49ers' NFL Draft plan is clear: Niners were drafting for 2025, not 2024

The Niners wanted to get rookies into the pipeline a year ahead of time.
Florida Gators wide receiver Ricky Pearsall is selected by the San Francisco 49ers
Florida Gators wide receiver Ricky Pearsall is selected by the San Francisco 49ers / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers didn't need to look for immediate-impact players in the 2024 NFL Draft, but they did need to keep 2025 and beyond in mind.

Rewind to the 2021 NFL Draft.

After the blockbuster trade-up the San Francisco 49ers made to grab now-Dallas Cowboys quarterback Trey Lance at No. 3 overall, the Niners subsequently used their second-round pick on offensive lineman Aaron Banks.

But Banks didn't play much at all that year, leading many to believe he'd be a bust.

That wasn't the plan, though. Instead, San Francisco pegged Banks as an heir apparent to Pro Bowl left guard Laken Tomlinson, who departed the team via free agency the following offseason, allowing Banks to step into a starting gig seamlessly a year after riding the bench.

It worked.

Back to the 2024 NFL Draft, and it's evident the same approach was used by general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan.

49ers drafted for 2025 and beyond, not for 2024

The 49ers retained 18 of their 22 offensive and defensive starters from last year's Super Bowl season, and the losses they did incur over the offseason were almost entirely accounted for via free agency and trades.

While there were arguably upgrades that could have been addressed, an overwhelming trend during the 2024 draft hinted at eventual replacements for aging, increasingly expensive players who may not be part of the Niners' plans beyond this upcoming season.

It's the inherent reality for teams that are good but also pressed up against the salary cap, made even more acute with the knowledge of quarterback Brock Purdy needing a massive contract extension in a year's time.

This helps explain why San Francisco grabbed wide receiver Ricky Pearsall at No. 31 overall despite boasting two All-Pro wideouts in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, both of whom are still under contract for the upcoming season. With other likely key departures poised to strike the 49ers in 2025, Shanahan and Lynch elected to plan ahead now and draft for next year.

Not this one.

Let's go through each of the eight Niners draftees and suggest which current players San Francisco is eyeing the rookies to soon replace.


Veteran to be replaced

Round 1

WR Ricky Pearsall

WR Deebo Samuel

Round 2

CB Renardo Green

CB Charvarius Ward

Round 3

OL Dominick Puni

OL Aaron Banks

Round 4

DB Malik Mustapha

DB Talanoa Hufanga

Round 4

RB Isaac Guerendo

RB Elijah Mitchell

Round 4

WR Jacob Cowing

WR Jauan Jennings

Round 6

OL Jarrett Kingston

OL Jaylon Moore

Round 7

LB Tatum Bethune

LB Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles

Samuel is under contract for the foreseeable future, yes. But, if cap restraints force the 49ers' hand, he could be an offseason trade/cap casualty candidate in 2025.

Meanwhile, Ward, Banks, Hufanga, Mitchell, Moore and Flannigan-Fowles are all free agents in a year's time, too, and it'll be awfully difficult for the Niners to re-sign all of them. Perhaps only one or two come back, and there are other key players who are scheduled to hit the open market, too.

Pearsall is a prime example of this approach.

While some felt he was a reach in Round 1, getting him drafted at that point means San Francisco could potentially use a fifth-round option on him, keeping him under contractual control for a full season longer than if he had been selected in the second round.

If the 49ers are eyeing Pearsall as a talented replacement for someone like Samuel in a year or two's time, that's vital.

And it helps explain why the Niners went with this "plan for 2025" approach instead of worrying solely about 2024's needs.

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