2019 NFL Draft order, race for No. 1 pick: Four players 49ers could target to rebound next season
San Francisco might be one of the NFL's worst teams right now, but they can bounce back quickly with a good offseason
Of the six teams at 3-8 or worse the 49ers could be best positioned for a bounce-back season in 2019. As it stands, San Francisco is tied for the league's worst record (2-9) with the Cardinals and Raiders, but thanks to tiebreakers currently hold the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Kyle Shanahan was hired after a two-win campaign in 2016 and while the team was actually worse a year ago at this time -- they were 1-10 -- recently acquired Jimmy Garoppolo was inserted into the lineup and the 49ers reeled off five straight wins to finish 6-10. San Francisco drafted right tackle Mike McGlinchey, wide receiver Dante Pettis and linebacker Fred Warner with its first three picks. All three have been bright spots this season; McGlinchey is the second-highest-rated offensive linemen on the roster behind only Joe Staley, according to Pro Football Focus, Warner has started every game and has played at a consistently high level since Week 1, and Pettis is averaging 16.8 yards per reception.
Of course, Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3 and C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens took his place. The 49ers are also without their big offseason acquisition running back Jerick McKinnon, who also tore an ACL and former first-round safety Jimmie Ward, who is in the final year of his rookie deal. Put another way: San Francisco isn't that far off. They have most of the pieces in place at key positions -- most notably quarterback. If they can stay healthy and again find gems in the draft, there's no reason this group can't be .500 or better in 2019.
And because the 49ers are already out of the playoff picture and draft season isn't far off, here are some of the players we've had them taking in our recent mock drafts who could make immediate and lasting impacts:
- Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State. Bosa might be the best player in this draft class. And even though San Francisco drafted a defensive lineman in the first round three straight years from 2015-2017 (Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas), the defense ranks 24th overall, according to Football Outsiders, and the defensive line isn't much better rushing the quarterback, ranking 20th.
- Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama. Joe Staley is 34 years old and has one year left on his contract. Williams is the best offensive tackle in the class and while there are concerns that he may be better suited to move inside, he's a Day 1 starter.
- D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss. Metcalf declared for the draft last week after his college season was cut short with a neck injury. At 6-3, 220, he can take over games at every level, which just like the type of talent Garoppolo and Shanahan would love to work with.
- Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama. Thompson is a special talent that would immediately transform the backend of San Francisco's defense, especially with Ward in the final year of his contract.
(Note: In the table below, the teams are sorted from "most likely to have the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft" to "least likely" using two different methods. The "Current record" column does what the name suggests: Teams are first sorted by their '18 records, strength of schedule, via Tankathon. The other column is sorted by the "SportsLine's preseason projected draft order." Finally, here's if you'd like to see who we have each team taking.)
SportsLine preseason projected draft order
San Francisco (2-9)
New York Jets (3-8)
New York Giants (3-8)
Tampa Bay (4-7)
Green Bay (4-6-1)
Oakland (via Cowboys)* (5-5)
Chicago (to Oakland)** (8-3)
Los Angeles Chargers (8-3)
New England (8-3)
Los Angeles Rams (10-1)
Kansas City (9-2)
New Orleans (to Green Bay) (10-1)***
* Dallas sent its 2019 first-round pick to Oakland as part of the Amari Cooper trade.
** Chicago sent its 2019 first-round pick to Oakland as part of the Khalil Mack trade.
*** New Orleans sent its 2019 first-round pick to Green Bay to draft Marcus Davenport in 2018.
Arizona at Green Bay
The Packers' playoff hopes aren't officially dead but it's uncomfortably close. The team looked out of sorts in Sunday night's loss to the Vikings, and they're currently 10th in the NFC, four spots out of the final wild-card spot. In front of them: Seattle, Philadelphia, Carolina and Atlanta. Put another way: A lot has to go right over the next five weeks. A good start: Facing the Cardinals in Lambeau Field.
Indianapolis at Jacksonville
The Colts and Jaguars are going in different directions. Indy has now won five straight and Andrew Luck has been sacked just once in his last six games. And in his last eight games, he's thrown at least three touchdowns. Jacksonville just fired their offensive coordinator and benched Blake Bortles, and executive vice president Tom Coughlin is mad as hell about all of it. Maybe Cody Kessler is the jumpstart this team, now losers of seven straight, needs. More likely: The Jags' downward spiral will continue and the Colts will make a run at a playoff spot.
Chicago at New York Giants
The Giants have played better in recent weeks, even winning two straight before gifting the Eagles a victory last Sunday. Still, questions remain, mostly about Eli Manning and what his future holds. After facing the league's best defense this week, that future might become clearer; the Bears are 8-3 primarily because their defense dominates just about every week. It starts with Khalil Mack, but Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson are all balling out. It's unclear if Mitchell Trubisky will return to the lineup after injuring his shoulder but if not, the offense is in good hands with veteran Chase Daniel, who knows Matt Nagy's offense almost as well as Nagy himself.
New York Jets at Tennessee
The Titans aren't a bad team. They're inconsistent as they find their way under first-year coach Mike Vrabel, but they're not bad. The Jets are awful. Sam Darnold missed the last two games with injuries and mentally it felt like few of his healthy teammates showed up; New York lost by 31 to the Bills in Week 10 and by two touchdowns to the Patriots on Sunday. They've now dropped five straight and the only positive we can say is that there is only 300 minutes left in this otherwise forgettable season.
Kansas City at Oakland
The rest of the season for the Raiders is going to be one long audition for which players Jon Gruden will want to bring back in 2019. It's easy to forget that this team was 12-4 just two seasons ago but now they're in full-on rebuilding mode. The worst thing you can say about the Chiefs is that their defense isn't very good. But the offense more than makes up for it, which is why they're one of the NFL's most exciting teams. Kansas City has to avoid late-season trap games because homefield advantage throughout the playoffs is key; no one wants their shot at a Super Bowl to go throw Gillette Stadium.
San Francisco at Seattle
The 49ers have been decimated by injuries and second-year coach Kyle Shanahan is making his best chicken salad until he can get everyone healthy. Unfortunately, that won't happen until 2019. The Seahawks are one of the biggest surprises of this season. In fact, we owe them an apology; over the summer we were convinced that Seattle would be the NFC West's worst team -- they broke up the Legion of Boom, didn't address the offensive line early in the draft and instead took a running back. Turns out, Pete Carroll is smarter than we are, and now the Seahawks are making a playoff push. And God help the team that should have to face them if they find a way in.
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