The 2-14 Niners hold the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. And it’s a position that gives the future general manager of the team a lot of options.
Rarely do teams have a chance to land a top-five prospect. Unless you’re the perennially bad Cleveland Browns, that is. But as any draft pundit can tell you, the NFL Draft is little more than a craps shoot. First-round selections can go bust just as easily as a third-round pick emerging as a perennial All-Pro (thank you, NaVorro Bowman).
To figure out how the 49ers should spend this pick in the draft, we need to prioritize the needs first.
Thankfully, Niner Noise has already put something like this together — the top five needs San Francisco has, positionally, this offseason.
In order from least to most pressing, the 49ers need the following:
You can argue the order if you like. But you can’t argue the need for any of these positions.
But if we just grant that’s the priority for now, how do the Niners go about maximizing the No. 2 slot while addressing the best need?
Nov 19, 2016; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) looks to pass in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
The Quarterback Argument
Barring some crazy offseason development, quarterback Colin Kaepernick is all but guaranteed not to be back with San Francisco in 2017. Neither is free-agent-to-be Blaine Gabbert.
The Niners need a quarterback… badly. And not just a stopgap, two-year option either.
Sure, waiting another year for a franchise signal-caller might not be a bad idea (the 49ers are probably going to be bad in 2017 too). But having a near-total pick of any QB in the draft presents an excellent opportunity.
But who do the Niners tab?
Well, it depends on which NFL Draft board you refer to. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller has North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky as the No. 9 overall prospect. Trubisky falls to No. 14 on CBS Sports’ Rob Rang‘s big board, with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson falling way down to No. 33 overall.
Those are just two boards to look at.
Yet there’s a question to consider here — are either of these two worth the No. 2 pick, in terms of value?
It’s hard to say because, well, a number of things may change between now and then.
Yet if things stay the way they are, the total value might not be there.
Defense First… Again
Other players the 49ers might be eyeing at No. 2 overall include Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster.
Sep 5, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) celebrates his sack against Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici (2) (not pictured)in the first quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco has used it’s first pick to draft defensive players each year dating back to 2013.
A new general manager could change the strategy here. But considering how historically bad the Niners’ defense was in 2016, it might have to be a route the Niners take again this year.
Speaking of non-offensive players, the last time San Francisco drafted a skill-position player on the offensive side of the ball before Round 4 was in 2012 — wide receiver A.J. Jenkins.
49ers fans know how poorly that turned out. And San Francisco hasn’t bothered to make such a risky investment of this kind since.
That hurt the Niners though. So targeting a wide receiver, like Clemson’s Mike Williams, might be another route a new general manager chooses.
No. 2 overall picks hold a great deal of value — 2,600 points, according to this Pro Football Talk draft-pick trade-value chart.
One can look at the chart and come up with an infinite number of scenarios in which San Francisco could increase its draft capital. But to get a more recent idea, just consider what the Philadelphia Eagles had to give up last season to grab quarterback Carson Wentz at No. 2:
Their own first-round pick (No. 8)
A third-round pick (No. 77)
A fourth-round pick (No. 100)
The Eagles first-round pick in 2017
The Eagles third-round pick in 2018
That’s quite a haul for trading up six spots. And the 49ers could certainly use additional picks in this year’s draft and following ones as well.
San Francisco should definitely consider this route, especially if a player like Garrett — widely considered the best prospect in the draft — doesn’t make it beyond the Cleveland Browns’ selection at No. 1 overall.
Even trading down five or six spots would generate a tremendous amount of draft capital. And the Niners could still get their hands on either a top-tier quarterback, wide receiver or inside linebacker with relative ease.