The recent quarterback movement around the league likely had implications on the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Minnesota kept Kirk Cousins away from two top-10 teams in the Broncos (#5) and Jets (#6). The Cardinals found no solution, saddling up with flawed short-termers in Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon. Buffalo also crept closer to the top 10 in a pick swap with Cincinnati that got them to No. 12. And the Browns with Tyrod Taylor expect to take a quarterback at No. 1 or 4.
We're closer to four quarterbacks going in the top 10 now. And if teams are aggressive selecting passers at the top—in a class that features five names that could go in the first round—a great non-quarterback talent and perhaps a consensus top-five player may be there at No. 9 overall for general manager John Lynch.
For the 49ers, that's an incredibly beneficial aspect of this year's class. And maybe it's not talked about enough as a reason to sit tight at No. 9. It's looking increasingly likely that they're going to be gifted an elite player that otherwise wouldn't have been there.
Considering the way the NFL landscape has changed in free agency, as well as San Francisco's transactions and team situation, I wanted to gauge who that consensus top available player might be. Who is the best prospect destined to slip to No. 9 for the 49ers?
Polling five of the most in-tune draft analysts and forecasters, we comprised a list of elite talents that could tumble to San Francisco.
Benjamin Allbright (Denver radio host and NFL reporter): Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Allbright: I think it’ll probably be Roq falling. Just based on need, fit and availability of quarterbacks. We could easily see four QBs in the top six picks. Someone will foolishly jump on Saquon Barkley, and someone smartly on Quenton Nelson. I could see Barkley falling before someone like Bradley Chubb, though, given that NYG, CLE and SF signed running backs.
Ledyard: Something tells me Chicago will prefer Tremaine Edmunds due to their size/length preferences, which should leave Smith on the board for San Francisco. A rangy, instinctive linebacker, Smith is John Lynch’s type of player to a T, capable of matching up in coverage or lowering the boom in the box. With Reuben Foster’s issues off the field, the 49ers can sure up their LB corps if he is suspended, and give themselves a dynamic duo when he returns.
Hunt: Despite the Richard Sherman signing, I still think the 49ers inject youth and athleticism into the secondary. Mike Hughes of UCF is the best in the draft, and is versatile enough to play all three spots in the secondary.
[CROCKER: Film Room: Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida]
I have Hughes with a 90 (grade), and Ohio State's Denzel Ward with an 83. As far as others falling, Lamar Jackson could be there at No. 9 overall because teams are stupid. Count Minkah Fitzpatrick, too, because of the potential run on QBs.
Easterling: Smith is a top-five overall player on my board, but it’s rare to see an off-ball linebacker with his size come off the board that early. With a handful of quarterbacks likely to go ahead of the 49ers, the chances that more premium positions push Smith down the board are fairly high.
This should be music to John Lynch’s ears, as he saw first-hand what a defender like Smith can do when he played with Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks. I’ll never put a gold jacket on a prospect, but Smith’s frame and skill set has more than a few similarities to what made Brooks such a dynamic presence for that legendary Bucs defense. With all the uncertainty surrounding Reuben Foster’s future, Smith would be well worth strong consideration if he makes it to No. 9.
Brugler: I don’t think the Richard Sherman signing changes anything in regards to the team’s draft plans. Ward would provide immediate depth in the nickel, as well as insurance if Sherman isn’t healthy or Ahkello Witherspoon struggles. If Ward is still available at No. 9, he’ll almost assuredly be the best player on the board.
[CROCKER: Film Room: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State]
With these QBs, I’m not ruling anything out, but I would be surprised if (Bradley Chubb, Minkah Fitzpatrick or Quenton Nelson) were available. If the first eight picks are three QBs, Saquon Barkley, Derwin James, and one of the LBs, it would be possible for one of them to be there at No. 9.
Lance Zierlein (NFL.com): Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama/Derwin James, DB, Florida State
Zierlein: I think there is a decent chance the 49ers could have a shot at either Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James if they were interested in adding either of the talented, hybrid talents to their defense. I think the top two linebackers, defensive end, running back, guard and maybe Denzel Ward will all be gone along with some QBs.
Media courtesy Sports Illustrated/MMQB, USA Today Sports Images, Times Free Press/John Kelly, AP Images, NFL.com
Special thanks to Benjamin Allbright, Jon Ledyard, Emory Hunt, Luke Easterling, Dane Brugler and Lance Zierlein