NFL Draft

Ranking 49ers' top six position needs to address in 2024 NFL Draft

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The 49ers had an active month of NFL free agency.

Now, it’s NFL draft season.

Thirteen of the 49ers' players from the end of last season found new NFL teams. San Francisco acquired 13 players in return.

The most turnover came along the defensive line. Arik Armstead was released in a salary cap move, and Chase Young, Javon Kinlaw, Clelin Ferrell and Randy Gregory signed elsewhere.

But the 49ers replenished with a trade for defensive tackle Maliek Collins, and the signings of defensive ends Leonard Floyd and Yetur Gross-Matos, and defensive tackle Jordan Elliott.

So while defensive line is still a position the 49ers could address in next week’s NFL draft, it is not at the top of the list.

Here’s a six-pack of the 49ers’ needs entering the 2024 NFL Draft, which runs Thursday, April 25, through Saturday, April 27:

1. Cornerback

The 49ers might not have a starting nickel back on their roster. Additionally, their top cornerbacks, Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir, both are signed only through the 2024 NFL season.

It seems unlikely the 49ers will be able to keep Ward and Lenoir beyond this year, so they might need to select an eventual starter in this draft.

Therefore, the 49ers have an immediate and long-term need at this position and can be expected to address it within the first two days of the draft.

The 49ers could target a player to cover the slot receiver, which would enable Lenoir to remain at cornerback on all downs. Currently, moving Lenoir to nickel back in passing situations is a legitimate option — but certainly not the best one.

It would make sense for the 49ers to select a cornerback within the first three rounds of the draft, even moving up to select one that fits their scheme and the size and skills they are seeking.

2. Offensive line

The 49ers return their top eight linemen from an offense that ranked second in yards and third in scoring last season. But there is still room for improvement.

It is possible the 49ers could select an offensive lineman in the first round who can immediately compete for a starting job on the right side of the offensive line.

Veteran Jon Feliciano, who took over at right guard for Spencer Burford late in the season, is back on a one-year contract that he labeled his “last ride,” suggesting this could be his final season.

Right tackle Colton McKivitz won the confidence of the 49ers as he progressively got better throughout the season. San Francisco signed him to a recent contract extension that bumps his pay to nearly $10 million over the next two years.

While the 49ers have no glaring need to open this season, there are multiple spots that on their offensive line they could look to fill in the future. Left guard Aaron Banks is scheduled to be a free agent next year, and he could be in line for a big contract.

Also, is it time the 49ers look to add a tackle that could compete with McKivitz now and eventually take over for Trent Williams?

3. Wide receiver

Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk is staying away while his contract situation remains unresolved, so there is some uncertainty with the 49ers' best pass-catcher, and they have virtually no depth at this position, meaning San Francisco must find a playmaker who can make an immediate impact.

Aiyuk has a contract that is scheduled to pay him $14.1 million on the fifth-year option. It’s a similar situation as a year ago with defensive end Nick Bosa, who eventually signed his new deal in the week leading up to Week 1 of the regular season.

The duo of Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel form one of the top receiver duos in the NFL. But after those two, there was a tremendous drop-off. Their No. 3 receiver, Jauan Jennings, caught just 19 passes for 265 yards and one touchdown in 13 games last season.

And after Jennings, there is another significant drop to the point that it’s difficult to identify a No. 4 receiver — or to determine if the 49ers even have a No. 4 receiver.

The 49ers might not be able to keep Aiyuk and Samuel together forever. Right now, they have no other option because they are so thin at this position. And it would help if they target a receiver who can return punts, too.

4. Safety

The 49ers devoted their first pick last year to a safety, trading up to select Ji’Ayir Brown in the third round. He ended up starting in the Super Bowl and came away with an interception of Kansas City Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Talanoa Hufanga is slated to be the other starter at the safety position, but he is coming off a torn ACL and is entering the final year of his contract. His future is uncertain, so the 49ers would be wise to accumulate some depth — with the possibility a draft pick could be a starter sooner than later.

The 49ers looked at some safeties in free agency. Many of those players remain unsigned. But with not many options from which to choose on their current roster, the 49ers should be looking to add a starting-caliber safety.

And if that player has the ability to play nickel back, they might not wait long to make that selection.

5. Tight end

The 49ers addressed this position a year ago with the selections of Cameron Latu and Brayden Willis. But their rookie seasons offered no clues on whether they can develop into reliable players behind five-time Pro Bowl performer George Kittle.

Latu spent the season on injured reserve with a knee issue while Willis played just 48 snaps of offense during the regular season and did not catch a pass.

The 49ers lost Charlie Woerner in NFL free agency to the Atlanta Falcons. Ross Dwelley remains unsigned as a free agent. And San Francisco's pursuit of restricted free agent Brock Wright came to an end when the Detroit Lions matched the three-year, $12 million offer sheet.

The 49ers signed free agent Eric Saubert, who is aiming to win a roster spot and play for his seventh team in eight NFL seasons.

Right now, the 49ers do not appear to have an obvious backup to Kittle, let alone a player who at some point can take over as the starter.

6. Linebacker

Three-time All-Pro Fred Warner is about as good as it gets. But after Warner, the 49ers have some question marks.

Dre Greenlaw and Warner form the best linebacker tandem in the NFL, but there are plenty of concerns about Greenlaw at this stage of the offseason. It is quite possible he will open the season on the physically unable to perform list after sustaining a torn Achilles in the Super Bowl. The 49ers are anticipating Greenlaw being inactive for at least the first four games.

The 49ers made some moves in free agency with the additions of De’Vondre Campbell and Ezekiel Turner. They also re-signed Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. Additionally, thet selected Dee Winters and Jalen Graham in last year’s draft.

Greenlaw is entering the final year of his contract, so the 49ers would be wise to look ahead one year and prepare for a scenario in which they might need a different full-time starter lining up alongside Warner.

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