San Francisco 49ers

49ers offseason begins; young players poised to make a leap

Here's a look ahead at the possible 49ers NFL draft picks

The 49ers have the ninth pick in the NFL draft later this month. Here's a look at what players the team should pick up, according to 49ers reporter Matt Barrows.
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The 49ers have the ninth pick in the NFL draft later this month. Here's a look at what players the team should pick up, according to 49ers reporter Matt Barrows.

The 49ers' 2018 season begins, in effect, on Monday with the start of their offseason program.

The first two weeks are limited to weight training and conditioning with strength coach Ray Wright and his staff. The program eventually will evolve into on-field work with coaches and then into OTA practices in May and June.

All of the sessions are voluntary, but if you're a young player with an opportunity to move up in the pecking order, you'll likely want to be there every day. Among the most prominent players in that category:

WR Kendrick Bourne – He's perhaps the most physically impressive member of the team's wide receiving corps. Bourne is 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds, is a great leaper and shows excellent body control. The 49ers could use one of their nine draft picks on a receiver, but they are unlikely to do so until the middle rounds. A young player like Bourne, who already has spent a season in an NFL offense, should have a leg up on securing a role in the 49ers' offense.

G Josh Garnett – Most of the players on this list are going into their second season. Garnett is entering his third, although he missed all of last season while recovering from a knee injury and retooling his body. He's dropped more than 25 pounds and seems more capable of operating in coach Kyle Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme than he was at this time last year. With Jonathan Cooper still recovering from knee surgery, Garnett has a chance to get an early lead on the starting spot at right guard.

TE Cole Hikutini – When both Trent Taylor and George Kittle were injured in Week 9, it gave Hikutini, an undrafted rookie last year, an excellent opportunity at the "F" position, which largely operates out of the slot and which the 49ers also call their "move" tight end. Hikutini, however, suffered a knee injury in that game and was lost for the season. Still, the 49ers have made no additions at tight end so far this offseason and continue to have a need for a dynamic pass catcher at the position.

LB Elijah Lee – The 49ers thought enough of Lee last year to bring him to Santa Clara on an official pre-draft visit, then to sign him off the Vikings' practice squad after Minnesota drafted him with a seventh-round pick. With all sorts of questions surrounding Reuben Foster and with Brock Coyle recovering from shoulder surgery this spring, there will be plenty of opportunity for an unheralded inside linebacker to make an impact. Lee, newcomer Korey Toomer, Mark Nzeocha and Donavin Newsom all fall into this category.

CB Greg Mabin – Like Hikutini, Mabin was poised to get his big break late last season, but he came down with an injury, in his case a calf strain, that scuttled the opportunity. Mabin fits the mold of the big-bodied, athletic cornerback the team prefers. With Richard Sherman sidelined until training camp, Mabin will get plenty of quality practice snaps this spring.

OL Erik Magnuson – He's versatile and, it turns out, smart. Magnuson has spent the last few weeks working out alongside the 49ers' best defensive player, tackle DeForest Buckner, which can only sharpen his skills. An undrafted rookie last year, Magnuson is capable of playing all five spots on the offensive line. He appears to be competing against veteran Zane Beadles, who also is a five-spot lineman but one making a lot more money, for a roster spot.

DE/OLB Pita Taumoepenu – With veteran Elvis Dumervil no longer on the team, Taumoepenu will compete for the role of situational pass rusher at the "Leo" defensive end spot. The 49ers also will give him more opportunities at strong-side linebacker where Eli Harold and Dekoda Watson played last year. Taumoepenu's speed and intensity also would seem to make him a good fit on special teams coverage units.

OT Darrell Williams – The 49ers have been doing plenty of homework on offensive tackles who will be available in the upcoming draft, including UCLA's Kolton Miller, who is out of Roseville. Still, with the future uncertain for starters Joe Staley and Trent Brown, the 49ers will look for their understudies to make a leap. With Brown recovering from shoulder surgery, Williams should get plenty of snaps at right tackle.

RB Joe Williams – The 49ers want to see more focus and urgency out of Williams than he showed as a rookie last year. The team spent big money on free-agent running back Jerick McKinnon. But even with McKinnon and Matt Breida sitting firmly in the first two spots at running back at the moment, there is room for another runner to make an impact.

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