The first and hopefully only all-virtual NFL draft is in the books. Not that the draft itself was necessarily bad but watching Roger Goodell slowly sinking lower and lower in his chair wasn’t exactly the height of entertainment. Between that and playing two truths and a tragedy with nearly every draft pick, there is room for improvement if this ever needs to happen again (God forbid). I’m just glad he kept his pants on after he hit the “over it” phase of the evening:
San Francisco went into the draft with 7 picks and a handful of needs on both sides of the ball. I certainly had my opinion on what direction they could go. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch kept things fairly tame on day 1 at #14 and #25 but they went absolutely wild on day 3.
Need 1: Reinforce the Defensive Line
The biggest loss during San Francisco’s off-season was DT DeForest Buckner. The 49ers front-office faced an unlikely situation of trying to re-sign both Buckner (FA in 2021) and Arik Armstead (FA 2020) to keep their dominant defensive front together for the next several years. They chose to sign Armstead and trade Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for pick #13 in the 2020 draft. Buckner then became the second-highest paid DT in the league (behind Aaron Donald). How do you replace an All-Pro? Taking another DT in the first round is a good place to start.
With their sparse draft capital, getting Derrick Brown was never going to be a realistic option. Instead, Lynch and Shanahan set their sights on Javon Kinlaw, who was widely regarded as the #2 DT in the draft. They managed to get their guy and walk away with pick #117 from Tampa Bay. There are no drawbacks to this trade.
Move Grade: A
Need 2: Strengthen the Receiving Corps
San Francisco has been searching for a reliable receiver for what feels like decades. Michael Crabtree is probably the closest thing the 49ers have had since T.O. and the team parted ways after the 2003 season. Both Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne have laid the groundwork for becoming reliable options but both need to show their consistency next season. Drafting Brandon Aiyuk also sent a message to the team: the WR group must improve in 2020.
San Francisco packaged their #31 and #176 picks along with the pick they had just gotten from the trade with the Bucs (#117) and moved up to #25 in a deal with the Vikings. This deal is actually a great value for the 49ers but was a surprise at the time. After passing on both CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy at #14, most were expecting them to either stay at #31 and take the BPA or to move back into day 2.
Now that Shanahan has been talking about Aiyuk, it’s clear that he is Kyle’s guy. He brings all the traits Kyle is looking for in a WR and was their primary WR target at that point in the draft. Lynch and Shanahan are not afraid to move up to get their guy if there is a concern he might not fall to them and they have mentioned rumors that Aiyuk wouldn’t have been there at #31 if they stayed put. From a trade value perspective, the 3 picks they gave up would have been an equal value to moving up to #27. Overall, good value.
Move Grade: A
Need 3: Offensive Tackle
The biggest splash move the 49ers made on day 3 of the NFL draft occurred while they weren’t even on the clock. News broke during the beginning of the 4th round that the 49ers were signing Pro-Bowl OT Trent Williams. Technically, San Francisco didn’t DRAFT Williams but it worked so well it couldn’t be left out of the final tally.
The initial excitement of that trade gave way to the realization that San Francisco’s own Pro-Bowl OT, Joe Staley, was likely retiring. He confirmed this later that same day. The price? Pick #156 in 2020 and a 2021 third-rounder. I don’t see how this move could have been any better. Replacing a player of Staley’s caliber with a comparably skilled player who is 4 years younger is a dream scenario. Williams will play this year on the last year of his contract and is hopeful for an extension beyond that. We will see if the front office can get that done.
Move Grade: A
Target 1: Offensive Line Help
RG Mike Person was cut early on in the off-season and Tom Compton doesn’t look like an upgrade. Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill both filled in as needed during the 2019 season to varying degrees of success. I would consider Brunskill the front runner for the RG position but its hardly a lock. They needed to add another piece without breaking the bank and found a willing trade partner.
RB Matt Breida saw his role shrink over the latter portion of last year and was linked to trade talks throughout the off-season. Those rumors finally came to fruition when the 49ers traded him to the Dolphins in exchange for pick #153. This was a good trade for all involved. Breida will get another chance to make an impact behind Jordan Howard in Miami and San Francisco was able to reinforce their line. They used the pick to select OT Colton McKivitz from West Virginia. Whether he will be filling the swing tackle role or battling for the RG position remains to be seen.
Move Grade: A
Target 2: A Big Receiver
The final pick for the 49ers in the 2020 draft was Tennessee WR, Jauan Jennings. Jennings is a tough, big-bodied receiver who brings a size element that was missing from the WR room last season. Jalen Hurd was taken in the 3rd round in 2019 to fill this role but a back injury during the preseason caused him to miss his rookie season entirely. Both could potentially fill either an X or big slot role in this offense. I think these two will be battling for a roster spot this off-season, with the loser bound for the practice squad. Jennings will never wow anyone with his speed (4.72) but his main usage would likely be in the red zone. Not a bad return on a conditional 7th-round pick.
Move Grade: A-
Target 3: A Tight End 2
San Francisco was linked to a number of off-season rumors about tight ends but nothing has materialized from them. Ross Dwelley is the current TE 2 on the team and doesn’t have much competition now that Levine Toilolo is on the Giants. San Francisco made another day 3 trade to help shore up this position as well.
Marquise Goodwin was an extremely important part of San Francisco’s WR corps when he came on board in 2017 but he has seen his role dwindle each year since. He struggled to stay healthy and will likely benefit from a fresh start in Philadelphia. This trade sent pick #210 along with Goodwin to Philadelphia in exchange for pick #190.
The 49ers used that pick to select Georgia TE, Charlie Woerner. Woerner has great run blocking ability and will likely make his greatest impact on special teams, at least initially. He doesn’t project as much of a receiving threat. Only two other TEs were taken after Woerner and he likely would have been available as a UDFA after the draft. I think this was a missed opportunity (explained below) but it didn’t cost much.
Move Grade: C
Here is the missed opportunity mentioned before. San Francisco is going to have an issue at cornerback in 2021. Emmanuel Moseley (RFA), Ahkello Witherspoon (UFA), K’Waun Williams (UFA), and Richard Sherman (UFA) will all be in need of new contracts next season. They must have supreme confidence that Moseley or Whitherspoon will take a step forward this year. 2019 sixth-round pick, Tim Harris, and the oft-injured Jason Verrett would be candidates for the CB position as well.
Harris was a high-upside prospect that San Francisco took in the 6th round despite his injury history. Injuries kept him out of all but 4 games between his 2016 and 2017 seasons while in college. He was healthy for all of his 2018 senior year. Tim’s rookie season was over before it really started; he was placed on IR in August of 2019. Verrett is cut from the same cloth: a fantastic player “when healthy.” Verrett earned a place in the Pro Bowl in 2015. That was also the only season he played more than 6 games and did not end up on IR. This is a disaster waiting to happen.
Pick #190 should have been used to add depth to the position. 7 CBs were selected after this point in the draft and only 2 more TEs were taken. Those 7 likely won’t become immediate impact players for their teams but it certainly dries out the UDFA pool.
Move Grade: D
Final GPA: B+
Overall, the 49ers drafted well and filled most of their positions of need. They made sensible trades that benefited the teams and players alike. San Francisco missed on the opportunity to add depth to the cornerback position but added both youth and experience to the offensive line.