Coming into this past season, the 49ers had high hopes of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
San Francisco ended the previous campaign on a five-game winning streak, including victories over three postseason teams, after acquiring quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in a trade with the New England Patriots.
Garoppolo, who had yet to lose an NFL game as a starter, was rewarded with a five-year, $137.5 million contract.
However, the 49ers’ playoff hopes were derailed early. Garoppolo suffered a season-ending left knee injury in a Week 3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and the team went on to finish 4-12, tying them with the Raiders and New York Jets for the second-worst record in the NFL.
Due to a strength of schedule tiebreaker, the 49ers will select second, followed by the Jets and Raiders, when the three-day NFL draft kicks off April 25 in Nashville, Tenn.
With plenty of time to pass now that the season is over, national draft analysts see the 49ers’ choice as a two-man race. Here’s a sampling of what they’re saying:
Updated Feb. 7
Draft analyst Todd McShay puts the 49ers on Kentucky edge Josh Allen. According to NFL.com, Allen is a “true hybrid linebacker with elite physical traits who has the ability to float between coverage and pass rush duties. ... He’s fine-tuned a couple of go-to rush moves but will need to continue to diversify his rush portfolio as a pro.”
McShay: “The Niners really want an edge rusher after only DeForest Buckner cracked six sacks for them in 2018 (Buckner had 12). Allen blew up offensive linemen all season en route to 17 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss for the Wildcats. With his big 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame, Allen could line up as a defensive end in the 49ers’ 4-3 scheme if he tacks on some more weight.”
Updated Feb. 5
Draft analyst Chad Reuter believes Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams is a good fit for the red and gold. According to his draft profile on NFL.com, “Williams is an instant starter with Pro Bowl potential. ... His play strength is good, but his lack of mass and length will show up at times against NFL competition.”
Reuter: “It might be a tough call here between Williams and Kentucky’s Josh Allen. DeForest Buckner’s versatility could allow the team to put Buckner and Williams on the field at the same time.”
Updated Feb. 5
Draft analyst Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz also like Williams as San Francisco’s choice.
Middlehurst-Schwartz: “When general manager John Lynch held the No. 2 overall selection in 2017, an arms race for quarterbacks helped him swing a deal with Chicago to move back one slot and bolster his draft capital. A similar bidding war this year for passers might be beneficial for San Francisco, as the defense has several areas that need to be addressed. Should the 49ers stay put, their best move might be to grab Williams, who built a strong case for the title of college football’s most dominant defender last year with his formidable strength and surprising quickness.”
Updated Feb. 8
CBS Sports currently shows mock drafts for three analysts: Will Brinson, Chris Trapasso and Ryan Wilson. The most recent post comes from Trapasso, who has Allen going to the 49ers.
Trapasso: “49ers fans would be pleased with Allen at No. 2, and edge rusher is a big need for San Francisco. With more consistent hand work, Allen can be a superb pro.”
Updated Feb. 5
Make that three votes for Allen. Draft analyst Eddie Brown explains why the Kentucky edge is the choice for the 49ers.
Brown: “The 49ers lack a consistent pass rush despite using so much recent draft capital on the defensive line. In addition to winning the Nagurski and Bednarik awards, Allen won the Lott IMPACT trophy as defensive player of the year and was also named consensus SEC defensive player of the year by both the Associated Press and conference coaches.”
Updated Feb. 7
That’s also three for Williams. Walter Cherepinsky doesn’t think selecting him is the best move, but the right move at No. 2.
Cherepinsky: “It would be ideal for the 49ers to trade down with a team that needs a quarterback. Quinnen Williams is the best player available, but the 49ers aren’t filling a need with him. That said, he’s the likely pick if there’s no deal, as San Francisco can’t pass up on someone as talented as him. Williams had a breakout performance this season. ... Williams is now a likely top-three selection.”