Over the next few months you’re going to hear plenty about Quenton Nelson, Bradley Chubb, Harold Landry, Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick as possible first-round options for the 49ers in 2018. Odds are you already have.
It became even realer that the 49ers could land one of these top-five caliber players with four or five quarterbacks potentially going in the top 10.
But there’s also the possibility the 49ers' front office doesn’t see eye to eye with Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay, Mike Mayock and #DraftTwitter, and goes off the grid. They could also trade out of the top 10 and into the back half of the first round, creating an entirely different grouping of players to pick from that hadn't been discussed before by team observers.
In either case, it could lead to a less familiar player having his name called when the 49ers are on the clock.
Here are the ones to keep tabs on . . .
Hercules Mata’afa, EDGE, Wazzu
The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year has been projected anywhere between Rounds 1 and 3. His combine should boost his stock, maybe into a mid-to-late first-rounder. Mata'afa is a natural disruptor at and behind the line, and has the potential to be a double-digit sack artist in the NFL. And if you watch what made Cassius Marsh successful immediately as a midseason waiver claim, you'll see Mata'afa has a souped up version of those traits to be a much bigger factor at Leo. He possesses speed, power, bend and an unparalleled get-off, and would be highly dangerous with the opportunities created for him by Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner.
Derwin James, DB, FSU
Eric Reid may have played his last game as a 49er. And Jaquiski Tartt, while talented, hasn’t started more than eight games in a season. So, box safety is a bit of a question this offseason. And frankly, if it weren't for the lingering status' of Reid and Tartt, James would be one of the ideal matches for the 49ers in this draft. He is a perfect fit in this scheme as a box safety. He could be one of the best in the league at it, maybe as a rookie. It is also a possibility that James is the best player on the board for the 49ers at No. 9/10, or if they slide back in the first round. James is a defensive centerpiece, an elite secondary player, and he brings legit pass-rush ability.
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Many will connect the 49ers to SMU giant Courtland Sutton or Alabama star Calvin Ridley, but there is reason to believe Washington, a unanimous All-American and Biletnikoff Award winner, could be the one of real interest to Kyle Shanahan when it comes to early-round receivers. The coach was high on Trent Taylor when few others saw the potential, and also thought a lot of John Ross because of his ability to separate. If you look at the common traits, you'll find Washington is a similarly polished technician — a great route runner who can create after the catch and has dynamic downfield ability.
Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia
Going offensive line in the first round is an ahead-of-the-curve move. The saying goes, "build from the inside out," but teams rarely put it into effect. Ah, but when they do — see 2014-present Dallas, and 2010-14 San Francisco — it pays dividends. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch seem like the types to see the value in a franchise offensive lineman when every other team is looking for sacks and touchdowns. Wynn, the All-American from Georgia, has the potential to be a dominant guard at the next level, elite in both pass protection and run blocking. He could really help this team become a bully in the trenches again. And when it's all said and done, Wynn can be an upper-echelon 10-year starter that helps maintain the integrity of the line through change.
Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA
Davenport is a long, athletic pass rusher that had 8.5 sacks and led a top-five NCAA defense in 2017. While he may be too rich for the top five, he’s been talked about as a top-10 prospect. With the Niners on that No. 9/10 border, they could be the team to scoop up Davenport. San Francisco in the first year of a new regime went this route with Missouri product Aldon Smith, and his pass-rush ability made a huge impact even as he played a situational role as a rookie. It's possible Davenport could can be that dominate backside edge rusher they've been missing.
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Evans was teammates with current 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster in both high school and college. They remain close today. If reunited, it could make the heart of the 49ers defense even stronger. With Malcolm Smith, they'd form one of the better linebacking corps in the league. Evans on his own merit is an animal, and is just starting to get recognition. He's incredibly athletic and hard hitting, and brings value as a pass rusher. If the 49ers wind up picking in the teens or 20's, he would be a solid selection.
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Despite being a bit short as a boundary corner, Ward already is what pro scouts want tall project corners to develop into. He’s lengthy and can play press, and he possesses great timing and ball skills. Ward is also elite athletically, generally knows how to play the position, has great awareness and is scheme versatile. If the 49ers take a corner in Round 1, Ward might be their guy. Pairing him with Ahkello Witherspoon would help shore up the secondary and put them much closer to having a championship-caliber defense.
Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
I may not see the value in Saquon Barkley in the top 10, but I do see some in Guice in the late teens or 20's. He possesses an incredible combination of power and agility, and has a grip on how to use it. Guice, when healthy, is arguably the best running back in this class — he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, had to play behind Leonard Fournette at LSU and then was injured in his only year as the featured guy. If he were healthy and had more exposure, he'd likely be RB1. If the 49ers move into the back half of the first round, and pick up another second-rounder in the process, they can comfortably make this pick, putting a top-five caliber running back in the backfield with Jimmy Garoppolo.
Media courtesy Getty Images