Mock drafts make for entertaining articles, free-agent primers are enticing – but when not paired together, they can be arbitrary and seemingly incomplete pieces of content. It’s often forgotten how much A affects B. And a mock draft without a take on free agency included can make it difficult to see the big picture.
So instead of writing up one piece or the other, we’ll attempt to script a complete mock offseason plan for the 49ers, just one time before free agency blows the projection up.
The goal of this is to paint a better, more clear picture of what the 2017 roster could look like, even if this isn’t exactly how it comes together. It will more or less illustrate how much change is possible in an offseason, and much of it will align with reports and logical fits you've seen already.
While this mock will be kept as realistic as possible, keep in mind, the 49ers have an Everest-like pile of cash—over $80 million with a chance to break $94M if Colin Kaepernick opts out—and a new regime eager to repair the roster and fill first- and second-string roles. It’s reasonable to expect them to sign at least two big names, maybe even three or four.
There will also be short-term depth and special teams signings made.
Here we’ll map out a very generic but effective route the 49ers can go this offseason.
Dontari Poe, NT – 5-year deal
Take: At first it seemed the 49ers wouldn’t need a true NT in their switch to a 4-3 front, but the defense Robert Saleh will be running functions better with that type of body. Poe, a former No. 11 overall pick in 2012, highlights the market of interior defensive lineman. If the 49ers procure a two-gapping All-Pro-caliber nose tackle, they won’t have to lose sleep over not taking one — or worse, reaching for one in the draft.
Alternative: Brandon Williams is coming off his best season with the Ravens, and could help remedy the 49ers’ run-stopping issues.
Melvin Ingram, LB/EDGE – 4-year deal
Take: Ingram coming aboard would eliminate the early draft need for linebacker, while also providing the team with an edge rusher. The 49ers then wouldn’t be pressed to select Reuben Foster second overall or forcibly try to get Takkarist McKinley or Haason Reddick early on Day 2, which would be a nice freedom if the QB situation isn’t settled and DeShone Kizer and/or Patrick Mahomes are still on the board. Ingram’s traits as a defender are exactly what the 49ers front seven is missing and requires in its transition.
Alternative: Super Bowl winner Dont’a Hightower, at 26 years old, is another great free-agent option here if the 49ers don’t land Ingram.
Ronald Leary, OG – 3-year deal
Take: The 49ers require an imposing guard to pair up with 2016 first-rounder Joshua Garnett. Leary could be that player. When on the field, he was a force on an elite offensive line, and would instantly upgrade San Francisco's interior line group. This also allows Kyle Shanahan to lean on the running game more as he turns his focus to finding a solution at quarterback.
Alternative: If not Leary, shutout pass protector T.J. Lang of the Packers or former first-rounder Kevin Zeitler of the Bengals would be solid signings.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/RB – 1-year deal
Take: Patterson fizzled out in Minnesota as a receiver. But he’s a willing, freak athlete with big-play ability. He could use San Francisco as an opportunity to increase his volume and do so with Shanahan, who is as qualified as anyone to optimize Patterson’s touches. Patterson, seeing Ty Montgomery’s success, also said he’d “love” to play running back. This could be a win-win for both parties involved.
Alternative: It’s possible the 49ers look for their star wideout in the draft, so if it’s not Patterson, then Kenny Britt or Victor Cruz could be veteran options to help fill out the corps.
Brian Hoyer, QB – 2-year deal
Take: There is familiarity between Shanahan and Hoyer, which makes this a workable and safe situation. Hoyer knows the system and expectations are low. He acts as the bridge quarterback as the 49ers’ new head coach grooms his inevitable successor. Matt Schaub is also a candidate for this role.
Mychal Rivera, TE – 1-year deal
Take: Rivera is a solid receiver as a move tight end, but wasn’t part of the rebuild in Oakland. It gives Shanahan a versatile and sure-handed weapon, and one that presents competition to Vance McDonald and Blake Bell.
K’Waun Williams, CB – 1-year deal (reportedly signed)
Take: The staff knows Williams, specifically new 49ers defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley. He’ll be in training camp, and expects to compete with 2016 third-rounder Will Redmond for time in the nickel.
John Simon, LB/EDGE – 2-year deal
Take: Simon played in just 11 games last year for Houston, starting five. And he was a presence around the ball in a relatively limited role, making 51 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He also forced a fumble and recovered one. Simon would provide depth, special teams ability and pass rush.
