Grant Cohn: Players the 49ers can and can't take in NFL draft

John Lynch is lying to us.

That's not a shot at Lynch. He's doing his job as the 49ers' general manager. He's supposed to lie during this time of the offseason. He's not supposed to tell the world how he plans to use each of his picks in the upcoming draft.

Lynch recently spoke with NBC Sports Bay Area and pretended to reveal his draft strategy, which is based on the moves he has made in free agency.

'In terms of what we did, it gave us flexibility,' Lynch said. 'We had some ideas of areas where we had to get better. And what we did gave us flexibility to just focus on going out and getting the best player available, particularly with that top spot, regardless of the position.'


Lynch's statement is the opposite of the truth. He wants the rest of the league to believe he's free to draft any player from any position with the No. 2 pick in Round 1. But the free-agent moves he made actually shortened the list of players he can take with that pick.

I'll explain.

Here are the players the 49ers can and can't take in Round 1, and where the 49ers stand heading into the draft.

1. No on Nick Bosa.

Bosa is the player draft experts most frequently project the 49ers to take with their first pick.

The draft experts most likely are wrong.

Bosa is a defensive end. On the 49ers, he would play the same position as Dee Ford, their new addition and highest-paid defensive player. Ford will be the 49ers' 'Leo' — the defensive end who lines up farthest away from the opposing tight end.

If the 49ers draft Bosa, they can't play both him and Ford at Leo. One would have to come off the bench as long as they're teammates. And the 49ers aren't paying Ford $17.5 million per season to come off the bench. And they probably don't intend to draft his backup with the second pick in Round 1.

Forget Bosa. Ford makes him redundant. The 49ers almost certainly will draft someone else.

2. No on Quinnen Williams.

Some draft experts consider Williams the best player in the draft, even better than Bosa.

Williams may in fact be the best player in the draft — he's quite good. But he's an interior rusher, and the 49ers already have five of those: DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, Kentavius Street and Jullian Taylor.

In addition, if the 49ers were to draft Williams, he would be the fourth interior rusher the 49ers have taken with a top-15 pick in the past five years (the other three were Armstead, Buckner and Thomas). That's a poor use of resources.

In college, Williams was a one-technique nose tackle, meaning he lined up between the center and a guard. He is not big and strong enough to play that position in the NFL, because the center and guard will double-team him and push him out of his gap.

Williams' best position in the NFL will be three-technique defensive tackle, where he will line up between the guard and offensive tackle and face minimal double teams. Three-technique is Buckner's position, and Buckner is the 49ers' best player. Williams would force Buckner to move to defensive end, where he's not as good.

Forget Williams. The 49ers almost certainly will draft someone else.

3. Yes on Josh Allen.

Allen is an edge rusher. He went to Kentucky, recorded 17 sacks last season and played strong-side linebacker — a position the 49ers still haven't filled with a quality player.

They can take Allen with the second pick in Round 1, and he can start right away at strong-side linebacker in the base defense. Then, in passing situations, he can move to strong-side defensive end — the end closest to the tight end — and play opposite Ford.

Allen would address a need without making anyone on the 49ers redundant. He is the only player they can take with the No. 2 pick if he's available.

But, the 49ers may hope Allen isn't available. Here's why:

4. The 49ers' best option is to trade down.

Allen is terrific, but not terrific enough to make the 49ers instant Super Bowl contenders by himself. They need lots more fresh faces to fill lots of slots, and yet have only six draft picks. They could use a few additional ones.

If Allen isn't on the board for the 49ers, then the Arizona Cardinals already took him with the first pick. And if the Cardinals took Allen, then they can't take quarterback Kyler Murray. Arizona passing on Murray would be the best-case scenario for the 49ers.

Not because they need a quarterback. They don't. They need to trade down. And they almost certainly will find a trade partner if Murray is available, because teams trade up for quarterbacks every year and Murray is the top-rated quarterback in the upcoming draft.

The 49ers should pray the Cardinals take Allen with the top pick so they can offer the second pick to a team desperate for a quarterback.

5. The 49ers' most glaring weakness is at wide receiver.

Before free agency, the 49ers' most glaring weakness was their edge rush.

Now, they have a good edge rusher — Dee Ford. But they don't have a good receiver. They have 'if' receivers. If Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis aren't hurt, they might catch a deep ball or two per game.

They're not tough, dependable receivers who make contested catches over the middle. Neither is tight end George Kittle, who does his best work while running after the catch.

Pierre Garcon was the 49ers' rugged receiver who made tough grabs in traffic. He no longer is with the team — the 49ers released him. If the 49ers trade down, they can use one of the new picks on a wideout. They desperately need one, no matter what John Lynch says.

Grant Cohn covers the 49ers and Bay Area sports for The Press Democrat and in Santa Rosa. You can reach him at

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