It’s not too often that teams make a plethora of moves in free agency the week before the NFL Draft.
This time is typically reserved for the pre-draft process while veteran free agents wait until the annual event concludes before figuring out their best fits.
Over the past few days alone, the San Francisco 49ers have bucked this trend in a big way. Almost simultaneously, reports broke on Wednesday that San Francisco had signed running back Wayne Gallman and defensive end Arden Key. One day later, and veteran defensive tackle Maurice Hurst announced via social media that he had signed with the 49ers.
While these aren’t three big-name signings, they will certainly have an impact on what the 49ers do during the draft next week. Creating depth at multiple positions will also lead to general manager John Lynch having flexibility.
A fourth-round pick of the New York Giants back in 2017, Gallman replaced an injured Saquon Barkley as their starting running back last season. He responded by tallying nearly 800 total yards and six touchdowns at a clip of 4.7 yards per touch.
Gallman, 26, should slide in behind Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson in what is suddenly a stacked backfield in San Francisco.
Both Key and Hurst were surprise releases of the Las Vegas Raiders earlier in April after John Gruden and Co. made them draft picks in 2018.
A star with LSU, Key has not lived up to expectations since the Raiders made him a third-round selection. He’s recorded 26 quarterback hits and three sacks in three seasons. He’ll have an opportunity to compete for a backup job out on the edge under respected defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.
As for Hurst, his release from the Raiders was even more surprising. The former fifth-round pick from Michigan has recorded eight sacks in three seasons and grades out as the second-best interior defensive linemen in the NFL from the class of 2018, per Pro Football Focus. Hurst was the Raiders’ highest-graded defensive player last season, according to the outlet.
These three moves should have a trickle-down effect after San Francisco adds its quarterback of the future at No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.
San Francisco 49ers Now Likely To Wait On A Running Back
Under Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers have made it a point to avoid running backs earlier in the NFL Draft. Since the two took over back in 2017, they have only selected one player at this position. That came in the form of Joe Williams (fourth-round pick in 2017).
With that said, there was some speculation that the 49ers might buck this trend and look at running back in Round 2. Travis Etienne from Clemson and Memphis’ product Kenneth Gainwell seemed to make sense in the 49ers’ system.
Now, we’re likely looking at San Francisco either avoiding the running back position altogether or attempting to find a gem in the late rounds. Raheem Mostert is going to be the starter with the impressive Jeff Wilson backing him up. Gallman comes in as a potential third-down back and could compete for touches with 2020 undrafted free agent JaMycal Hasty.
Later-round targets for the 49ers at running back now include Chuba Hubbard from Oklahoma State and former Kansas star Pooka Williams. Both fit the 49ers’ zone-blocking scheme and could provide something in the return game.
No, The San Francisco 49ers Will Not Be Drafting A Defensive Tackle
It’s somewhat of a running joke. Since Lynch and Shanahan took over back in 2017, the 49ers have gone defensive line in the first round three of four times. That’s obviously not going to be the case after San Francisco traded up to the third pick — presumably for a quarterback.
In particular, the defensive tackle position is now loaded in San Francisco. The team surprisingly brought back an underrated D.J. Jones in free agency. It has Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw slated to start. Meanwhile, the free-agent additions of Zach Kerr and Maurice Hurst creates even more depth along the interior of the 49ers’ defensive line.
At this point, it’s hard to even imagine the 49ers exhausting any draft capital on a defensive tackle in what is deemed a weak class at that position.
EDGE pass rusher still remains a need with both Nick Bosa and Dee Ford returning from injury. However, the additions of Key and Samson Ebukam while re-signing Ronald Blair might force the 49ers to wait until the mid rounds to add at this position.
San Francisco 49ers Have A Ton Of Flexibility Heading Into The 2021 NFL Draft
This is a major takeaway from the 49ers’ recent moves. Lynch and Co. now have the ability to move up from the 43rd pick in the second round to the bottom of Round 1 if they view an ideal fit slipping down the draft board.
Former Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley was seen as a likely top-10 pick before reports of potentially serious back injuries became public record. Farley has since attempted to downplay the injury issues.
“It’s an original deadlift injury that had herniated my L5 disc and bulged my S1. I chose to move forward and do the discectomy on the L5 herniation, which gave me immediate relief after,” Farley said recently. “I did a great job managing over a year but that bulge is still in my S1 and, unfortunately, I irritated it a month ago.”
Considered a potential shutdown cornerback and a perfect scheme fit in the 49ers’ defense, Farley could be worth the risk should he fall to the bottom of the first round.
There’s also a chance the 49ers could target offense with a guard or wide receiver in a trade-up scenario. Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins, a natural tackle, could start at guard out of the gate.
Meanwhile, Mississippi wide receiver Elijah Moore is skyrocketing up the draft boards. The smallish 5-foot-9 pass-catcher dominated SEC competition from the slot a season ago and is a natural fit inside in Shanahan’s system. He’s been getting first-round play. Trading up with a team like the Baltimore Ravens or Buffalo Bills at the end of Round 1 could make sense.
It would also be ignorant to ignore the possibility that San Francisco moves either its second or third-round pick for future draft capital after giving up first-round selections in 2022 and 2023 to move up with the Miami Dolphins for the third selection. Heck, there’s a chance that trading off the 43rd pick could net the 49ers a first-round selection next year.
The common theme here is that San Francisco created a ton of flexibility with the free agent moves it has made over the past few days. That’s going to loom large heading into next week’s NFL Draft.