While most draft experts are predicting the San Francisco 49ers to select a wide receiver with the 13th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, it is actually cornerback that is their biggest need.
Yes, the San Francisco 49ers selecting a wide receiver at No. 13 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft would be a sexy and popular pick, especially if prospective wideouts Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb or Henry Ruggs III are on the board when the Niners make their first selection. Any of those three could thrive with head coach Kyle Shanahan scheming plays for them.
But that just may be the biggest reason to pass on a receiver that early.
This draft class is considered to be one of the deepest in years at wide receiver, meaning there is value to be had in later rounds. With talent across the draft board at receiver, Shanahan’s offensive genius could elevate a second- or third-round talent to next-level production.
However, with defensive backs Richard Sherman and Jaquiski Tartt heading into the final year of their contracts, and with Ahkello Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley not establishing themselves as the second cornerback, the team’s greatest need lies in the secondary.
Even with Sherman having a Pro Bowl season in 2019, the 49ers secondary struggled in the most critical times in Super Bowl LIV. Sherman also just celebrated his 32nd birthday, so even if his high level of play were to sustain another season or so, general manager John Lynch would be wise to restock the cupboards in the secondary now rather than later.
The question then becomes, where do you decide to draft a potential No. 1 cornerback in this year’s draft?
The cornerback class is not considered to be as deep as the receiving class this year, but the consensus top-two cornerback prospects are Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah and Florida’s C.J.Henderson. Okudah is expected to be a top-five pick and more than likely will not be there when the 49ers select at No. 13.
Henderson, however, should be there for the Niners when they are on the clock for their first pick.
Now the question becomes value. Henderson’s draft grade has him slotted as a mid-to-late first rounder. At 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, he has the size the 49ers like in their cornerbacks. He also excels in man-coverage schemes, which could be vital when Sherman’s time in San Francisco ends. Obviously, if Lynch and Co. feels Henderson is the best player and fit available at No. 13, the choice will be an easy one.
But as we all know, the draft has ebbs, flows and twists that can push players up and down the board.
The team may decide to trade back a few spots if they can still get their guy at Nos. 16 or 19. If they decide to take South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw to replace the departed DeForest Buckner, it may be because they decide Henderson or a similarly skilled cornerback may be there further down the draft board.
In one scenario, the Niners could take Henderson at No. 13, then select TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock at No. 31. Blacklock, at 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, is seen as a late first- or early second-round selection. They also could trade back with a team looking to move up to No. 13 (Las Vegas Raiders or Minnesota Vikings), securing more day-two picks. With a move back, perhaps the 49ers take LSU’s Kristian Fulton, Alabama’s Trevon Diggs or even Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler in the second round.
With the decisions the front office has made thus far in rebuilding this team, the fanbase should trust Lynch and Shanahan will put the team in the best position to succeed.
San Francisco may select a wide receiver or defensive tackle with their first pick, but cornerback is the position of greatest need.