It seems likely the San Francisco 49ers will grab a wide receiver with their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. But there’s enough evidence to suggest this won’t be the case.
Once the San Francisco 49ers moved defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 13 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, general manager John Lynch found his team in prime position to grab one of the top three wide receivers in an awfully deep class: Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III.
The Niners have receiving needs behind the returning veterans, Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne. There isn’t much to doubt there. So it makes sense San Francisco would use that 13th overall pick to grab a would-be stud in Round 1 right out of the gate.
Except it might not necessarily happen that way.
Granted, the 49ers drafting a wide receiver with their first pick seems like a strong possibility. But it doesn’t take an expert draft analyst to understand there’s plenty of top-level talent available towards the tail end of Round 1 where the Niners are slated to pick again with their own pick, No. 31 in the round.
San Francisco has cornerback needs, and there aren’t quite as many Round 1-caliber corners available. Offensive line is also a need, and the NFL Draft is pretty top-heavy with starting-level prospects.
And with zero picks between Rounds 2 and 4, currently, Lynch and Co. will have to think hard about their two first-round selections if the team doesn’t trade down.
Yet the question gets far more provocative when evaluating why the 49ers could possibly pass on players like Jeudy, Ruggs or Lamb. As far as impact wide receivers go, those three are about as surefire as it gets in the draft. But as Fourth and Nine’s Akash Anavarathan pointed out, there could actually be better fits for San Francisco at No. 31.
Anavarathan did some hard-work stat research into Jeudy, Ruggs and Lamb’s NFL Combine numbers, namely the short-shuttle drill, cross analyzing them with the traits possessed from some understood preferred traits from head coach Kyle Shanahan.
The analysis was interesting, as Jeudy didn’t fit the bill, while Ruggs and Lamb didn’t partake in that one event:
USC’s Michael Pittman and Oregon State’s Isaiah Hodgins both fit Shanahan’s wishes from a physical standpoint, but the next test they must pass is their performance on film. These two are players that 49ers will not draft at No. 13 overall, likely someone they can pursue in the second round after trading back from No. 31.
Regardless of Pittman and Hodgins’ potential fit with San Francisco, Jerry Jeudy doesn’t seem to jive with what Kyle Shanahan looks for in a receiver.
Pittman suddenly emerges as a player worth watching here. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound wideout isn’t necessarily explosive from a straight-line standpoint. But he’s shifty and has some of the best immediate-separation skills out of any top-end wideouts in this class.
Plus, it’s hard to overlook his size and catch radius.
The catch here is Pittman would be a massive reach at No. 13 overall. But getting down into No. 31 overall range, Pittman makes a lot more sense. Even more, should Pittman slip into the early phases of Round 2 and the 49ers are able to trade down.
Yet the idea is to suggest Shanahan would value fit over sheer promise and hype, which the trio of Jeudy, Ruggs and Lamb all have. Not that the hype isn’t justified, of course. But if the Niners can get some high-level production out of a wide receiver selected late in Round 1 or early in Round 2, freeing up the No. 13 overall pick to address some other pressing needs, it’s not hard to see why San Francisco would go such a route.
Would the smart money be placed on the 49ers passing on a wide receiver at No. 13? No, but it’s also foolish to automatically assume a wide receiver is the lone route Lynch, Shanahan and the Niners take when their number is first called in the NFL Draft.
Round 1 kicks off on Thursday, April 23.