Trade Up, Stay Put, Trade Out - 49ers 1st Round Draft Scenarios

The Niners face a choice, trade up for their future left tackle, or revert to form and take a needed edge setter.

It’s a risk to stay put at 31 in the first round of the NFL draft. The San Francisco 49ers can wait, but should they? In a draft where the first-round talent dries up in the early 20s, and the second tier is a clear drop down but deep, a move up or down may be the smart play.

TRADING UP

The thinking with a move up is the 49ers need impact. In my view, this draft has six players that can truly replace Trent Williams at left tackle in two years. Go get one.

Kyle Shanahan will be tempted to look around in a significant move up.  Georgia tight end Brock Bowers has been compared to George Kittle, LSU wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. has some Brandon Aiyuk in his game, and Iowa’s Cooper DeJean is a ball-hawking, punt returning safety.  

That said, the biggest need and the toughest task is to replace Williams. This draft has one that may drop to the 20s in Georgia’s Amarius Mims. He's an injury risk with just eight games played, but when he’s on the field he’s played well, proving himself vs. Ohio State in 2022.

A move up for Mims would cost a first and a third-round pick at 24, or a 1st packaged with a 4th and 5th to get to 28. An Aiyuk trade could be another path, but negotiations need to play out to get clarity. I expect the Niners hope to keep him.

If DeJean drops to the late 20s a small move up for him is a possibility.

STAYING PUT

If the Niners want to keep their first three picks they wait to see who falls to 31. It becomes an eye of the beholder pick.

For Faithful desperate for a right tackle that’s Tyler Guyton of Oklahoma if he falls, Arizona’s Jordan Morgan, or BYU’s Kingsley Suamataia.

Guyton has the prototypical size but plays too tall, lacks power, and needs technique work. Morgan doesn’t drive his man off the line in the run game, he locks on and stonewalls, a better pass protector. The inverse of Kyle Shanahan’s priorities on the line. Suamataia has 5-star tools but hasn’t put his technique together. When he lost at practices in Mobile, scouts and analysts pointed to a lack of technique in losing to both superior power and speed.

Guyton is projected for early to late 20s, Morgan mid-2nd, Suamataia late 2nd-early 3rd.

Ok then, who’s worth it at 31? Defensive line if they’re sold on 3-Tech Jer’Zhan Newton of Illinois, questioned for his short arms, or Penn State’s Chop Robinson the fastest, twitchiest edge. Darius Robinson of Missouri gets talked up as a potential Arik Armstead replacement.

In the secondary, Nate Wiggins is a fast cover corner with 4.28 40 speed, but at 173 pounds he’s too light to stop the run. Kool-Aid McKinstry has excellent cover skills but can be lacking in run support.

The X-factor is to take a wide receiver at 31, and the choice is to stay put or drop down for who they want.

If the Niners stay put, the most likely pick would seem to be on the defensive line with Newton or Chop if they fall. Guyton is gone, it’s too early for the other tackles, the late 1st-early 2nd tier of wide receivers, and the top linebackers.

TRADING DOWN

The lack of great options at 31 makes the argument for moving out of the first round. If quarterbacks Bo Nix or Oregon or UW’s Michael Penix Jr. are still on the board teams could look to move into the first round to get the extra contract year.

For the Niners, the trade haul of moving back isn’t that great, probably the 2nd rounder and a 5th, but it gives them more ammunition to move up and down. This is a draft where maneuverability can be a real asset to get targets at optimal draft slot value.

If they trade down, who would be the target? At wide receiver, possibly Malachi Corley of Western Kentucky or South Carolina’s Xavier Legette. Corley is compared to Deebo Samuel as a wide back YAC target. Corley lacks a fully developed route tree, and the body type has led to injuries for Samuel, but the Niners will bring him in for a 30 visit. Legette brings physicality, excellent hands, and return skills with 4.39 speed.

On the offensive line, centers Jackson Powers-Johnson of Oregon and Zach Frazier of West Virginia, guard Christian Haynes of UConn and Washington tackle Roger Rosengarten could be targets.

At defensive line, Marshawn Kneeland of Western Michigan is quietly moving into the top 50, and brings a needed skillset as an excellent run defender that sets the edge well. He’s also coming in for a top-30 visit. Kneeland has the size and athleticism the Niners prefer as a 6-3/267 edge with 34-inch arms and a track background.

At linebacker, the top players in the class are there in the 2nd, but the 49ers are showing an interest in Kentucky’s Trevin Wallace, projected for the late 3rd round.

In the secondary, Ennis Rakestraw is the draft’s best run defender at corner. Players with the skill profile the Niners prefer like T.J. Tampa and Max Melton will also be there.

I think the Niners are better off moving up for Mims or targeting Kneeland. Keep an eye on the big edge, he checks the boxes: fills a critical team need to stop the run at the edge, has the preferred body type, and will make the telltale 30 visit.


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Tom Jensen

TOM JENSEN