With the NFL draft now less than three weeks away, the consensus among most analysts is the 49ers will select yet another defensive player with their first choice, No. 9 overall.
The Niners have gone defense with their top pick for five straight years, starting with safety Eric Reid in 2013 and followed by defensive back Jimmie Ward (2014) and defensive linemen Arik Armstead (2015), DeForest Buckner (2016) and Solomon Thomas (2017). The last time San Francisco used its highest pick on an offensive player was in 2012, on wide receiver A.J. Jenkins.
This year, too, the majority of analysts see general manager John Lynch using his No. 1 pick on one of a variety of defensive players, including Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, edge defender Marcus Davenport of Texas-San Antonio, Florida State safety Derwin James, Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward or Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. In fact, of 16 analysts’ projections in a roundup posted on the 49ers website this week, only one has Lynch going for offense in Round 1.
That lone projection belongs to Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports, who suggests the 49ers will select SMU wide receiver Courtland Sutton.
“This may be higher than most have Sutton going, but I can’t see the 49ers going defense in Round 1 for the sixth consecutive year with (head coach) Kyle Shanahan and (quarterback) Jimmy Garoppolo as the current organizational cornerstones,” wrote Trapasso.
Sutton is a big wide receiver at 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds who’s coming into the draft after his junior season, when he had 68 catches for 1,085 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a sophomore he had 76 catches for 1,246 yards and 10 TDs. He was a freshman All-America in 2015 when he had 49 receptions for 862 yards and nine TDs (and also played basketball at SMU).
Some, however, don’t see Sutton as a first-round pick. NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein believes Sutton is a second-rounder, because of his lack of speed and ability to separate from faster NFL defensive backs. Zierlein, however, says Sutton is a possession receiver who is extremely tough and uses his body well against DBs. He battles for the football.
The analytic website Pro Football Focus likes Sutton and lists him as the No. 4 wideout available, behind Michael Gallup of Colorado State, Calvin Ridley of Alabama and James Washington of Oklahoma State.
Certainly, the 49ers will take a wide receiver at some point in this draft. Using the No. 9 overall pick on Sutton, however, goes against the grain of what most expect the 49ers to do on Day 1 of the draft.