The NFL Draft season brings opportunity. This opportunity is for both players as well as franchises. A team that can greatly benefit from this opportunity this year is the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers were very busy in free agency and added some key players. However, they did not fill all of the holes on their roster. They still need to draft a guard, outside linebacker, free safety and a strong safety. They also need to add size to a small but talented receiving corps. The 49ers own nine draft picks and with those picks come opportunity. The draft brings opportunities for team building and identity creation. This is the time of year where dynasties are built. The 49ers have a golden opportunity to start a new dynasty, they just need to grasp it. Let’s take a look at the players who should be the San Francisco 49ers draft targets.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama, Defensive Back:
If available by the time they pick, Fitzpatrick is a player the 49ers must take in the draft. He may be the best defensive player in the draft. The 2017 season saw him collect just about every defensive award he could receive such as the Bednarik and Thorpe Awards. He can play all over the defensive backfield at corner or either safety position showing his ability as a smart player and can be a leader on the defense. With Eric Reid still not signed, the 49ers desperately need a player of this caliber to lead the defense. In fact, they should consider trading up in the draft. He is a top-five player and should be treated as such.
Isaiah Wynn, Georgia, Guard:
Wynn played left tackle in college but has the body of a guard. He has experience playing the position and due to his versatility, the 49ers would greatly benefit from his talent. He led a great rushing attack in 2017 and would be a tremendous upgrade at guard for the 49ers. They should consider selecting him in the second round.
Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame, Guard:
He has great size at 6’5” 330 lbs. and was a unanimous All-American selection in 2017. He has a low center of gravity with excellent footwork and is a bulldozer in the run game. He is listed as a top-10 pick in the draft and should be treated as such. If all of the players the 49ers wanted in the first round have been taken when they pick at nine then they should take him.
Denzel Ward, Ohio State, Corner Back:
Possibly the best cornerback in the draft, Ward was both first-team All America and first-team All-Big 10 this season. He had the fourth most passes defended in school history with 17. If Minkah Fitzpatrick is taken before the ninth pick, the 49ers should select Denzel Ward. They still need help at cornerback and he would be a huge boost of talent.
Marcus Davenport, UTSA, Outside Linebacker/Defensive End:
This man from UTSA is obviously a small-school prospect who seemingly came out of nowhere but he might be the best pass rushing prospect in the draft. At 6’6” 264 lbs., he has great size for an edge rusher. He had a school record 22 sacks. He set the NFL Combine on fire by running 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash and jumping 124 inches in the broad jump. While his bench press of 22 reps was low for a man of his size this just indicates that he is a player in development. He will probably go in the mid-late first round but the 49ers should consider him at nine.
Chad Thomas, Miami, Linebacker/Defensive End:
A developmental player, he had some nice stats in college. He had 5.5 sacks in 2017 and set the tone for the University of Miami’s resurgence. He has great size at 6’6” 275 lbs. but does not have great speed having only run 4.92 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He should be available in the middle rounds and the 49ers should try to select him in the fourth or later. He has potential and it would be great if he could harness his potential with the 49ers.
Javon Wims, Georgia, Wide Receiver:
The 49ers have some excellent receivers but they lack size. Javon Wims has good size and big-play potential. His school, the University of Georgia, does not like to throw much and his stats suffered as a result. For this reason alone, he will be available in the middle to later rounds. He has excellent height, 6’4”, but needs to add to his 215 lbs. frame. He had 720 yards and seven touchdowns off of just 45 receptions. He is a developmental player but given his talent and his size he should make a nice pick up in the fifth to seventh round range. The 49ers need his size and ability.
Shaquem Griffin, UCF, Outside Linebacker/Strong Safety:
The 49ers have been building a formidable defense but it still lacks an enforcer in the backfield. All of the great defenses have had this kind of player. From the Bear’s Dave Duerson to the 49er’s Ronnie Lott, these players set the tone for the defense and won championships. Shaquem Griffin can fit the profile of a hard-hitting safety. He has the skillset to play a linebacker/safety hybrid the same way Deone Bucannon has done with the Cardinals. At 6’1” 213 lbs., he is small for an NFL linebacker which makes sense given he once played safety but adding weight is rarely a problem for prospects. Having only one hand is not important. He can still deflect passes and hit just as hard as anyone else. He put up a great show at the NFL combine and really raised his draft stock. He should be available in the third to fifth round range.
Each of these players brings something unique to the table. While some are immediate starters, others are project players who can become great players if given the time to develop. The 49ers are searching for the right formula which will lead them to the Super Bowl and the draft is a vital part of that. If they select these players they will be in a great position to win the Super Bowl in 2018 and future years.