We’ll know before Day 1 of the draft who the Browns are taking first overall. Heck, we may know now. In a way, the 49ers are basically on the clock. That’s why the intrigue is coming from all over with regard to which player they may take – it pushes the narrative forward on mock drafts and projections as we count down to April 27.
While a handful of names have already been talked about at length for San Francisco—namely Deshaun Watson, Reuben Foster, Mitch Trubisky and Mike Williams—here we’re going to look at surprise selections the organization could make at No. 2 overall, but ones followers of the team can also make sense of.
Also of note, players like Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, and even Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore, while surprising picks for the 49ers, have been talked about in some circles, so they will be omitted from the following list.
Now, this piece is not to say they should veer away from taking a top-ranked player at a position of need like Foster or Williams, it’s more to inspire conversation and get people prepared for the unexpected. After all, there is no track record to tip which way the duo of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch may be leaning.
They could make a pick that seems completely out of left field.
So the following will truncate a collection of first-round talents that would be strong selections for the 49ers, but ones that aren’t being discussed at large. We’ll also note why they’re not being talked about more.
Who made the cut . . .
Dalvin Cook, RB, FSU:
Count me as one of the believers that Carlos Hyde is a feature-esque running back in the National Football League – the skills, the frame, the athleticism and speed, the tenacity, it’s all there. But health has been an issue, as he’s dealt with ankle, back, head and shoulder injuries. Most notably he had foot surgery in 2015 to repair a stress fracture and finished the 2016 season with a torn MCL.
Excluding his rookie season when he served behind former lead back Frank Gore, Hyde has started just 20 of a possible 32 games. In other words, he’s missed nearly an entire season’s worth of play over the two years he’s been leaned on as a RB1. The durability isn’t there and now his long-term projection is in question.
The reason Cook is listed here over LSU steamroller Leonard Fournette is because when, in theory, Cook and Hyde would both be healthy on game day, they would be viewed as the more dynamic and complementary pair of runners. Not only is Cook above-average starter material in the NFL, but he’s a threat on the edges and in the passing game — both elements the 49ers could certainly use.
The overall selling point of this is Tevin and Devonta 2.0.
Why not: While Cook’s ability would warrant the draft slot, the 49ers prioritizing any running back that high in this deep a class of backs may not be the best route.
Tim Williams, EDGE, Alabama:
Williams caught my eye a lot playing on a loaded Alabama front seven. He’s been a fierce edge rusher, specifically for the past two seasons, racking up 18.5 sacks and a National Championship for the Crimson Tide. Williams, I believe, has the potential to be the second-best EDGE in this class, bringing a unique blend of strength, explosiveness, pass-rush moves and persistence on passing downs. And he’s built for the NFL.
The 49ers have yet to fill the void left by Aldon Smith and Justin Smith. They desperately require an All-Pro caliber player on the edge to light a fire under this defense, which has a lot of young but idling talent. Williams could be the impact player they need, and would bring versatility as the 49ers switch to a 4-3 scheme.
Why not: Williams would be a solid addition that few could scoff at, but does anyone know if he is truly better than the next guy on our list, who will likely be available at No. 2?
Derek Barnett, EDGE, Tennessee:
Violent hand usage, power, balance and production is what Barnett brings to a team from Day 1. From his measurables to the stat sheet, he’s got both a great track record and high ceiling, as the 6-foot-3, 265-pounder tallied 32.0 sacks and 52 tackles for loss over his esteemed three-year career at Tennessee, which consisted of 39 games. Barnett would be a real presence off the edge for the 49ers right away.
It is surprising how few mocks have Barnett to the 49ers, considering he is viewed by many as the No. 2 pass rusher after Garrett.
But when it comes to justifying Barnett or even Williams, the argument is that the 49ers have no edge presence right now, and there’s no semblance of any for the future. They can’t count on Aaron Lynch (scheme change, suspension, weight fluctuation) or Ahmad Brooks (declining production, age).
Why not: Barnett comes off as a little raw for a selection this early, and it may be enough to keep him out of consideration for the 49ers.
Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State:
“He has the best combination of range and ball skills that I've ever seen in a college safety. His anticipation and awareness is off the charts. I wasn't in Baltimore when Ed Reed was drafted, but I arrived the following year to scout for the Ravens and spent four years around the future Hall of Famer. Hooker is the closest thing I've seen to Reed seen since I've been scouting,” – NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah
*Ears perk up*
The 49ers are a question mark at safety—you can make the argument that they have a lot to work with, you could make an argument they have very little. What I’ve seen is Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea struggle lately, both in run support and coverage. And who knows what the future of Jaquiski Tartt holds or if the 49ers’ new staff elects to keep Jimmie Ward at corner or not. There’s a case to be made for Hooker.
And if you’re questioning draft slot vs. value, it doesn’t take a football expert to see how Earl Thomas turned around the Seahawks defense, and ultimately the franchise. He’s an elite safety, arguably Seattle’s best defensive player, and a top five defender in the NFL. If that’s along the lines of what Hooker grows into, it’s worth it.
Moreover, the Niners as of late have brought in the cloggers, block absorbers and hitters on defense – they desperately require a ball-attacking playmaker now. Hooker may not only be All-Pro caliber early, but he may be just what this defense needs.
Why not: Reid and Bethea are still under contract and this is one of the rare positions the 49ers can afford to bypass altogether this offseason.
Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan:
The value of premier receivers in today’s NFL cannot be overstated. Players like Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham, A.J. Green, and so on, would all be top-five picks in redrafts. If the 49ers get an alpha receiver for the next 6-8 years, or maybe even longer, nobody would roll their eyes at sinking a No. 2 pick into him.
Davis is right there with Clemson standout Mike Williams in this year’s class, pushing him to be the first receiver off the board. So, if folks are widely considering Williams for the 49ers at No. 2, Davis should absolutely be in the conversation. He is a strong, well-built and technically proficient specimen.
Davis had at least 1,400 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns each of the past three seasons. He finished his college run on a high note, posting a 97-1,500-19 line. His career production at Western Michigan is simply outstanding.
If the 49ers view Davis as the top receiver available, he could be the guy.
Why not: Not many good reasons. But until the 49ers have an established passer, Mike Williams may be the better prototype receiver to help get the offense off the ground.
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