2023 NFL Draft: Should 49ers focus on need or best player available?

General Manager John Lynch of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
General Manager John Lynch of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

The 49ers are in a unique position heading into the 2023 NFL Draft, not selecting until Round 3 but having 11 picks total. How should John Lynch make his picks?

There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to laying down a team’s strategy for the NFL Draft.

That team should either draft for their biggest needs or simply sit back and take the best player available.

Both can be correct and wrong at the same time, and there are sizable merits for the same team going one way or another.

Let’s hone our discussion on this around the San Francisco 49ers, who enter 2023 NFL Draft season in quite a provocative predicament. Without draft picks in the first two rounds, general manager John Lynch and his staff quite literally have no clue how the prior 98 picks will go before the Niners’ number is called for the first time.

If that wasn’t complicated enough, San Francisco is a playoff-caliber roster with relatively few holes but a total of 11 selections spread out between Rounds 3 and 7.

Sounds interesting, right?

So, revisiting the “draft the best player available vs. draft for need” argument, let’s examine both for the 49ers.

Why 49ers should draft for need in 2023

What are the most pressing positions for the Niners after the opening wave of NFL free agency?

Probably right tackle after Mike McGlinchey’s departure. Another outside edge rusher to pair with Nick Bosa would be smart, too, and it’s fair to raise questions about cornerbacks and safeties.

Not much else, honestly.

However, this year’s draft is relatively thin on offensive tackles and edge rushers, meaning that all it would take is a run on either position at any point before or immediately after San Francisco starts making selections in Round 3 to completely throw off Lynch’s draft board.

Putting it in scenario mode, let’s say the 49ers are eyeing a tackle late in Round 3, but a run on pass-rushers earlier leaves few likable choices for Lynch and Co. at that point, so they either reach on a pass-rusher first and delay grabbing a tackle, or they trade up to avoid being left out of the hunt for a good pass-rusher.

Even if it means skimping on an O-lineman.

In that case, especially if a trade-up is involved, the quality of a player is more important to a win-now team instead of quantity, which might help a squad going through a complete rebuild.

Why 49ers should draft the best player available

The Niners don’t have too many holes on their roster, but it is fair to question their depth behind a good chunk of starters.

Considering how bad Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan’s luck with injuries has been in recent years, addressing that depth would be wise.

In light of both of those aspects, combined with not having a first- or second-round pick, Lynch does have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for the draft to come to him. There doesn’t need to be any reaching, trade-ups or anything along those lines.

Unless it’s a home-run selection that’d be a no-brainer move, yet those are rare on draft day.

Perhaps only one, maybe two of San Francisco’s selections in this year’s NFL Draft have a remote chance of starting on day one, but all of them could feasibly be in the running for key backup jobs and reserve roles.

Lynch and the 49ers have historically done well at landing talents on day three of the draft, including tight end George Kittle (Round 5), linebacker Dre Greenlaw (Round 5), safety Talanoa Hufanga (Round 5), and most recently, quarterback Brock Purdy (Round 7).

A “BPA approach” can easily emphasize that kind of success, which will allow the Niners an opportunity to proverbially “pass the torch” from older, more expensive players to younger ones.

Even if it’s less of a win-now strategy, this is what San Francisco should probably do.

Next. 2023 mock NFL Draft: 49ers watch rest of NFC get stronger. dark