Recently, San Francisco 49ers’ General Manager John Lynch won a coin toss dual with Jon Gruden, the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, for the draft positioning rights to the ninth overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft in April.
It’s been said that the most important position on the football field is the quarterback, and obviously there’s no denying that. But how does the pecking order follow in terms of most important position? Great question. Allow me a moment of your time to lay out the pecking order from my perspective and through my football lens.
Disclaimer: This article will be written ( Lynch is open to trading their top pick) as if the 49ers will be staying put at the ninth pick.
The franchise quarterbacks (the Jimmy Garoppolo’s of the world) are always in need of blindside protectors (left tackle aka..Joe Staley… new deal in the works… comes in second).
Next up and coming in third is a position that gets paid millions to sack your franchise quarterback and disrupt/wreck your offensive continuity, the “Pass-Rusher.”
Here’s where it gets interesting. How so? The 49ers have a more pressing need for a cornerback rather than a wide receiver (reason for the title), so a shutdown corner (comes in fourth) trumps receiver here.
Coming in fifth in this pecking order I’ve penciled in offensive guard, which is being altered based on the 49ers needs, draft board and the best prospect that might become available. But hey, not any old guard will do (more protection for Jimmy G). In this spot, he’ll have to be a rare talent to be considered at nine.
Now hold that thought.
Without further ado let’s look at some of the 49ers top prospects and options (glaring team needs), at their respective positions, and who’s worthy of being selected with the ninth overall pick at a glance.
Harold Landry, OLB Boston College. 6’3”, 250 lbs., 21, Senior (PFF grade of 83.9) is a pure pass-rusher with an extremely quick first step, playmaking ability, and a high motor (as seen in his video highlights).
Landry recently spoke with the 49ers, in 2017 he accounted for 38 total tackles combined, eight and a half tackles for losses and five sacks (25 career sacks) in eight games. Landry needs more counter pass rushing moves (paging 49ers’ pass rush specialist Chris Kiffin) in his arsenal, and some additional strength and muscle couldn’t hurt (missed last four games with an ankle injury). Landry’s combine results.
Bradley Chubb, DE NC State, Height 6’4”, 275 lbs., 21, Senior (PFF grade of 89.4) is an all-purpose 4-3 defensive end that’s big and powerful to go with super athleticism (2017 ACC Defensive Player of the Year is the all-time leader in sacks and tackles-for-loss for NC State) can rush the passer and play the run at an elite level (as seen in his video highlights).
Chubb is an all-around technician at his craft with a high motor. In 2017 he accounted for 72 total tackles combined, 23 tackles for losses and 10 sacks (25 career sacks) in 12 games. Chubb combine results.
Joshua Jackson, CB Iowa, 6’1”, 192 lbs., 21, Junior (PFF grade of 96.2 his ever in college) has the size that 49ers’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh covets in his cover three scheme. Only 17 corners in this year’s draft class surrendered more than the four touchdowns Jackson gave up. Jackson can use some coaching up/fine tuning in his off-man and press-man technique with his hand placement, which is natural, seeing how he’s only started playing cornerback since 2015. But his upside is through the roof.
Side note: Concerned about his 40-time? Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman ran a 4.56 at his combine debut. How’s that worked out?
In 2017, Jackson allowed a passer rating of just 36.5, the fifth-best mark in the class while recording eight interceptions, 18 passes break ups (PBU) and 48 tackles. Jackson repeatedly showcased his speed, trusted tackling ability, ball skills, and athleticism to play and excel at the next level (as seen in his video highlights).
Denzel Ward, CB Ohio State, 5’10”, 191lbs., 21, Junior (PFF grade of 91.4) is the best pure cover/lockdown cornerback in the draft, and even the best receivers he’s faced have had a hard time getting open as well as getting separation. Don’t let Ward’s lack of size deter you from considering him as a legitimate option at the ninth pick (see Lynch’s former Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ teammate Ronde Barber who’s 5′ 10′ and Hall-of-Fame bound).
