49ers have salary cap space, draft picks to fill needs

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s place in the San Francisco 49ers’ universe is just one issue that could affect how the team uses its draft picks.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s place in the San Francisco 49ers’ universe is just one issue that could affect how the team uses its draft picks.

No NFL team has as much shopping power as the 49ers. They are projected to be more than $50 million under the salary cap when free agency begins next month and expect to have 12 picks in the draft.

They’ll hone their plan of attack this week at the scouting combine. Indianapolis will host not only the top prospects but agents, general managers and coaches who will hatch trades and free-agent deals.

Here’s a look at every position on the 49ers, ranked by need.

Defensive line – This unit went from team strength to bare bones in one season. Ray McDonald was kicked off the team, Justin Smith retired and Glenn Dorsey tore his ACL in November, while nose tackle Ian Williams remains unsigned for 2016. That means the 49ers could begin the season with only one starter from last year, Quinton Dial. Luckily, the draft is teeming with good defensive linemen, beginning with Oregon’s DeForest Buckner.

Offensive line – With Alex Boone heading for free agency, the team may head into the offseason with just two players, left tackle Joe Staley and center Daniel Kilgore, locked into starting spots. Look for the 49ers to check out guards in free agency and to at least consider an offensive lineman, Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley, with the No. 7 pick.

Quarterback – The need here depends on whether Colin Kaepernick stays. Two college quarterbacks currently are deemed worthy of a top-10 pick: Cal’s Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. Goff is a precision passer, while Wentz has size, athleticism and a rough-and-tumble style. Memphis’ Paxton Lynch could enter the conversation with a solid showing at the combine.

Outside linebacker – The team’s pass-rush leaders from 2015, Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch, finished with just 6 1/2 sacks apiece, and the 49ers ranked 29th in sacks. The 49ers could make a big splash in free agency by signing Bruce Irvin from the Seattle Seahawks or Olivier Vernon from the Miami Dolphins. If not, there are a number of draft prospects beginning with Ohio State’s Joey Bosa.

Wide receiver – Anquan Boldin led the 49ers in receiving the last three seasons. But he’s 36 and unsigned for 2016. That leaves Torrey Smith and a lot of unproven players for an offense that leans heavily on its receivers. As was the case last season, the 49ers could look at free agency – Cincinnati Bengals receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones may be good fits – before the draft, which is considered weak at the position. The best of the bunch is Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell.

Inside linebacker – The 49ers’ defense was at its best when Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were patrolling the middle of the field. Bowman promises to be better in 2016 than he was last season, when he led the NFL in tackles with 154. The 49ers could try to re-create their dominance at inside linebacker by drafting someone such as UCLA’s Myles Jack in the first round.

Cornerback – The 49ers entered 2015 hoping one of their young cornerbacks would seize a starting spot, but that didn’t happen. Kenneth Acker, Marcus Cromartie and Dontae Johnson made starts, but are any of them a full-time starter? General manager Trent Baalke usually waits until the late rounds to select a cornerback. If he pounces early, Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey is the best of the bunch.

Tight end – The 49ers were pleasantly surprised by Garrett Celek in 2015, and he signed a four-year contract extension Tuesday. But even with him, Vance McDonald and two 2015 rookies, Blake Bell and Rory Anderson, this position pales when compared to Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker’s days with the team. Unlike those power-blocking 49ers teams, new coach Chip Kelly’s squads don’t depend on two tight-end formations, preferring multiple receiver sets instead.

Running back – Three Philadelphia Eagles running backs received plenty of carries last season in Kelly’s offense. Carlos Hyde likely will get the most in 2016. But the other spots are undetermined. Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, Mike Davis and Jarryd Hayne are in the running. Or perhaps the 49ers will fall in love with a running back early in the draft, someone such as Utah’s Devontae Booker (Grant High School).

Specialists – The 49ers drafted a punter last year, but their kicker, Phil Dawson, turned 41 last month and is a free agent.

Safety – The 49ers have used a first- or second-round pick at this position in each of the last three drafts and also have a good developmental player in L.J. McCray.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at

NFL scouting combine

  • When: Through Monday
  • Where: Indianapolis
  • Who: NFL executives/coaches, top college players eligible for draft