The 49ers and the rest of the NFL are traveling to Indianapolis this week for the annual scouting combine.
Coach Kyle Shanahan will speak with media Wednesday and general manager John Lynch will do so Thursday as the team wades into draft season with six picks. Before we dive into all the pertinent offseason topics, including the use of the franchise tag on Robbie Gould, let’s preview the combine with a mailbag.
Sean Patrick Scott asks: Who do you think will help their draft stock the most with their showing at the Combine?
In terms of helping himself the most, you’d have to think about prospect who could become the No. 1 overall pick. The player that could vault himself into that discussion is Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, who enters the week with questions about his size, particularly his weight and hand measurements.
The Heisman Trophy winner going first overall could be beneficial to the 49ers, who would have their pick of defensive prospects at No. 2. That means Ohio State’s Nick Bosa could be in line to help the team’s issues at edge pass rusher.
If you’re skeptical about Murray going No. 1, you probably has similar hesitancy last year surrounding Baker Mayfield, who played in the same offensive system with the Sooners and showed similar accuracy during his college career. The difference with Murray, who’s noticeably smaller than Mayfield, is his supreme athleticism.
Murray might become the fastest quarterback in the league – and pairing his unique running ability with his knack for winning from the pocket might entice a team to trade with the Arizona Cardinals for the No. 1 pick. Or, perhaps new coach Kliff Kingsbury could decide to make good on his assessment of Murray last year while he was still coaching at Texas Tech, when he famously said he would take Murray first overall if he had the chance.
Little did Kingsbury know he would be in that position this spring. But taking Murray would likely mean trading away last year’s first-round pick Josh Rosen, who went 2-0 against the 49ers in 2018.
Christopher Peterson asks: Why are so many so-called experts picking (Quinnen) Williams to go to the Niners? I ask because can’t any fool see the Niners have such a backlog and with talented players at that spot? I mean (best player available) is a great tool, but not when you already have three first-rounders.
We’re in agreement. As I’ve written before, it doesn’t look like taking Williams would make much sense, particularly with the overlap with DeForest Buckner.
But there are a couple scenarios in which taking Williams is defensible. The team might decide not to bring back Arik Armstead on his fifth-year option – and I think it’s fair to say Solomon Thomas hasn’t secured a long-term future with the team after struggling during his first two seasons. San Francisco shouldn’t be opposed to listening to trade offers if other teams can offer a better fit.
So there is a semi-realistic scenario where the backlog of talent at defensive tackle is cleared away in the coming seasons. Adding Williams could make sense. But I doubt the 49ers would go in that direction even if he was the top player on their board when they pick. I think it’s more likely they trade back than draft him.
Football Analysis asks: Who are you most intrigued by going into the combine, for our positional needs?
I’m curious to find out how big the gap is between Bosa, Josh Allen (Kentucky) and other edge rushers like Brian Burns (Florida State), Jachai Polite (Florida), Clelin Ferrell (Clemson) and Montez Sweat (Mississippi State).
Burns might be the most talented and physically gifted of the group. But he isn’t expected to be the first one taken due to questions about his frame and his strength. He was listed in the 235-pound range last season, which would be far too light to be an every-down player in the NFL as a rookie.
If Burns comes to the combine closer to 250, I think there’s a chance the 49ers might consider moving back – perhaps with the quarterback-needy New York Giants at No. 7? – and still come away with a talented edge rusher while adding to their draft picks.
For Polite, there are reportedly questions about his maturity, though he’s a similarly skilled pass rusher along the outside. You can be sure the 49ers will do plenty of digging after dealing with Reuben Foster the past two seasons.
Ferrell and Sweat seem like solid fits at “Leo” defensive end, but neither possess the flexibility or athleticism of Burns and Polite, so the agility drills could be telling.
Joe Cooper asks: Do you see any CBs or safeties as decent picks for the 49ers in the 1st or 2nd rounds?
It depends on free agency. Signing Earl Thomas would likely take a safety off the board in the early rounds. And they could do the same at cornerback if they decide to sign someone like Indianapolis Colts free agent Pierre Desir, though I think the front office would like to get a longer look at Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore before paying for a veteran.
It doesn’t look like there’s going to be a defensive back in play for the 49ers’ first-round pick. But that could be where they go with pick No. 36. Delaware’s Nasir Adderley looks like a single-high free safety who could be in the mix, as could Alabama’s Deionte Thompson. Washington’s Taylor Rapp could be an option at strong safety, though San Francisco appears set there with Jaquiski Tartt and Marcell Harris.
Cornerbacks to watch in Round 2 include Penn State’s Amani Ourwariye, Michigan State’s Justin Lane, Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin, Vanderbilt’s Joejuan Williams and Clemson’s Trayvon Mullen.
Chris Paradis asks: Honestly – do the 49ers think they’re set with the Georgia Southern duo (Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida) and Jeff Wilson? Cause I do. Jeff is gonna be around a while if he can stay healthy (that goes for all 3).
Don’t forget about Raheem Mostert, the team’s best special teams player who came on as a runner before breaking his arm in early November.
The 49ers have a talented group of running backs that all fit Shanahan’s system. But there are significant questions about all of those players, which is why adding another back in the draft (or another rookie free agent or two) might make sense.
McKinnon has never been a lead back in the NFL and is coming off a significant knee injury. Breida dealt with a nagging ankle injury and Wilson has ball-security issues. Plus the 49ers had the league’s worst red zone offense last season, in part because they had the fewest rushing touchdowns in the league.
All that could lead to them adding a bigger, more durable back to complement the group and help punch it in at the goal line.