10 superstars 49ers could have drafted but unwisely didn’t

Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /
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Derrick Henry, Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama running back Derrick Henry (2) Mandatory Credit: Imagn Images /

49ers 2016 draft re-do

Actual pick: Joshua Garnett, OG, Stanford – Rd 1, Pick 28

New pick: Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama – Rd 2, Pick 45 (Tennessee)

Being reasonable, this could have gone one of two ways in terms of replacing Joshua Garnett, a player the 49ers had no business drafting, let alone trading back into the first round to grab, having already picked Oregon defensive tackle DeForest Buckner with the No. 7 overall pick in the same draft.

Option one was grabbing Baylor cornerback Xavien Howard, who went to the Dolphins with pick No. 38 and has been among the league’s best corners since entering the NFL, a three-time Pro Bowler and twice an All-Pro who finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2020.

Instead, I went with a more exciting pick, although Howard would have been more sensible given the state of the Niners’ cornerback group that season (and almost since).

The first thing to consider here is that if San Francisco opted not to trade up for Garnett, its original second-round pick was No. 37, which went to the Chiefs along with Nos. 105 and 178 to get back into Round 1.

The Chiefs took Mississippi State defensive tackle Chris Jones right before Howard went to Miami, but the big swing for the 49ers would have been to bolster their running back room, which outside of Carlos Hyde (988 yards on 217 carries) in 2016, featured Shaun Draughn (196 yards on 40 carries), DuJaun Harris (138 yards on 38 carries), Mike Davis (50 yards on 19 carries), and a single carry for six yards from Raheem Mostert.

Quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick (468 yards on 69 rushes) and Blaine Gabbert (173 yards on 40 rushes) were the team’s second- and fourth-leading rushers, respectively.

Enter Alabama running back Derrick Henry, who won the 2015 Heisman Trophy while rushing for 2,219 yards on 395 carries as a junior (that’s still 5.6 yards per carry).

Henry wasn’t immediately a force for the Titans as a rookie, although he ran for a respectable 490 yards on 110 rushes behind DeMarco Murray, who went to the Pro Bowl while running for over 1,200 yards that year.

Henry saw an uptick in 2017 before breaking out in 2018 and then taking over in 2019 and 2020, where he ran for 1,540 yards and then 2,027 yards along with 16 and 17 touchdowns on 303 and 378 carries, respectively, all the while managing over 5 yards per carry in both seasons in a rush-heavy Titans offense.

In this exercise, the 49ers don’t have Hyde anymore, which would have made Henry not only a luxury but a necessity. Who knows if he would have been the success he’s been in Tennessee without the volume, but he would have been exciting to see in San Francisco’s offense, especially once Kyle Shanahan came to town.

Either Howard or Henry would have been better than Garnett, who played in just 22 games for the 49ers before being cut and eventually retiring in 2020.