With the 49ers sitting at 1-9 on a bye week — and a near guaranteed top-5 pick — now is a great time to start looking ahead to the 2018 NFL Draft.
It’s (very) early in the draft process, so names and ranking are sure to change. There are months of declarations, workouts, medical checks, smokescreens and free agency that will have a major impact on what happens in April.
That said, it’s no fun to be practical and shrug your shoulders when it comes to the draft, so here’s my first projection for the San Francisco 49ers in 2018. This mock is more about looking at positions of need at certain stages of the draft and getting to know some of the names who could be a fit in scarlet and gold.
John Lynch has proven to be as active as any GM in the league in his short time running the franchise, and I expect that to continue, so trades were included in this mock. The Jimmy Garoppolo acquisition has afforded the 49ers a ton of flexibility at the top of the draft.
This draft was simulated at fanspeak.com.
Round 1 (11): Quenton Nelson | OG | Notre Dame
Quenton Nelson is a stud, folks. pic.twitter.com/Uye0QaCClq
— J.R. (@JReidDraftScout) September 15, 2017
Not a sexy pick to start things off, but Nelson is universally thought of as the top offensive lineman in the 2018 class. Drafting a guard becomes much more palatable at pick 11 rather than No. 2 overall. In this exercise, the New York Jets were game to move up for a quarterback, offering multiple day 2 selections. Nelson is the type of prospect that you pencil into the starting lineup on day one and checks all the boxes for John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan for talent, toughness and football character.
Round 1 (21): Harold Landry | DE | Boston College
— Kevin Brown (@nfldraftnik) October 29, 2017
This is where trading down from a top-3 pick can really pay off. Not only could the 49ers still grab an elite talent in the first round, but it gives them the ability to move back into round one if the right player at the right position is falling. John Lynch worked a similar strategy in 2017 to select Reuben Foster. It took exactly the haul from moving down from No. 2 to move back up to 21, so essentially the trade was pick 2 for 11 and 21.
I’ve talked a lot on the podcast about the need to add a flexible edge rusher to complete the young and talented defensive line in San Francisco. Landry may be somewhat undersized for some teams at 6-3, 250 and hasn’t been as productive in 2018 as 2017, so that’s why he could still be on the board at 21. He would be an ideal fit for the “LEO” weakside defensive end role in San Francisco.
This is an ideal scenario. The only OL/Edge combination I’d prefer would be NC State DE Bradley Chubb and OT Connor Williams of Texas (who could play guard early then eventually replace Joe Staley at LT). Chubb was gone at pick 11 (Colts at 4) and Williams went to the Seahawks at 20. Wide receiver would be another position that could warrant a trade-up, but it doesn’t look like a top-heavy class. Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton and James Washington look like the first round prospects at WR. CB could be a first round consideration as well. Some of these needs will surely be addressed with free agents.
Round 2 (60): Equanimeous St. Brown | WR | Notre Dame
— Kevin Brown (@nfldraftnik) November 18, 2017
I wanted to be in on “E.Q.” before the bandwagon gets rolling. St. Brown is an interesting prospect, not just for his name and ability to speak three languages. Most importantly, he’s a big play receiver and fluid mover at 6-5. Size is something sorely lacking from the current group of receivers in San Francisco. Notre Dame shifted to a run-heavy offense this season, which may push St. Brown toward declaring for the draft after getting roughly half as many targets than his sophomore campaign last year when DeShone Kizer was his QB and he racked up 961 yards and nine touchdowns.
Round 3 (66): Frank Ragnow | C | Arkansas
— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) October 25, 2017
Ragnow is one of the best centers in college football and depending on how free agency goes, it’s a huge position of need going forward. Daniel Kilgore is in the last year of his contract and the 49ers are in need of an upgrade. This was an easy selection, even after projecting another interior offensive lineman in the first.
Round 3 (74): Ronald Jones II | RB | USC
That jump cut by Ronald Jones.. pic.twitter.com/U0DpAJEZ4r
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) September 10, 2017
I’m firmly in the “wait on running back” camp and that pays off in another deep class. Even if free agent-to-be Carlos Hyde doesn’t come back, there’s no reason to panic and draft a RB in round one. Kyle Shanahan likes explosive runners, so Jones fits that mold, but he also plays with enough power to break arm tackles and hits cutback lanes with a slashing style before getting downhill. Matt Breida is more of a change-of-pace back and last year’s fourth rounder Joe Williams remains a wildcard after losing his rookie season to injury. Jones might blaze at the combine. If he does, he might not get out of round two.
Round 4 (133): Kevin Toliver | CB | LSU
Kevin Toliver. My favorite cornerback in the draft.. sound press technique.. good off coverage zone eyes.. and he can also do this.. pic.twitter.com/cr3l973i9S
— CrockTIME (@eric_crocker) November 19, 2017
The 49ers go back to the well at LSU for a long, lean cornerback and hope for better results than they got from Rashard Robinson in the fourth round of 2016. Toliver, who fits the length profile for Robert Saleh’s scheme at 6-3, 200, isn’t getting a lot of attention by draft media, but could be a riser.
Round 5 (149): Skai Moore | LB | South Carolina
— Matt O'Brien (@mattobrien31) November 18, 2017
Moore is undersized at 6-2, 218, but has been extremely productive at South Carolina and could be just what the 49ers need at weakside linebacker with his athleticism and coverage skills (Gamecocks career leader in INT’s). Robert Saleh utilized a similar sized LB in Telvin Smith when he coached that position in Jacksonville.
Round 6 (181): Allen Lazard | WR | Iowa State
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 15, 2017
Lazard is a huge wide receiver (6-5, 225) that may not run extremely well leading up to the draft, but is a former hoopster that plays the position like a power forward. If Lynch and Co. aren’t able to find a big-bodied pass-catcher in free agency or early in the draft, Lazard could be a day three target. Potentially a monster redzone weapon and maybe even convert to “move TE” at the next level.
Round 7 (224): Mike McCray | LB | Michigan
— Kevin Brown (@nfldraftnik) November 18, 2017
Staying with power-5 prospects here, but there are some small school players that will undoubtedly pepper the late rounds. I’ll be able to watch more of them when tape becomes available and the postseason all-star circuit gets underway. McCray gets the nod here due to his ability to play standing up but also get after the quarterback and enough size (6-4, 240) to set the edge. For that reason he seems like a very nice fit for SAM linebacker in the 49ers’ scheme.
Round 7 (249): Tyree Robinson | S | Oregon
— TBP College Football (@thebluepennant) September 9, 2017
Eric Reid is a free agent in 2018, followed by Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward after next year, so unless some money is spent on extensions before the draft, safety can’t be ignored. Not to mention, all three of those players have dealt with numerous injuries. Robinson is a rangy safety in the Adrian Colbert mold. Has lined up all over the defensive backfield at Oregon, including cornerback and deep centerfield. At 6-3, 205 with 4.5 speed, his stock could rise after spring workouts.