The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
San Francisco 49ers 2021 Draft Picks
Round 1 (3)
Round 2 (43)
Round 3 (102)
Round 4 (117)
Round 5 (155)
Round 5 (172)
Round 5 (180)
Round 6 (194)
Round 7 (230)
San Francisco 49ers Offense
By Rich Hribar
San Francisco pulled off the first blockbuster trade of draft season when they moved all the way up to the third pick overall with the Dolphins a few weeks ago. That move was 100% to select a quarterback, the only question that remains is who that passer will be?
The other question it creates is what will happen with Jimmy Garoppolo?
The 49ers were quick to say that they were not looking to move Garoppolo, but it is clear that he is not the organization’s long-term plans and that rookie passers play earlier in today’s NFL. Garoppolo has a $26.4M cap hit in 2021, but would only cost the 49ers $2.8M in dead money to release or trade him. Garoppolo has a no-trade clause in his current contract, but there are workarounds if a team is looking to make Garoppolo their starting quarterback with a shot at a longer commitment.
Outside of this incoming rookie at the top of the draft, San Francisco has Josh Johnson and Josh Rosen on low-leverage contracts for 2021.
Kyle Juszczyk (FB)
Josh Hokit (FB)
San Francisco remains a backfield-driven offense as they ranked fifth in the league in backfield touches per game (30.6) despite a plethora of injuries and a steady rotation of bodies active over the course of the season. Jeff Wilson led the team with 139 touches, but their offensive performance running the football was largely subpar a year ago as the 49ers ranked 28th in the league in expected points added via their running game (-18.5).
Heading into 2021, the 49ers do not have a running back under contract beyond this season while controlling the rights to JaMycal Hasty and Austin Walter. Starting running back Raheem Mostert will be 29 years old to start the season and has yet to clear 151 touches in a single season due to his career path and missing eight games in 2020.
Kyle Shanahan has a history of making chicken salad out of any backfield he has been given, but the 49ers should thoroughly be in the mix to add to the position via the draft.
Because of their offensive approach, dealing with injuries, and a COVID outbreak, the 49ers wide receivers closed 2020 ranking 24th in the league in receptions per game (11.7), 24th in yardage receiving per game (145.4 yards), and 25th in targets per game (17.4).
2020 was just about a throwaway season for Deebo Samuel in his second year in the league. Entering the season with a Jones Fracture that forced him to miss the first three weeks of the season, Samuel also suffered hamstring injuries at two different points of the season that limited him to just seven total games played and only five games on the field with 50% of the team snaps.
His absence did allow first-round rookie Brandon Aiyuk to shine, however. Aiyuk caught 60-of-96 targets for 748 yards and five touchdowns while adding 77 yards and two scores rushing.
Heading into this season, the only wideouts the 49ers have under contract beyond 2021 are Samuel, Aiyuk, and Jalen Hurd, who has yet two play a single snap over his first two years in the league due to injury.
San Francisco used 11 personnel only 44% of the time in 2020, which was 29th in the league. They were at the 40% mark in that area in 2019 (30th). While not using three wideouts regularly on the field allows them to be shallower at wideout, only having two reliable options under contract beyond this season is far too shallow, especially if they are going to be a team looking to elevate a rookie contract passer. San Francisco will absolutely be a team looking to address wide receiver depth in April.
After signing a huge extension last offseason, George Kittle was another 49er weapon that was plagued by the injury bug in 2020. Kittle’s season was cut short to just eight games with knee and foot injuries, giving Kittle just one full season played through four years in the league. When he was on the field, though, Kittle still ranked third at the position in receptions per game (6.0) and points per game (15.6) while leading all tight ends by being targeted on 28.3% of his routes.
Ross Dwelley is in the final year of his contract and we saw the 49ers pursue depth a year ago at tight end via the draft with Charlie Woerner in the sixth round and signing veteran Jordan Reed. The 49ers are not a team that uses a lot of 12 personnel at just 12% in 2020 (27th in the league), but that was down from the 18% rate they used in 2019, largely due to what they had available.
With Kittle’s missed time career-wise and limited strength behind him, tight end is still a position of depth need in the later rounds.
LT: Trent Williams
LG: Laken Tomlinson/Isaiah Williams
C: Alex Mack*/Weston Richburg
RG: Justin Skule/Daniel Brunskill
RT: Mike McGlinchey/Colton McKivitz/Dakoda Shepley
No position was safe for the 49ers offensively in 2020 as this unit combined for 31.9 adjusted games lost over the season, which was the fifth-most in the league. With all of the moving parts and some outright ineffective play for those that stayed on the field, the 49ers came out of 2020 ranking 22nd in the league in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (54%) and 25th in Run Block Win Rate (69%). All in all, San Francisco quarterbacks were pressured on 34.1% of their dropbacks, which was the 11th-highest in the league.
