SF 49ers: Ranking top 5 needs in 2021 NFL Draft

Commissioner Roger Goodell with San Francisco 49ers #10 draft pick Michael Crabtree (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Commissioner Roger Goodell with San Francisco 49ers #10 draft pick Michael Crabtree (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images) /
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49ers, John Lynch, NFL Combine
General Manager John Lynch of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

The SF 49ers face a challenging offseason, meaning John Lynch needs to hit some home runs in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft.

It’s one thing to be happy about the SF 49ers building a Super Bowl contender essentially from scratch in the years since general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan took over duties in 2017.

It’s another for Lynch and Co. to maintain it.

While 2020 has been frustrating, marred by an unequal swarm of injuries and setbacks, the Niners still boast a championship-caliber core group heading into the offseason. Yet there are going to be more challenges facing Lynch and Shanahan, namely retaining as many key players without suffering too many losses in free agency.

In total, San Francisco has 40 players scheduled to hit free agency in 2021, and a number of them are high-profile names. And with next year’s salary cap expected to drop as low as $175 million, along with the SF 49ers currently having over $156 million committed in player liabilities, per Over the Cap, it’s pretty safe to assume the roster will change quite significantly.

And all that puts an immense amount of pressure on Lynch and the scouting department to grab some impact players in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Determining the biggest needs and ranking them out is going to be vital, and the Niners need to give attention to these five positions.

SF 49ers NFL Draft Need No. 5: Defensive Line

San Francisco can’t use another first-round pick on a defensive lineman, right?

Well, maybe not a first rounder. But there’s a good chance the SF 49ers go after a few players to bolster this unit. Especially considering D-linemen Ronald Blair, Kerry Hyder, Solomon Thomas and D.J. Jones are among the well-known pending free agents they could lose this offseason.

A key wrinkle to the mix, aside from the need to find some likable depth, is the lack of health and unavailability of EDGE Dee Ford, who has appeared in just 12 regular-season games since being acquired by the Niners early in 2019. Ford’s back injury this season, paired with a torn ACL to fellow EDGE Nick Bosa, translated into San Francisco’s pass rush being anemic this season.

Perhaps Ford returns fully healthy in 2021. But with a potential cap hit of $20.78 million next year, it’s not hard to envision the SF 49ers moving on to someone who’d actually be available.

If the Niners want a threatening pass-rushing duo of Bosa and someone else, which was their modus operandi in 2019, they’ll need to invest in another pass-rusher as well as bulk up the interior depth this NFL Draft.