If the San Francisco 49ers want to pack Levi’s Stadium like they did in 2014, the team needs to draft well this week in Philadelphia. With so many roster holes, where do General Manager John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan look first?
It’s clear the San Francisco 49ers are at a major crossroads in franchise history, having hit relative rock bottom once again—just a few years after losing the Super Bowl in the final seconds. The 49ers have won just seven games in the last two seasons combined, and they now have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, to be held later this week in Philadelphia. The team also will be fielding its fourth head coach in as many seasons, as Jim Harbaugh (8-8 in 2014), Jim Tomsula (5-11 in 2015) and Chip Kelly (2-14 in 2016) have been unable to return the 49ers to the top of the league.
The task falls upon new coach Kyle Shanahan to revive this moribund franchise and bring San Francisco back to the NFL relevance it enjoyed so thoroughly from 1981 to 1998—and again briefly from 2011 to 2013. With new General Manager John Lynch also in place, the 49ers have a great chance to draft well this week and return to playoff contention in 2017 (maybe). Lynch is a former Stanford student-athlete and All-Pro safety in the NFL, so hopefully he can guide the S.F. franchise through this dark time and return it to the light.
Here are five players we think the 49ers, Lynch and Shanahan should target in the draft in order to return to prominence this fall.
1. Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford: This makes sense for San Francisco, as they need to restore the defense that once had the rest of the NFL cowering in fear. It starts with the pass rush and the linebacking corps, and Thomas is a great fit for the 49ers. Forget Miles Garrett; he has an attitude problem that S.F. doesn’t need to deal with, and sticking with a local product from the Bay Area is a smart move. The 49ers may not need to take him at No. 2, either, depending on how the Cleveland Browns pick with the first overall slot. If San Francisco can trade down, acquire more picks and grab Thomas, it will be a great accomplishment.
2. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama: This may take some fancy wheeling and dealing, but it’s possible that the 49ers could grab Foster, too. The 2016 Butkus Award winner is perceived as undersized, but who cares? The kid makes plays. With current linebacking corps leader NaVorro Bowman once again attempting to come back from a devastating injury, San Francisco needs some talented young blood at the position to carry the defense to the next crest of franchise success—just as Bowman did years ago with Patrick Willis.
3. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama: The 49ers have Joe Staley at left tackle, and although he’s one of the best, depth at the position is never a bad thing. Plus, Staley will 33 this season; that’s kind of old, considering all the mileage the Pro Bowler has on his body. Picking up Robinson at the beginning of the second round could be a huge coup for San Francisco. The Crimson Tide have won a lot of games in recent years because of the play in the trenches, so Robinson is going to be well schooled at what it takes to play in the NFL.
4. Davis Webb, QB, California: Right now, the S.F. depth chart has Brian Hoyer as the starting quarterback, backed up by Matt Barkley. These are two placeholders for the 49ers as they search for the QB of their future. Webb might fall in the draft, and if the team can get him at the top of the third round, they might like it long term. Another local product, Webb played at both Texas Tech and Cal in his college career, without a lot of help around him. He still played well enough in 35 career collegiate games to complete well over 60 percent of his passes. Those are good benchmarks for future NFL success.
5. Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M: The offense needs an infusion of talent at wide receiver, as the current retreads won’t cut it in the modern NFL. This is where Reynolds comes in. Against top competition in 2016, he put up 49 receptions for 822 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games. Plus, in the final game of his career against Kansas State in the Texas Bowl, Reynolds went off: 12 catches, 154 yards, two TDs. This kid is an underrated talent, and the San Francisco offense needs him at the WR position. He may be skinny, but a few extra pounds in the pros could turn him into a Pro Bowler.