Football

49ers mock drafts: Could first-round pick be the final piece to building a winner?

Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds runs a drill during the NFL scouting combine Sunday in Indianapolis. He's a popular pick among draft analysts to land with the 49ers.
Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds runs a drill during the NFL scouting combine Sunday in Indianapolis. He's a popular pick among draft analysts to land with the 49ers. The Associated Press

After four consecutive down years, the 49ers are showing signs of returning to their winning ways.

San Francisco finished 6-10 last season, with those victories coming in the final seven games after acquiring quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in a trade.

The winning hasn't just been on the field. In the 49ers' latest victory of sorts, they won a coin flip with their Bay Area rivals and will pick ninth in the first round of the NFL draft, which kicks off April 26 in Arlington, Texas. The Raiders, who also finished 6-10, have the 10th pick.

So who will the 49ers take with that pick? Here’s a look at what some analysts are saying about the team’s draft prospects.

ESPN (Insider)

Updated Feb. 21 (Kiper) and March 7 (McShay)

After agreeing in past mocks, ESPN analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay are no longer on the same page.

Kiper is sticking with Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward as the 49ers' best option. According to his NFL.com draft profile, Ward has “supreme athletic ability” and allowed just a 32 percent completion rate over the last two seasons, but his size (5-foot-10, 191 pounds) and strength are question marks.

"No change for the 49ers here, as Ward would give them a true No. 1 cornerback on top of a super talented front seven," Kiper writes. "Ward is polished, though he's not huge (5-10, 191) like 6-2 Ahkello Witherspoon, San Francisco's third-round pick last year. Ward ... plays the ball well and has good instincts."

McShay is putting the 49ers on Tremaine Edmunds, a linebacker from Virginia Tech. NFL.com’s report says he “combines length with rare reactive athleticism and agility to access and tackle opportunities from unconventional angles” but adds that his “instincts are average” and “can be a step slow to diagnose.”

"The 49ers need another cornerback, but in this scenario Ward is gone at No. 8," McShay writes. "The 49ers have invested heavily on the defensive line high in previous drafts, but I think they look to the second level of the defense here. And Edmunds is a gift at No. 9. ... Edmunds has the ability to play off the ball on first and second downs and rush the QB on obvious passing downs."

NFL.com

Updated March 8

There are seven draft experts on the site offering analysis. For these purposes, we'll focus on the newest mock. The link above will lead to the site's full list of analysts.

Draft expert Lance Zierlein has the 49ers selecting Roquan Smith, a linebacker from Georgia. According to NFL.com, he has “elite athletic ability” while playing with discipline, but “will need more schooling on hand work when taking on blocks.”

"There is a lot of buzz surrounding Smith as not just a performer, but a leader, as well," Zierlein writes. "Drafting the player who'll become the QB of their defense would be a smart move for the 49ers."

CBS Sports

Updated March 7

Like NFL.com, CBS has multiple analysts offering mocks, so we'll use the most recent, done by Will Brinson. Follow the link above for more from CBS.

Brinson has Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson heading to San Francisco. NFL.com says he’s “extremely aggressive at point of attack and isn’t happy until he is imposing his will” but he’ll sometimes drop his head and has some injury concerns.

"Picture-perfect scenario for the 49ers here to land the best offensive lineman in the draft to help establish the run and protect Jimmy Garoppolo," Brinson writes.

USA Today

Updated March 7

Draft analyst Nate Davis is also tabbing the 49ers to take Smith.

"He can run all day and would form a nice three-down tandem with 2017 first rounder Reuben Foster as San Francisco transitions to a 4-3 defense that emphasizes rangy linebackers," Davis writes. "And with 6½ sacks last year, Smith (6-1, 236) should also be an effective blitzer.

Walter Football

Updated March 8

Analyst Walter Cherepinsky likes Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick to help San Francisco's secondary. According to his draft profile, he possesses an "extremely competitive play demeanor with a history of showing up big in the biggest games" and is a "dangerous blitzer off the edge." However, he "needs to improve his awareness when asked to play deep safety" and "play with more patience" in the NFL.

"San Francisco's secondary is mostly a mess, and the team needs help at both cornerback and safety," Cherepinsky writes. "As it so happens, Fitzpatrick can play both positions, and it could be argued that he's the best player available, though some teams would disagree. "

U-T San Diego

Updated March 8

Draft expert Eddie Brown also has the 49ers selecting Edmunds.

"The Butkus Award finalist — and combine standout — anchored one of the best defenses in college football (first in shutouts and third in scoring defense)," Brown writes. "His size, speed and athleticism are off the charts."

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