There aren’t a lot of wrong directions the 49ers can go in this year’s draft. They have a handful of needs, but no spots where they absolutely need to select a starter. Prioritizing their needs by position yields a slew of different results. It’s clear they simply need to find quality players who can help fill out the roster in the coming years as their highest-priced players push out some other talent.
A seven-round mock draft from ESPN’s Jordan Reid charts a good path for San Francisco’s nine picks. They hit a few of their ‘top’ needs early, but there’s a distinct eye toward the future with the choices which will be a key aspect of this year’s draft.
There are a few notes before we dive into the picks.
First, the 49ers could and probably should go with an edge rusher earlier than they do in Reid’s mock. It’s supposed to be a deep class, but San Francisco could find a significant difference-maker if they go with a defensive end with one of their first couple picks.
It’s important to note as we get nearer to the draft that center Alex Mack isn’t a slam dunk to return in 2022. We saw long-time left tackle Joe Staley retire during the draft, so it’s definitely on the table. If Mack walks, the 49ers need to find a center who can fill that void for the next several seasons. Jake Brendel is the only other center on the roster, but Reid has San Francisco addressing that area early.
Reid also doesn’t have the 49ers selecting a tight end, which is a definite possibility with a handful of prospects that could be available on Day 2 or early in Day 3. Their offense could hit a new level if they find a good pass catcher to line up with George Kittle in two-tight end sets. They’ve been unsuccessful in finding that player in past years, so they could aim to fill that role via the draft.
To the picks:
No. 61: Cam Jurgens, C, Nebraska
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A center who might contribute at guard in Year 1 would be a really nice find for the 49ers. Alex Mack turns 37 this season and it’s no guarantee he’ll even play in 2021, although general manager John Lynch expects him to return. The 49ers have to at worst begin planning for life after Mack, and Jurgens would be the frontrunner to fill in as a long-term option at the second-most important position on the offensive front. Jurgens is listed at 6-3, 290 pounds and brings some good athleticism after beginning his college career as a tight end. He became the full-time starter as a redshirt-freshman so he brings a ton of experience as well.
No. 93: Nick Cross, S, Maryland
This would be a terrific idea for the 49ers in the third round. Cross has good size and a ton of speed. He could, in theory, start at strong safety and then eventually slide over to free safety whenever Jimmie Ward’s time in Santa Clara is over. San Francisco may prioritize their secondary and want to attack that position earlier than late on Day 2, but Cross would be a good fit who could contribute right away and down the line. He posted 134 tackles, 4.0 sacks and five interceptions in three college seasons.
No. 105: Marcus Jones, CB, Houston
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Finding another cornerback would be smart on a 49ers roster that’s lacking in quality depth. Jones’ size (5-8, 174 pounds) will probably limit him to slot work in the NFL. San Francisco doesn’t have a certain option at the nickel so Jones would have a real shot to snag a key role. If he doesn’t work out as a cornerback though he would add some electricity to their return game. He posted six kick return touchdowns and three punt return touchdowns in college.
No. 134: Thomas Booker, DT, Stanford
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Booker has the profile of a high-floor, low-ceiling player. He’s not an exceptional athlete, but he played all four seasons at Stanford and produced every year. In 41 games Booker put up 159 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks. The 49ers need to find a replacement for DJ Jones, or at least another good rotational player on the interior of the defensive line. Booker figures to at worst compete for playing time with an outside chance to develop as a starting-caliber DT.
No. 172: Tyler Badie, RB, Missouri
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Badie didn’t break out as a runner until his senior season, but his pass-catching prowess was on display in all four years. In all he rushed for 2,740 yards and 513 yards in his career. He also posted 1,149 receiving yards and 11 receiving touchdowns on 126 catches. Badie would be the third running back drafted by San Francisco in the last two years after going three consecutive drafts without selecting one. However, if they believe he offers a third-down upgrade over JaMycal Hasty, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them go for a player like him on Day 3.
No. 187: Bo Melton, WR, Rutgers
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Melton ran a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, but he’s not particularly big at 5-11, 189 pounds, and he didn’t have any breakout years at Rutgers. In his 45 games for the Scarlet Knights he had 164 catches for 2,011 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also posted 165 rushing yards and and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Ideally the 49ers would bet on a receiver with more upside, but Melton was consistently solid for four years in college.
No. 220: David Anenih, EDGE, Houston
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This is a perfect type of EDGE prospect for the 49ers. Anenih had 20.5 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss in 43 college games, but his athleticism indicates he probably should’ve been even more productive. He looks like a good athlete when watching him, and his Pro Day numbers back that up. Per the Houston Texans website, “Anenih posted a 37.5-inch vertical, 25 reps of 225-lb on the bench press, a 10-3 best on the broad jump and a 4.66 on the 40-yard dash.” Those are tremendous numbers, and if the 49ers can tap into his potential with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, they could eventually be getting a productive edge rusher very late in the draft.
No. 221: Ryan Van Demark, OT, UConn
Offensive tackle help is always a necessity, and the 49ers have enough at the position to snag a player like Van Demark and letting him develop. He has NFL size at 6-6, 302 pounds, and he was a four-year starter at the University of Connecticut. Size and experience are two good things to bet on in an offensive lineman late on Day 3.
No. 262: Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State
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Purdy has big Nick Mullens energy. He’s 6-1, 220 pounds and not an awesome athlete. He started for four years and threw for more than 12,000 yards with 81 touchdowns against 33 interceptions. His arm strength doesn’t jump off the screen though and there’s nothing exceptional about his game. He’s fine, and would probably work as the 49ers’ practice squad QB during the season.