played well and Josh Garnett will be returning next season, but I believe Quenton Nelson of Notre Dame (#56) is CFB’s most-NFL-ready player. At 6’5, 330lbs. his pure nastiness whilst run-blocking and his silky smooth pass-protection make him an extremely valuable commodity. Nelson turned down the opportunity to go pro in the past draft, where he was considered a first-round pick. Now, this year the Irish have excelled and so has he. Picking Nelson would likely cost San Francisco their first-round pick, but he’d instantly be a massive upgrade and solve a major problem for the next 8 years or so.
My last offensive-line pick would be offensive-tackle. Longest-tenured 49er Joe Staley is 33 years old, and while he has been solid, the team needs to think of the future at one of the premiere positions in football. My favorite offensive-tackle in college football is Mike McGlinchey of Notre Dame (#68) who’s listed at 6’8, 315lbs. He is an excellent pass-protector and good in the running game. With twenty starts under his belt, McGlinchey, along with Nelson are the foundation of the Notre Dame offensive-line, helping to pave the way for an impressive Irish run game. He is very likely to be a top 10 pick in 2018, as many thought he’d be a first-rounder in 2017 had he decided to declare.
If the 49ers decide to address the position later, Mitch Hyatt of Clemson (#75) could be available in the third-round. Hyatt is an ultra athletic tackle who has started over 20 games, he is very good in pass protection and solid in the run game. Mitch would fit well in a zone running scheme like the 49ers, coming out of Clemson he has been coached well. He’s listed at 6’5, 305lbs, so he could stand to get a bit heavier and stronger, as these are the two biggest concerns people have about Mitch.
Moving forward, any quarterback the 49ers put out there needs protection and it will take a significant investment to revamp this offensive-line. Just look at the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and 2016 Oakland Raiders all invested in their offensive-line, and it paid off! Giving the quarterback time to throw the ball is great, but he has to get the help from his receivers as well. As things stand, the 49ers lead the league in drops (24) and have no true #1 wide receiver. Pierre Garçon and rookie Trent Taylor are promising but we need more talent at the position. For that we take a look at some college prospects who can move the sticks through the air.
Calvin Ridley – Alabama 6’1, 188lbs. Ridley has been flashing at one of college football’s elite programs since day one on campus. He has blazing-yet-smooth speed, which is a intriguing combination as he can accelerate and/or change direction on a dime. He has over-the-top speed that will attract a lot of extra attention by opposing defenses. He tracks the ball very naturally and is a threat to score at any time. He has been clocked at 4.43 seconds, and it shows as he’s able to blow right by defenders. He will have to learn to get off the line quicker and get stronger as he gets jammed up often. He would be a great #1 option opposite of Pierre Garçon, creating quite the game changing duo. Ridley could get drafted as high as inside the top 10.
Courtland Sutton- SMU 6’4, 216lbs. Sutton is a big-framed receiver who feels very natural and uses his strong hands to seemingly pluck the ball out of thin air. He is a long-strider (projected 40 time 4.51 seconds) who has the ability to outmatch defensive backs physically — which makes him a legit redzone threat. Sutton is also one of the deadliest redzone threats, with the addition of being a willing blocker. Reports indicate hr is great teammate, has high character and could be a future captain on a NFL team. Courtland would easily move into the starting lineup for the 49ers with true superstar potential and has a completely different skill set from what they currently have on the roster. Sutton surprised many people when he decided to stay at school another year, but he is likely to declare this year and should be drafted inside the top 20.
James Washington – Oklahoma St 6’0, 205lbs. Washington is an explosive and tough receiver who can stretch the field and is a solid route-runner. He has outstanding body control paired with long arms, soft hands and leaping ability. He is great off of the snap and is also able to beat press-coverage. Even though he is only listed just over 6’0, he plays much bigger and is built almost like a running back. Washington needs to work on the drops and develop a more complete route-running tree. He definitely needs some work before being considered a #1 receiver in the NFL, but he could be a solid option opposite of Garçon at the very least. He is projected to be drafted around the 3rd/4th round.
Equanimeous St. Brown – Notre Dame 6’5, 218lbs. St Brown has freakish size, he’s coming in at 6’5 — which immediately makes him an ideal redzone target. He is able to track the ball well in the air and has solid hands. Most taller wide receivers like St Brown aren’t often fast but he has been timed 4.44 seconds, which is exceptional. Depending on his combine numbers and pro-day, he could go anywhere between the 1st and the 3rd round. If teams can look past his average numbers and focus on his potential, his draft stock may skyrocket. His stats aren’t jumping off the page by any means but that’s mainly because of the inconsistent quarterback play at Notre Dame. Even with his great measurables, he will have to continue working on his route-running to progress into a dominant receiver. He may have the biggest potential of any of the receivers on this list and he would easily be the #1 wide receiver for the 49ers.
Although the 49ers have Carlos Hyde (at least for the rest of this season), who I am a fan of, there are two dynamic running backs in college football that have really impressed. We couldn’t help but take a look at them, Saquon Barkley Penn State (#26). At 5’11, 230lbs. with monster thighs, Barkley has tallied a whopping 1,761 total yards and 15 total touchdowns this season whilst running away with the Heisman trophy. A fast-but-quick running back with patience, vision and his overall fluidity make Barkley a blue-chip NFL prospect that would enhance literally any roster. What makes Barkley even more valuable is his ability in the return game, he is extremely electric and decisive. He does have some slight concentration issues in the passing game but you’d have to be nitpicking to point this out. I could go on for days gushing about Saquon Barkley.
The other running back who has the scouting world enamored is Ronald Jones USC (#25). 6’1, 195lbs. flyer with nice vision, burst and balance. Jones has incredible speed coupled with some of the best feet in college football, a one-cut back who would probably fit in any system. Jones is a sophomore who also sprints for the Trojans track team. He is a great athlete that scouts will love. This would be a safe pick for any team needing a running back.