"Expect the unexpected." This line is one that rings true on draft day. Surprises come in all forms, from reaches to trades, or even teams selecting a player at a position they seemed set at. This is why the crowd reaction shots in the draft are some of the most entertaining portions of the show. With the fan base not seeing what's coming, the 49ers have been at the center of some of those memorable draft moments.
In recent history, palpable shock set in when Roger Goodell in 2012 announced the name of a little known Illinois receiver instead of one of college football's most dominant offensive weapons, Alshon Jeffery.
Jimmie Ward was an eyebrow raiser two years later in 2014. Few really knew of the Northern Illinois safety, while it was long expected the CB-needy 49ers would consider Ohio State All-American Bradley Roby. He went the very next pick after Ward to the Broncos. And San Francisco has since selected first-round defensive tackles in three consecutive drafts.
Really, the only predictable pick they made this decade was when they took then LSU safety Eric Reid in 2013 to immediately replace Dashon Goldon, who cashed in with Tampa Bay after being named a first-team All-Pro. Other than that, their drafts have been packed with surprises.
So, expect the unexpected, at least that's what history tells us.
With that in mind, we venture out into the unknown and throw up some fairly bold predictions for the 49ers in 2018.
The 49ers trade a player away
Jimmie Ward or Arik Armstead don’t seem necessary or like fits anymore, and they're players from the old regime that'll be due new deals soon. Currently as young defensive players on cap-friendly contracts, they could be used as a sweetener in a possible move up in the draft. It creates cap relief and clears a roster slot for a better fit with more upside. Another name that would make sense is tight end Garrett Celek. The team found George Kittle in the fifth round last year, and have move tight end Cole Hikutini potentially competing from the practice squad. It’s also an easy position to upgrade with the depth in this class and their apparent eye for talent.
Taking OL in Round 1 or 2
I think this is a bigger priority than it’s been made out to be lately. Because Kyle Shanahan spoke of the importance of center over guard at Weston Richburg’s intro presser, and because they signed Jonathan Cooper and still have Joshua Garnett, one could be led into thinking they’re set at the position or won’t value it that high in the draft. But just like other vets they acquired in Zane Beadles and Laken Tomlinson, who didn’t become any more serviceable after arriving as “system fits,” it'd be unwise to count on Cooper. It's possible that Garnett breaks through, but they'd still have at least one guard spot occupied by an average at best player. Interior O-line should be an early-round priority.
The 49ers acquire a veteran player
Why not? There’s so many interesting possibilities right now. It seems with the evolution toward trades, and NFL teams wising up by unloading aging, injured, expensive or unfit players, other rebuilding clubs are being presented with new opportunities to add talent they can afford to take a chance on. Right now Odell Beckham Jr., Rob Gronkowski, Dez Bryant, Martavis Bryant, Josh Gordon, Earl Thomas—and lord knows who else—are players front offices can call about and not be laughed at. A GM or coach will actually pick up and talk compensation. The 49ers are a popular candidate to make a move, as they are young and have needs, as well as possess the picks and money to do a new deal for another high-profile player. They've been really good about doing their due diligence so far; maybe one of their calls to a team around a high-pressure moment like the draft turns into something more.
Low emphasis on offensive skills positions
The 49ers have been "linked"—more often by fans and speculation than credible reports—to virtually every big name player, the most prominent of which being wide receivers. But if they were to go into training camp today, they’d be fine on offense. With Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo, a high-priced running back, a stable of receivers, an ascending tight end in Kittle and a true X-factor in Kyle Juszczyk, they won’t have an issue moving the ball or scoring. There's no need to invest in a costly skill player unless an incredible opportunity presents itself. So despite popular opinion, don’t expect a running back or receiver to be taken by the team until the mid-to-late rounds, if at all. Maybe we find RB and WR are addressed in the undrafted pool, a market in which they had a ton of success last year and with those particular positions.
Trading out of No. 9 overall
We’ve discussed ad nauseam which player the 49ers may select at No. 9 overall in the 2018 draft. But one option that probably hasn’t been talked about enough is trading back. With the Dolphins (11), Bills (12), Washington (13), Packers (14), Cardinals (15), Ravens (16) and Chargers (17), San Francisco could have several suitors for the ninth pick. If you look closely at all of their situations, they could all use a quarterback. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the 49ers took advantage, and in a top-heavy draft, recouped one of the second-round picks they gave up for Jimmy Garoppolo. Not to mention, one of their best assets on draft day is Paraag Marathe, the man behind the lopsided trades that consistently see the 49ers on the winning end. They'd be wise to deploy him again in this particular situation to get a return that will allow them to dominate the top few rounds.
The 49ers take an Isaiah
This can be considered an extension of our trading out prediction, because for these two players that's about the right range. If the 49ers do slide down, it would not be surprising if at least two of the players they’ll be eying are Isaiah Wynn, offensive lineman out of Georgia, and Isaiah Oliver, cornerback out of Colorado. All along, these two players have profiled as perfect fits; Wynn as an athletic, quick-footed guard who performs exceptionally in zone concepts, and Oliver as a tall, fluid press corner who played with current 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. These are top-level prospects that would be plug-and-play additions for San Francisco. They still need a guard and a corner, and Wynn and Oliver each make a world of sense.
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