With four games to go until the end of the regular season, the San Francisco 49ers are the clear favorites to land the top overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The two-win 49ers would hold the top pick if the season ended today, giving a team in desperate need of pass rush the chance to land the consensus best player in Nick Bosa.
However, San Francisco has numerous other holes to fill beyond pass rusher and only five picks in 2019, leading some to ponder whether trading down and collecting more selections from a team in need of quarterback help is the best policy.
So are the 49ers better off sticking and adding a game-changer to their defense, or making the move down to address the various needs that had been masked by the performances of Jimmy Garoppolo last season? Here we weigh up the pros and cons of giving up the top pick.
Con: Missing out on Nick Bosa
The 49ers will top their meagre sack total of 30 from last year. They already have 29 this season, but that number is inflated by their eight-sack showing against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9.
For San Francisco’s pass rush the frustrating reality is that this has been another season where they have struggled to get home with their pressures. Too often the likes of DeForest Buckner — who is having a career-year with nine sacks — and Arik Armstead have been unable to bring down the quarterback with no teammate there to finish things off.
The primary reason for that is a lack of talent on the edge. The Niners actively decreased their options on the edge this past offseason and have not got the desired production from Cassius Marsh and Dekoda Watson. Bosa has the ability to address that issue and make the same impact as elder brother Joey has in the same defensive scheme for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Nick Bosa thoughts…
Ability to use hands in concert w/ threatening ground/depth… Both Bosa brothers have a knack for never stopping feet in their rush w/ violent hands
Many good rushes that either hurried a throw or got beat to QB by a teammate. Not all about sack totals! pic.twitter.com/WphwkLLLOq
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) August 22, 2018
Bosa had 17.5 sacks in college for Ohio State. At 6’4″ and 263 pounds, he boasts an extremely impressive get off to threaten the edge and has a relentless motor. With length, destructive power in his hands and the quickness to win inside and out, Bosa has the ideal skill set to be a dominant edge player at the highest level and it may be tough for the Niners to reconcile themselves with missing out on a player of his ability even if they receive a monster offer for the top pick.
Pro: Filling a plethora of needs
Five draft choices really is not enough to address all the holes that have become apparent amid a nightmare season for the 49ers.
Cornerback is an obvious area of need after underwhelming campaigns for Ahkello Witherspoon on the boundary and K’Waun Williams in the slot. Injuries and inconsistent play at safety has brought that position into focus and there is now a hole at inside linebacker next to outstanding rookie Fred Warner following Reuben Foster’s release.
The Niners could also use a big-play threat at Z receiver to replace Pierre Garcon, while an heir apparent for Joe Staley at left tackle will eventually need to be found despite his continued high level of play.
It is very difficult to address every need on a roster in one offseason, however, if the 49ers traded down for more ammunition they would have a much better chance of doing so.
Con: A loaded FA class
The 49ers wouldn’t necessarily need to fill all their needs via the draft, with the free agency class a very enticing one for a team looking to make the leap to being contenders.
San Francisco has plenty of avenues to supplement their edge options through free agency, though Dallas Cowboys star Demarcus Lawrence seemingly has little chance of making it to the open market, and numerous other holes could be addressed prior to the draft. Earl Thomas is a natural fit for the Niners at free safety given his experience playing the single-high role in the same defensive scheme with the Seattle Seahawks, and his team-mate K.J. Wright and Avery Williamson are among the options at linebacker who could provide a much-needed veteran presence next to Warner.
Scheduled to have around $68 million in cap space in 2019, according to Over The Cap, the 49ers the resources to pursue such targets. They will be wary not to get into bidding wars for multiple players but, with more teams having success using free agency to form a large percentage of their roster, being aggressive in the open market and staying at the No. 1 spot may seem like the most attractive approach this offseason.
Pro: Setting up for future drafts
Theoretically any bounty the 49ers land would likely include picks in future drafts, as the offer from the Los Angeles Rams to the Tennessee Titans that got them to No. 1 to land Jared Goff did in 2016.
That would set the 49ers up well for the coming years and help them avoid a scenario where they have so few picks again, while also giving them extra ammo with which to move around the 2019 board.
However, entering the third year of their deals as general manager and head coach respectively, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan will know results will be expected of them in 2019 even if the Garoppolo injury gave them something of a pass in 2018 and bought them more time.
With that in mind they will know that this is an offseason in which instant impact players will have to be found. Numerous such players are set to be available in free agency and Bosa fits the bill as someone who could have a transformative impact on the defense. The phones will ring should they end up with the top pick but, while the Niners should definitely consider every offer they get, it is tough to make the case for giving up the opportunity to land a can’t-miss prospect like Bosa, who would address the biggest problem facing the team.