The 49ers might trade up. Or, they could trade down. They could take a defensive lineman with their first pick, the 15th overall. Or a cornerback, a wide receiver or an offensive lineman.
In other words, with two weeks to go until Round 1 of the NFL Draft on April 30, we’re not sure what the Niners will do with their first pick.
But in the majority of mock drafts over the past month, one name keeps being linked to the 49ers, over and over again: Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead.
With uncertainty still hanging over the 49ers defensive line with the possible retirement of Justin Smith, NFL observers see San Francisco with a need to bring in fresh talent at the position, and Armstead has been judged to be a mid-first-round pick. Analysts Mel Kiper Jr. (ESPN), Lance Zierlein (NFL.com), Nate Davis (USA Today), Pete Prisco (CBS Sports) and Dave Cariello (SB Nation) are among those who have listed Armstead as the 49ers’ selection at No. 15.
Armstead is huge at 6-foot-7 and 292 pounds, with long arms (33 inches) and is very athletic, having also been on the basketball team at Oregon his first two seasons.
He’s not polished, particularly as a pass rusher, but could be a good fit for the 49ers’ 3-4 scheme. He had 46 tackles in 2014, with 2½ sacks, 4½ tackles for loss and 16 quarterback pressures. The NFL.com scouting report on him notes his potential for improvement: “Elite size with ability to add more bulk to his frame. Quick-twitch athlete. Explodes upfield into blockers with good pad level and hip snap, gaining instant leverage against the run and often jarring them into the backfield. Gets good arm extension to control offensive linemen and peppers them with powerful hands. Can unlock quickly from blocks. Has above-average tackle radius thanks to his length and quickness.”
Armstead, who grew up in Sacramento, was listed as one of the 30 athletes scheduled to visit with the 49ers before the draft, noted Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. The 49ers also met with Armstead at the NFL Combine.
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle notes, too, that new 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula, the team’s longtime defensive line coach, could be “intrigued” by Armstead’s “vast potential.” Though the 49ers have added Darnell Dockett in free agency and have young pros Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial to contend for playing time, Armstead could be worth drafting for the short and long term.
“Even if Justin Smith returns for a 15th season,” wrote Branch, “the 49ers need to look to the future in assessing their defensive line.”