We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.



Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


The 49ers played extremely well to finish last season, but they still are a one- or two-win team without their quarterback.

They need more talent.

And they play in the same division as the LA Rams, who may have the most talented roster in the NFL. The Rams won 11 games last season, and just added Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh, and are trying to trade for Odell Beckham Jr. Four Pro Bowlers.

The Niners also play in the same division as the Arizona Cardinals, who won eight games last season without their star running back — David Johnson. He’s healthy now.

And the Niners play in the same conference as the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons — four terrific teams who could compete with the Niners for a wild card spot if the Niners don’t win the NFC West.

The Niners better crush the upcoming draft, or they could miss the playoffs next season. That’s where they stand.

These are the challenges the 49ers will face in the draft.

Challenge No. 1: Don’t take another Pac-12 defensive tackle in the first round.


In 2015, the Niners drafted Oregon defensive tackle Arik Armstead with the 17th pick. Then in 2016, they drafted Oregon defensive tackle DeForest Buckner with the seventh pick. And then in 2017, they drafted Stanford defensive tackle Solomon Thomas with the third pick.

Enough already. The 49ers don’t need a fourth defensive tackle from the Pac-12, a notably soft conference. How many great defensive lineman have come from the Pac 12?

This year, one of the highest-rated prospects in the draft is Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea. The Niners conceivably could take him with the ninth pick.

And if they do, they should fire GM John Lynch on the spot.

Don’t do it, John. Resist the urge.

Challenge No. 2. Don’t overreact to what the Rams did in the offseason.

This one could be difficult. The Rams separated themselves from the rest of the NFC West with their maneuvers this offseason, and the natural response for the Niners would be to counter those moves.

The Rams have arguably the two best defensive tackles in the NFL — Suh and Aaron Donald. And the 49ers don’t have one interior offensive lineman talented enough to block either of those two.

So, the Niners may think they have to draft an interior offensive lineman in the first round who can match up with Suh or Donald.


Other than maybe one guy (Quenton Nelson, who will be a top-six pick and out of the 49ers range), no rookie offensive lineman will be able to block Suh or Donald next season. Even veteran All-Pros struggle against Suh and Donald. The 49ers will have to make special accommodations to block those two, often double-teaming both of them, no matter who is playing guard and center.

Forget drafting an interior offensive lineman in Round 1. Draft the best available defensive player. The 49ers defense ranked 24th last season.

Challenge No. 3. Draft a leader for the defense.

The 49ers don’t have a defensive leader. Reuben Foster doesn’t count — he can’t stay on the field. And Richard Sherman doesn’t count, either — he’s old and injured. He has to prove he still can play before his peers will follow him anywhere.

When the 49ers defense was great a few seasons ago under coordinator Vic Fangio, they had leaders at every position group. They had Justin Smith on the defensive line, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman at linebacker, and Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner in the secondary.

Leadership is important.

With the ninth pick in the first round, the 49ers can get their defensive leader for the next seven or eight years. I suggest either taking strong safety Derwin James from Florida State, or free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from Alabama. Those two safeties are hard-working, hard-hitting, smart, supremely-talented leaders who can transform a defense.

Challenge No. 4: Draft two edge-rushers to play in the Nickel defense next season.

Technically, the 49ers starting defensive ends will be Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead. They’ll be on the field on first down when it’s time to defend the run.

But when it’s time to defend the pass, on second-and-long or third-and-medium or third-and-long, Thomas will move to defensive tackle, Armstead will move to the bench and two new smaller, faster edge-rushers will take the field.

Those two edge-rushers are just as important as starters. They sack the quarterback.

Right now, the 49ers best edge-rushers are Cassius Marsh and Jeremiah Attaochu, a couple of castoffs from other franchises. They should be backups.

The Niners need two starting-caliber edge-rushers from this draft. On Day 2, they can draft Arden Key from LSU, Dorance Armstrong from Kansas, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo from Oklahoma or Uchenna Nwosu from USC. And on Day 3, the Niners can draft Josh Sweat from Florida State.

The Niners will have plenty of good edge-rushing options after Round 1.

Challenge No. 5. Draft a cornerback who can start as a rookie if Richard Sherman isn’t healthy or good enough.

Sherman has roughly a 23 percent chance of making a full recovery from his Achilles tear last November, according to a study of NFL players from eight years ago. So, it’s possible the 49ers won’t need another corner.

But, it’s 77 percent more likely they will need another corner. So, they’re going to have to draft one who can start, just in case.

And I found just the guy.

His name is Tre Herndon, and he’s 6 feet tall (the Niners love tall corners). Herndon wasn’t invited to the NFL scouting combine, but he should have been. He went to Vanderbilt and was a three-year starter in the SEC — the best conference in college football.

At his Pro Day, he tested off the charts. Ran a 4.47 40-yard dash, a 4.12 20-yard shuttle and a 6.66 3-cone drill. Elite speed and agility scores. His numbers would have ranked second, sixth and second respectively at the combine among corners who are 6-foot or taller.

Herndon will be available in the third round.

You’re welcome, 49ers.

Grant Cohn covers the 49ers for The Press Democrat and Pressdemocrat.com in Santa Rosa. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

Show Comment