Unaccounted for star free agents:
Kirk Cousins, QB (Washington)
LeVeon Bell, RB (Steelers)
Eddie Lacy, RB (Giants)
LeGarrette Blount, RB (Patriots)
Alshon Jeffery, WR (Titans)
DeSean Jackson, WR (Eagles)
Pierre Garcon, WR (Rams)
Martellus Bennett, TE (Jaguars)
Andrew Whitworth, OT (Broncos)
Kevin Zeitler, OG (Vikings)
T.J. Lang, OG (Seahawks)
Kawann Short, DT (Panthers)
A.J. Bouye, CB (Bears)
Stephon Gilmore (Packers)
Trumaine Johnson, CB (Dolphins)
Lawrence Timmons, LB (Steelers)
DeMarcus Ware, LB (Cowboys)
Calais Campbell, DE (Patriots)
Eric Berry, S (Buccaneers)
Tony Jefferson, S (Jaguars)
The 49ers possess the following 11 picks in the 2017 draft:
Round 1, Pick 2
Round 2, Pick 34
Round 3, Pick 66
Round 4, Pick 107
Round 4, Pick 143
Round 5, Pick 147
Round 6, Pick 187
Round 6, Pick 203 (via Denver)
Round 7, Pick 222 (via Cleveland)
Round 7, Pick 223
Round 7, Pick 238
The following is a sample mock draft based on the previous free-agent haul (CBS Sports big board):
Note: It's highly likely Garrett, the most evolved and pro-ready player in the draft, is the No. 1 overall pick. But how the quarterback carousel plays out in free agency is a big factor in that. A lot could change between now and the draft. And if you still won't allow yourself to believe it's Garrett, call this pick Derek Barnett or Tim Williams at No. 2.
The rest of the selections are in the ballpark.
Areas of improvement:
Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert are out and it’s Brian Hoyer and Patrick Mahomes in town for the 49ers. Hoyer likely starts Week 1, maybe the entire season, but he can be yanked at any time for the rookie. In these two players, the organization gets a fresh start at the position and Shanahan gets two system compatible players to work with, including a potential franchise player.
Torrey Smith remains, but the 49ers get a boost from third-rounder Isaiah Ford of Virginia Tech. Those two, along with DeAndre Smelter and Bruce Ellington, form the 49ers’ top four options at wide receiver. Cordarrelle Patterson comes in as a versatile piece as well, operating as an underneath receiver, rusher and return specialist.
Baylor incinerator KD Cannon also enters the picture with a chance to round out a deep group of pass catchers and maybe even push to be the featured No. 3.
Carlos Hyde returns as the lead back, and if healthy for a full 16, is a candidate to finish as a top-five rusher. Behind No. 28 are Mike Davis and Michigan rookie De’Veon Smith, as well as the experiment in Patterson. It’s also quite possible Shanahan utilizes Ellington out of the backfield.
While light on paper, they should have plenty of bodies with different skills coming out of the backfield. But admittedly, they could be in trouble if Hyde gets hurt.
Meanwhile, Vance McDonald, Blake Bell and newcomer Mychal Rivera battle it out for snaps at tight end.
Joe Staley, Joshua Garnett, Ethan Pocic (LSU, rookie), Ronald Leary (UFA via Dallas) and Trent Brown would form the 49ers’ 2017 starting offensive line. Leary would project to start if acquired in free agency, and Pocic would likely overthrow Daniel Kilgore, who’s been injured and unspectacular.
The 49ers would also get depth, a project and a potential swing tackle in USC’s Zach Banner.
This is where it gets nasty.
The 49ers’ refurbished and now glowing front seven would consist of Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Dontari Poe and Myles Garrett on the line. This is possible – maybe not probable – because the 49ers have the money for Poe and Kansas City doesn’t. And because if the Browns don’t snatch Jimmy Garoppolo away from the Patriots, their next course of action may be to take a quarterback at No. 1.
The position is that important. So however unlikely Cleveland passing on Garrett seems now, quarterback cannot be ruled out.
That being said, a Garrett-Buckner-Poe-Armstead line – with NaVorro Bowman and Ingram backing it up – could be the heart of a playoff-caliber defense. In Year 1 together, this group would dig the 32nd-ranked defense out of cellar.
Moving on, Bowman gets immense help with the signing of former Chargers linebacker and edge rusher Melvin Ingram, forming a pair of strong starters. National Champion linebacker Ben Boulware and free agent John Simon come in to compete with Ray-Ray Armstrong for time on the field, and perhaps roles on special teams.
South Carolina pass-rusher Darius English also joins the front seven looking to carve out a niche. Aaron Lynch returns in a contract year looking to redeem himself, while Ahmad Brooks competes in camp as a veteran cut candidate as the defense looks to enter the generation.
Miami’s Corn Elder, arguably one of the most complete cornerback prospects in this year's draft, comes in to compete for time on the field as a rookie. He finds himself in a camp battle for the nickel role with 2016 third-rounder Will Redmond and free-agent signee K’Waun Williams. And he’s got a fair shot to win the job.
The assumption is that breakout defender Rashard Robinson resumes his role as the No. 1 cornerback for the 49ers, and perhaps blossoms into a top player at the position. Tramaine Brock returns, finishing out the last year of his deal – although I wouldn’t rule out the new regime cutting ties and starting Jimmie Ward as CB2.
Dontae Johnson and Keith Reaser could also be on the outs.
Starting safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea are still under contract. In all likelihood they each get one final year to show their value, especially with a drastically improved front seven. However, both the safety and cornerback groups will both need to be revisited and invested in heavily during the 2018 offseason.
Kicker Zane Gonzalez comes in two years after punter Bradley Pinion was selected in the fifth round, effectively replacing the Dawson-Lee era.
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