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2018 NFL DRAFT

What: 83rd Annual National Football League Player Selection Meeting

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

When: Thursday through Saturday

Schedule: Round 1 starts at 5 p.m. PDT. Round 2 and Round 3 on Friday beginn at 4 p.m. PDT. Rounds 4-7 on Saturday begin at 9 a.m. PDT

Timing: 10 minutes per selection in Round 1, 7 minutes per selection in Round 2, 5 minutes per selection in Rounds 3-6 including compensatory picks, 4 minutes per selection in Round 7 including compensatory picks

TV: NFL Network, ESPN and ESPN2, Fox and ABC

_____

Grant Cohn's Inside the 49ers blog

The 49ers are in a great spot.

They own the ninth selection in the NFL draft, which starts Thursday, and can pick from 12 surefire future Pro Bowlers, according to general manager John Lynch. The Niners should get one of those players.

I humbly disagree with Lynch. This amateur scout — me — sees 21 future Pro Bowlers, and none of them is a quarterback. If the 49ers prefer, they can trade down in Round 1 and still find a cornerstone talent.

Here are the 21, in order from best to worst.

1.Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State.

2.Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame.

3.Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State.

4.Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State.

5.Derwin James, S, Florida State.

6.Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama.

7.Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech.

8.Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia.

9.Vita Vea, DT, Washington.

10. Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA.

11. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama.

12. Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama.

13. Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA.

14. James Daniels, C/G, Iowa.

15. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa.

16. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame.

17. Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia.

18. Mike Hughes, CB, UCF.

19. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado.

20. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU.

21. Connor Williams, OT, Texas.

Say Lynch picks just one of those players, and tanks the rest of the draft. He still would outdo his performance from last year.

Lynch drafted a few good role players during the later rounds last year — he gets credit for those picks — but he also spent his first-round picks on Solomon Thomas, a high-end role player who lacks explosive physical traits, and Reuben Foster, who wasn’t even on most teams’ draft boards, according to reports. Teams didn’t trust Foster based on his character. And now, he may never play again.

Lynch can redeem himself. He can make people forget about those blunders. And he doesn’t even have to think. He can pick names out of a hat if he can’t make up his mind.

It gets better for the 49ers,

Draft experts expect teams may draft up to four quarterbacks within the first five picks of Round 1. Those quarterbacks are Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield. All four have major flaws, and none ranks in my top 21, but desperate teams reach for quarterbacks every year.

And that works in the 49ers’ favor. They don’t need a quarterback — they have Jimmy Garoppolo. They won’t take one before Round 5.

If four quarterbacks get drafted in the first five selections, one of the five best players on the 49ers board will be available at pick No. 9. The Niners can stand pat and get a potential future Hall of Famer.

There’s a good chance four of the following five players will be available for the Niners: linebacker Roquan Smith, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, safety Derwin James, safety-corner-hybrid Minkah Fitzpatrick and cornerback Denzel Ward. Any of those guys would be terrific picks.

Me, I’d take the corner, Ward. And I’ll tell you why.

Modern football is a cornerbacks’ game. They’re the most valuable players on a defense. Defensive ends are valuable, too. Any player who disrupts the opposing teams’ passing attack is extremely valuable in today’s passing league.

But defensive ends are evolving. Many teams, including the 49ers and the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, use a rotation of defensive ends. They use run-stuffing specialists on first down and second down, and pass-rushing specialists on third down. Teams find these one-dimensional specialists in Round 2, Round 3, or even later every year.

That means a team can have an excellent defensive line without having excellent individual linemen. Rotating the players makes them more effective.

That principle doesn’t apply to the defensive backfield. Teams don’t rotate cornerbacks. Starting corners play every defensive snap of every game they’re healthy — they don’t come off the field.

They’d better be awfully good.

The 49ers don’t seem to get this concept. They haven’t spent a top-10 pick on a corner since they drafted Ronnie Lott with the eighth pick in 1981. And they haven’t spent anything higher than a third-round selection on a corner since 2004.

Look at the corners they’ve missed this decade.

In 2012, the 49ers took wide receiver A.J. Jenkins in Round 1 instead of corner Janoris Jenkins. Janoris was a second-team All-Pro in 2016. A.J. has been out of the league since 2014.

In 2013, the 49ers traded up and took safety Eric Reid in Round 1 instead of corner Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes was a first-team All-Pro in 2017. Reid is a free agent — the team chose not to re-sign him this offseason.

In 2015, the 49ers traded down and took defensive lineman Arik Armstead in Round 1 instead of staying put and taking corner Marcus Peters. Peters was a first-team All-Pro in 2016. Armstead has started 11 games and recorded only three sacks in six seasons.

And in 2017, the 49ers took defensive lineman Solomon Thomas in Round 1 instead of corner Marshon Lattimore. Lattimore was the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Thomas wasn’t. He recorded just three sacks in 14 games.

Ward is just as good as those corners the 49ers didn’t take. He would be a fantastic addition, but so would Fitzpatrick, James, Edmunds, Smith — any of the 21 future Pro Bowlers.

No way Lynch messes up this one.

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

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