Niner Noise combs around the league to see what the experts are saying about the 49ers’ top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and who’s mocked.
Unlike the 2019 NFL Draft, when the San Francisco 49ers were shoo-in candidates to land EDGE Nick Bosa, the 2021 draft could go in a number of different directions based on a number of different needs and outcomes.
Are the Niners looking to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo and replace him in a talented but awfully top-heavy quarterbacking class?
What about left tackle? If Trent Williams leaves, San Francisco is suddenly left with a glaring hole needing to be filled right away, and there aren’t exactly a lot of proven options elsewhere on the current roster.
Cornerback, too, is a big need. The 49ers could lose Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon and K’Waun Williams, among others, at this key spot and with little starting-caliber options left on the roster.
Needless to say, and with NFL free agency still looming, there are a lot of different directions general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan could go.
Those are clearly reflected in experts and sites’ various mock drafts heading towards April 29, and Niner Noise recaps the latest on the mock-draft front.
Assessing all those mock drafts and what the 49ers may do
ESPN’s Todd McShay: QB Mac Jones, Alabama (via trade with Broncos)
"Jones doesn’t have the rushing ability of the other four QBs, but he processes quickly, has excellent ball placement on short-to-intermediate throws and shows the ability to anticipate. He’d mesh nicely with the Niners’ quick game and could bring more balance to an offense that has run on the sixth-highest percentage of plays in the NFL since coach Kyle Shanahan took over in 2017."
Chad Reuter, NFL.com: EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami
"The 49ers’ defensive line was decimated by injury in 2020 and will be hit hard again in free agency. Picking the long and strong Rousseau would allow Arik Armstead to move back inside, where he can be more disruptive."
Josh Edwards, CBS Sports: OL Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
"Rashawn Slater can play left tackle in the event that Trent Williams leaves or slide inside to uplift a struggling interior offensive line."
Hondo S. Carpenter Sr., Sports Illustrated: OL Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
Pro Football Network Staff: OL Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
"The 49ers are potentially set to lose their 2020 starting tackle in Trent Williams. Therefore, immediately drafting a replacement in Rashawn Slater would be an ideal option in the 2021 NFL Draft. Slater could compete with Colton McKivitz and Justin Skule to be the starting left tackle."
Scott Smith, The Action Network: OL Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
"The 49ers have failed thus far to sign Trent Williams to an extension. If or until that happens, offensive tackle will remain a priority and Slater offers the most value at this point."
Brad Weiss, FanSided: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
"One hole is in the secondary, where Richard Sherman is on his way out, and the cornerback position needs to be upgraded. Enter Caleb Farley, an outstanding cornerback prospect who would be the No. 1 player at his position group is Patrick Surtain II was not in this draft class."
While a quarterback, cornerback or perhaps even a pass-rusher are all the flashy picks, there seems to be some merit Slater winds up being the selection at No. 12 overall.
It does make sense, particularly if Williams ends up commanding a deal worth $18-plus million on the open market, which he’ll surely get. And with limited resources as far as the salary cap, currently just above $23 million, the 49ers aren’t necessarily in a position where they can get into a bidding war for the eight-time Pro Bowler’s services.
Slater is arguably the No. 2 O-line prospect in this year’s class behind Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, who’ll likely be far off the board by the time the Niners’ number is called.
That said, Slater’s versatility would serve to upgrade what was a banged-up and questionable unit last season, either in Williams’ stead or as a potential guard on the inside. It wouldn’t be overly exciting, but it does fill a need and provides some long-term flexibility along the O-line.
At any rate, the accumulation of mocks does show San Francisco could move in one of many different directions on draft day, potentially going with that splash pick at quarterback or filling more of an immediate need at corner or along the O-line.
No shortage of interest there, to say the least.
The 2021 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday, April 29.