Jimmy Garoppolo put pen to paper and will now be the starting quarterback of the 49ers for at least the next five years. Now the attention turns to how San Francisco will pivot off that blessed situation and use their current capital to build around Garoppolo. In addition to having top-three cap space, they will have nine picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, including one inside the top-10, and four total in the top-75.
[DESIMONE: Less talked about first-round options for 49ers in 2018 draft]
Using B/R analyst Matt Miller’s updated and very early rankings as of February, I simulated a seven-round mock with that exact capital on Fanspeak, with the exception of the second-to-last pick, who wasn't available. The following picks are based on recent developments, free agency projections, team needs, and taking the best player available the time.
Round 1, Pick 9: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
It seems likely that after becoming a first-team All Pro that Andrew Norwell will be retained by Carolina. At that point, it becomes even more apparent that the best available option to address their biggest need at left guard is Nelson, the unanimous All-American from Notre Dame. He is elite and plays with a bad taste in his mouth. Nelson would be able to make a seamless transition to the 49ers' lineup, assuming his role next to Joe Staley, and becoming a fixture in what could be a top rushing attack, while also protecting the franchise in Garoppolo.
Round 2, Pick 59: Chad Thomas, EDGE, Miami
The free-agent market for defensive ends isn’t really there, so it’s likely to be an early-round need. Demarcus Lawrence is likely remaining a Cowboy, and is Ezekiel Ansah would be a roll of the dice. So the 49ers take care of it by adding Thomas in the draft, who brings it as a pass rusher and run defender. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound end had 4.5 sacks in 2017 as one of the key contributors on Miami's dynamic defense. He would play the right end or “Leo” spot in Robert Saleh’s system. Thomas' presence would complete the line and trigger an uptick in sack production.
Round 3, Pick 70: Auden Tate, WR, Florida State
Receiver seems like an addressable position in free agency, but dynamic WR1 options will be hard to come by. Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins are likely staying with their respective teams. So with that being the case, the 49ers take a chance on Tate, the big-time playmaker from FSU. At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, he has the body of a true No. 1, and can be both dynamic down the field and in the red zone. Tate figures in as the outside receiver the 49ers need, allowing Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin to work out of the slot where they can be even more effective.
Round 3, Pick 74: Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State
Prior to the start of the 2017 season, McFadden had early hype as a potential top-10 pick. He’d just won the Jack Tatum Trophy and was All-ACC. But with the rise of so many other players during the year, including many corners, he’s quietly slid down boards. Now he’s looking more like a Day 2 pick. That’s just fine, because among several needs, the 49ers have to land a talented boundary corner opposite Ahkello Witherspoon. So if McFadden falls into their lap in the third round, it would be a no-brainer.
Round 4, Pick 130: Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
It seems everyone’s forgotten about Bo. Injuries and a lack of carries at Alabama sort of keeps him in the shadows, I suppose, especially in a bottomless running back class like the one we have this year. But at the end of the day, he’s a lot like ex-teammate Derrick Henry. He’s long, powerful, fast and agile, and seems like a threat to punch the ball in the end zone every time he gets a touch. Basically a freight train. With only Matt Brieda in place — and potentially Joe Williams and a yet-to-be-named free agent — the 49ers may need a bruising three-down back. Scarbrough makes sense.
Round 5, Pick 145: Dante Pettis, WR, Washington
The 49ers need to add as many receivers as possible and simply let the best men win. That means Aldrick Robinson, Louis Murphy and even Kendrick Bourne are at risk of being replaced by higher-ceiling players. With his polish and multifaceted ability, Pettis would be a great option to come in, compete and offer something different. Like Ryan Berry said in his evaluation, “Pettis is the best return specialist since Devin Hester.” That’s saying a lot, but it’s true. He set an NCAA-record with nine career punt returns for touchdowns, with four coming in his senior season. Pettis would immediately take over as the primary return man, rotate with the receivers and develop as a potential Garçon successor.
Round 6, Pick 187: Shaquem Griffin, LB, Central Florida
Griffin’s stock skyrocketed this year with Central Florida’s “National Title,” which he followed up with a strong Senior Bowl performance. It does seem unlikely he'll be here in the sixth. The highly-decorated linebacker more than showed that he belongs. Griffin, who had 74 tackles and 7.0 sacks in 2017, has a nose for the football and brings great athleticism as a pass rusher. If the 49ers have an opportunity, he would make for a great fit at Will or Sam linebacker. It would also make for a fun story line, as his older brother Shaquill is a cornerback for the Seahawks.
Round 7, Pick 227: Devron Davis, CB, UTSA
The 49ers must fix the secondary. Even if they find a corner in free agency, and take McFadden in the third round, there’s no harm in using another late-round selection on the position. A player like Davis makes sense. He fits the scheme, was a key starter on a top-5 college defense, and as a 6-foot, 210-pound corner prospect, he’s the prototype the 49ers are looking for. Davis can develop as a safety, outside corner or nickel. He also has NFL lineage, as the first cousin of Vernon and Vontae Davis.
Round 7, Pick 240: Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee State
James is an out-of-this-world playmaker with great speed, cut-ability (that also translates into slick route running), and some decent high-pointing skills. Being a 5-foot-9, 176-pound small school product who only played in five games in 2017 is the reason he may be available in the seventh, though. Nevertheless, all Shanahan needs is traits, and Garoppolo has shown he can spread the ball around. James could be dynamic in San Francisco.
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