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The 49ers Balance Immediate Needs With Long-Term Plans in NFL Draft
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By Associated Press
Published 2 weeks ago on
April 30, 2024

With the core of a roster that made it to the Super Bowl last season still in place, the San Francisco 49ers had few glaring holes on the roster headed into the NFL Draft. Their approach was to add depth. (NFL)

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — With the core of a roster that made it to the Super Bowl last season still in place, the San Francisco 49ers had few glaring holes on the roster headed into the NFL draft.

That made the approach to picking as much about adding depth with players who could eventually become low-cost starters in 2025 or beyond as it did finding big-time contributors for the upcoming season.

“The hardest thing is when you go through the draft and especially when you feel you’re a contender and things like that, you want to do everything to just look at your board and fill those holes,” coach Kyle Shanahan said Saturday. “That’s really not how the draft works. … You want to think always what helps us now. But then you get to that spot and there always isn’t that answer right then. Then do you go what kind of helps us now and more in the future. That’s what you’re just constantly weighing.”

The Niners have most of their starting spots filled for now but with some aging starters and a potential salary cap crunch in the future once they have to pay quarterback Brock Purdy market rate, they’re hoping they found some cheap longer-term answers.

First-Round Pick and Future Plans

The 49ers used their first-round pick on Florida receiver Ricky Pearsall, who has a chance to immediately establish himself as the No. 3 receiver and punt returner and could grow into a larger role if the team eventually moves on from either Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.

The second day was spent on adding needed depth at cornerback and the offensive line with players who could compete to play as rookies with second-round cornerback Renardo Green out of Florida State and third-round Kansas offensive lineman Dominick Puni.

The final day was geared more toward finding potential contributors on special teams and depth on the offensive line.

“I think it’s a really good roster,” general manager John Lynch said. “It’s going to be tough to crack for these guys. We do believe that they have the skill sets, the mentalities the makeup that they can come in and find a way. It’s on them now.”

Standing Pat

The biggest question during the draft for the 49ers was whether they would trade either of their star receivers Aiyuk or Samuel. Aiyuk is seeking a long-term extension and the Niners have to decide whether they can afford two high-priced receivers after paying Samuel two years ago. San Francisco opted to keep both of the wideouts for now and appears ready to go at least another season with both on the roster.

“We didn’t entertain any of that,” Lynch said Friday about possible trades for the receivers. “We’re happy with our wide receiver group. Actually, more than happy. We’re really thrilled with it and thrilled to have added Ricky to that group and even make it stronger.”

Pass Protection

Poor pass blocking on the interior doomed the Niners late in the Super Bowl loss to Kansas City as they failed to pick up third-down pressures that forced them into field goals at the end of regulation and in overtime. San Francisco used its third-round pick on a versatile lineman they believe can play all five positions in Puni.

Puni played mostly tackle last season when he didn’t allow a single sack or quarterback hit in 325 pass blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, but is more likely to start out at guard or tackle in the NFL.

San Francisco added another offensive lineman in the sixth round in guard Jarrett Kingston out of Southern California.

Tough to Find Tackles

The Niners were unable to add a pure tackle to the offensive line as they opted not pick one for the third straight year. Nine offensive linemen went before San Francisco made its first pick at No. 31, with most slated to be tackles. That led the 49ers to look at other spots.

“When you’re drafting 31st, it’s often times tough to find tackles you really love,” Lynch said.

Trey Lance Return

The 49ers closed the book on the failed draft pick of quarterback Trey Lance. San Francisco traded three first-round picks and one third-rounder to draft Lance third overall in 2021. He made only four starts before being traded away to Dallas last summer for a fourth-round pick.

The Niners used that pick to take Wake Forest safety Malik Mustapha, who worked his way up from the FCS level to become an NFL draft pick.

Happy Returns

After losing returner Ray-Ray McCloud in free agency, the Niners added a pair of potential returners in the fourth round in Louisville running back Isaac Guerendo and Arizona receiver Jacob Cowing.

Guerendo is a fast, one-cut back who could earn time as Christian McCaffrey’s backup and also has experience as a kick returner. The 49ers were high enough on him that they traded two fifth-round picks to take him 129th overall.

Cowing is an undersized slot receiver, who returned punts his final two years in college.

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