San Francisco 49ers

49ers draft: Handicapping the most likely picks at No. 9

We can confidently predict that the 49ers will take a defender in the first round. Well, unless Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson falls to them. Or unless general manager John Lynch trades back, which he said was an option.

In other words, maybe we shouldn't be so confident, especially when the first eight picks are so cloudy. The two teams picking ahead of San Francisco, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 7 and the Chicago Bears at No. 8, in particular are interesting because they have the same needs as the 49ers and have taken close looks at the same players the 49ers are examining.

With that said, here are the most likely picks at No. 9:

1. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech. A confluence of talent, availability and need make Edmunds the 49ers' most likely pick. His most natural position is middle linebacker – the spot Reuben Foster has been slated to play – but Edmunds' 6-foot-5 height also gives him versatility to play on the line of scrimmage. Odds the 49ers draft him: 31 percent.

2. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. He reminds draft observers of some of the best linebackers from the recent past, including Ray Lewis and Derrick Brooks. He doesn't have Edmunds' size or upside, but if Lynch and Co. are looking for a leader they can plug into the middle of their defense immediately, Smith is a strong selection. Odds: 26 percent.

3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama. You might think of Fitzpatrick as a bigger version of Jimmie Ward. He was a versatile and dependable defender in Alabama's stellar defense who quickly won over hard-to-please coach Nick Saban. The question with Fitzpatrick is the same with Ward: Where exactly would he play? Odds: 20 percent.

4. Marcus Davenport, DE, UT-San Antonio. He has the combination of strength, length and quickness teams covet from edge rushers and the 49ers have a screaming need at the position. The hang up: Davenport has not quite put all of his talents together and the 49ers would be taking a leap of faith that he could in short order. Odds: 11 percent.

5. Derwin James, S, Florida State. The 49ers' defense could use a shot of intensity and the electric James would bring just that. He'd be a nice fit at the rough-and-tumble strong safety spot. The problem is that he'd displace another young, talented player there, Jaquiski Tartt. Odds: 9 percent.

Longer shots: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame; Mike McGlinchey, T, Notre Dame; Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State; Harold Landry, DE, Boston College.

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