Ward recorded 37 tackles, 15 PBU’s, and two interceptions (allowed an NFL passer rating of 52.9) in 2017. Ward has great footwork and fluid hips to switch his direction effortlessly as receivers come out of their breaks.
He also possesses long arms, great ball/cover skills (can be overly aggressive at times), ferocious tackling ability (prone to missed tackles at times), and has the vertical leaping ability to help combat the much taller receivers on contested jump balls (as seen in his video highlights).
Quenton Nelson, OG Norte Dame, 6′ 5″, 325 lbs., 22, Junior is a strong an powerful ( 35 reps at the combine) mountain of a young man that displays a nastiness and a thirst for competition. According to Pro Football Focus, “Nelson is dominant in the run game, leading all guards with a 96.4 grade in 2017 and ranking fifth at 89.5 in 2016. He’s improved every year in pass protection, allowing only five pressures last season.”
Nelson is the best at his position and some scouts have even talked about him possibly moving to tackle. Nelson has been compared to Hall-of-Fame offensive linemen Larry Allen, and he’s a sure lock to go in the top10, but will he be there at nine, is the question.
Linebackers (The Reuben Foster Effect)
Tremaine Edmunds, LB Virginia Tech, 6′ 5″, 250 lbs., 19, Junior (PFF grade of 87.2) is freakishly and athletically gifted with a rare combination of size and speed (40 yard dash time of 4.54). He has elite level lateral quickness, good sideline-to-side pursuit, length and the burst to be disruptive in the pocket as an edge rusher (as seen in his video highlights).
He’s totaled 108 combined tackles, five and a half sacks, three forced fumbles, four hits and 13 hurries in 2017. Needs to work on defensive gap integrity (overruns plays ala former 49ers’ linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong), tries to rely on his athletic ability too much and could stand to add more upper and lower body strength. Nothing coaching and strength conditioning couldn’t correct. He’s totaled 108 combined tackles, 14.0 tackles for losses, five and a half sacks, three forced fumbles, four hits and 13 hurries in 2017.
Roquan Smith, LB Georgia, 6’ 1”, 225 lbs., 19, Junior (PFF grade of 90.8) has incredible closing speed and burst, very athletic, displays the ability to rush the passer with elite cover skills (coverage grade 88.5), although it hasn’t translated to interceptions, it shows up on film (as seen in his video highlights). Smith can also stop the run and rush the passer.
Simply put, he can do it all. He’s totaled 137 combined tackles, 14.0 tackles for losses, six and a half sacks, 22 total pressures and one forced fumble in 2017. Smith passed on benching at the combine to improve his strength in his shoulder. Has no major weakness in his game.
What’s behind draft door No. 9? Pass-Rusher? Cornerback? Guard? Or Linebacker?
The 49ers were towards the bottom of the league at getting after the quarterback (30 sacks), and 22nd in pass defense, accounting for only 10 interceptions and are in dire need to pair someone with cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. John Lynch has several options at his disposal and has key decisions to make on draft day.
Let’s assume, however, that the following players are off the board; Nelson, Smith, Chubb and running back Saquon Barkley (expected to be taken earlier in the draft) who’s not on my list for that reason.
That leaves Landry, Edmunds (linebacker is being considered base on the Foster situation), Ward, and Jackson as options. With that being said, my choices are now narrowed down to a pass-rusher or a shutdown corner.
The NFC West has the L.A. Rams’ Jarred Goff, Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, and a new quarterback coming shortly via free agency or the draft to the Arizona Cardinals. Someone has to put pressure on these guys and take them down, and that someone, based on the information in this article, is Landry, ( Pro Football Focus also has Landry being selected by the 49ers in their mock draft) who’s been compared to Vic Beasley (15.5 sacks in 2016) of the Atlanta Falcons.
Please join us again soon on Niners Live, the home of the faithful fan and analyst from an objective/analytical lens, of course. Often imitated, but never duplicated.
All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Content Creator, player break down specialist, Co-Editor Sequoia Sims.