This offseason, San Francisco went all out to retain Trent Williams, making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league. Even at age 32 last season, Williams was the highest-graded tackle of 2020 per Pro Football Focus. Also in free agency, San Francisco added veteran center Alex Mack on a three-year contract. Mack will turn 36-years-old in November of the 2021 season, but was still a middle-of-the-pack run blocker in 2020, ranking 18th in run blocking grade per Pro Football Focus.
Outside of those two veterans, both Laken Tomlinson, Mike McGlinchey enter the final years of their contracts. Tomlinson allowed 14 quarterback hits in pass protection last year, which was the second-most of any player at offensive line position, but was 10th in run blocking grade per Pro Football Focus.
The 49ers do have the option to pick up McGlinchey’s fifth-year option prior to May 3, but the former first-rounder struggled heavily in 2020, which may impact that decision. McGlinchey was one of just five offensive tackles in the league last season to allow double-digit pressures (37), hurries (21), and quarterback hits (11). We know the 49ers are going quarterback in Round 1, and have defensive holes to fill, but have competition and contractual depth needs at RT and the interior line.
San Francisco 49ers Defense
By Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
After trading DeForest Buckner last season, the 49ers drafted Javon Kinlaw but it didn’t completely click for the rookie in Year 1. Kinlaw was just 66th among defensive tackles in pressure rate, according to Sports Info Solutions, though he did manage to deflect four passes. D.J. Jones was the best pass rusher on the interior, ranked 32nd in pressure rate. To help, the 49ers had an underrated one-year signing for Zach Kerr, who ranked 16th in pressure rate for the Panthers last season as a 334-pound nose tackle.
The 49ers will also kick edge rushers, most notably Arik Armstead, inside in clear passing situations, so the number of players who could line up inside on a given play is more than the players listed above.
Nick Bosa only lasted two games before a torn ACL ended his 2020 season. That sapped a bit of what the 49ers wanted to do with their four-man pass rush. After blitzing at one of the lowest rates in the league in 2019, the 49ers had the eighth-highest blitz rate in 2020. It’s currently unclear if new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans will continue with that trend or go back to relying on the four-four to create pressure.
There remains significant investment in that front-four with the top pick of Bosa, last year’s extension for Armstead, and the trade/contract for Dee Ford. San Francisco also grabbed former Ram Samson Ebukam on a two-year deal to add to the pass rush. Ebukam has jumped between edge rusher and linebacker, but he has flashed promise when he’s been able to rush the passer. He’s likely to do that more often with the 49ers.
The 49ers have been a defense that relies heavily on the off-ball linebackers. Only seven teams played dime less frequently than San Francisco and they had the ninth-highest rate of base defense played in the league. When Fred Warner is one of those linebackers, it works out because there’s nothing to lose in coverage.
Dre Greenlaw has emerged as a productive player alongside Warner and the 2019 fifth-round pick will enter his third season. He played nearly 70% of the defensive snaps last season.
There is plenty of depth here but even if the 49ers did want to add to the linebacker room, they would most likely do so on Day 3, where they’ve had success identifying the types of players who could fit into the defensive scheme.
San Francisco faced almost all of their cornerbacks hitting the free agent market and while it was possible to lose all of them, the 49ers kept most of the band together, save for Richard Sherman, who is still unsigned. The 49ers could also see an even bigger bounce-back by re-signing the room because there were so many injuries in the secondary throughout 2020.
Incredibly the corner who stayed healthiest was Jason Verrett, who started 13 games after appearing in four games from 2016-2019. Verrett finished 30th among 142 cornerbacks in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap. Verrett will return as the outside starter along with Emannuwel Mosely with K’Wuan Williams in the slot.
Even with a number of injuries, San Francisco ranked seventh in DVOA against the pass. Because of the potential for injuries and the fact that Mosely is the only player of the trio signed after 2021 (and that’s only through 2022), the 49ers could add more players in the middle rounds to serve as depth and future developmental pieces.
Jimmie Ward made it through the season the healthiest with 14 games and 80% of the defensive snaps played. Jaquski Tartt played in just seven games for a total of 36% of the defensive snaps. That was one place where the injuries did hurt the San Francisco defense — the unit ranked 20th in DVOA against deep passes, according to Football Outsiders.
Marcell Harris and Tarvarius Moore were able to fill in as replacements in 2020 and there have been some swings for depth, but this is potentially the place in the secondary the 49ers could target, especially since Ward’s ability to play in the slot could open up more room for some type of rotation at the position.