History shows 49ers could find star with No. 12 pick in draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
The 49ers weren't just losers in the final regular-season standings when they fell 26-23 to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, they also were losers when it comes to the 2021 NFL Draft.
Coming into Week 17, the 49ers had an outside chance of a top-10 pick this year. The cards didn't fall their way, though and they wound up with the No. 12 overall pick. While they missed out on the prized top-pick, history actually might be on their side.
Since 2000, there have been a long list of slam-dunk selections with the No. 12 pick in the draft. There of course have been some selections that set franchises back, and players like Ryan Matthews and Knowshon Moreno had decent -- good but not great or terrible -- careers.
To give players enough time for proper evaluations, we dismissed Vita Vea, Rashan Gary and Henry Ruggs III, the last three players who were taken with the No. 12 pick. With that being said, let's look back at the beautiful and ugly of where the 49ers are slated to select come April 29.
Deshaun Watson (2017)
Odell Beckham Jr. (2014)
Fletcher Cox (2012)
Ryan Clady (2008)
Marshawn Lynch (2007)
Haloti Ngata (2006)
Shawne Merriman (2005)
Jonathan Vilma (2004)
Shaun Ellis (2000)
It all starts with who 49ers fans wish their favorite team would have taken four years ago.
San Francisco selected defensive lineman Solomon Thomas with the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft, and he mostly has been a bust on the field. Quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes (No. 10) and Watson were both taken later in the first round. We of course could say the 49ers should have taken Mahomes, but Watson is the player who really feels like he slipped out of San Francisco's hands. He easily was the more sure-thing after starring at Clemson, while Mahomes was more of a project out of Texas Tech with a rocket of an arm.
The 49ers likely will have to make a major trade up if they want to add one of the top quarterbacks in the draft this year. Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance all likely will be off the board by the time the 49ers are on the clock. Would they take Alabama's Mac Jones this high? That might not be the best decision for a team that still has a QB under contract who led them to the Super Bowl.
After taking receiver Brandon Aiyuk late in the first round last year, it's unlikely the 49ers go the OBJ or Lynch route and pick another skill-position player. However, if general manager John Lynch decides to select the best player available, he could go with a receiver like Jaylen Waddle or tight end/receiver Kyle Pitts and build a dominant offense.
As left tackle Trent Williams is set to hit free agency, the 49ers very well could look for the next Clady. If the 49ers do look to bolster their offensive line, Northwestern's Rashawn Slater and USC's Alijah Vera-Tucker make sense. Both are versatile linemen who can play inside as guards or outside as tackles.
With a handful of teams looking for a new head coach, it almost seems inevitable the 49ers will lose defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. The 49ers very well could go down the Cox, Ngata, Merriman, Vilma and Ellis road to add a defensive star. NBC Sports Bay Area's Josh Schrock gave the 49ers cornerback Jaycee Horn in our latest mock draft. Cornerback and edge rusher feel like the biggest needs on defense for the 49ers, and both positions should be a point of emphasis in the draft.
D.J. Hayden (2013)
Christian Ponder (2011)
Jimmy Kennedy (2003)
Wendell Bryant (2002)
Hayden and Ponder really are examples of what would be the worst-case-scenario this year for the 49ers. In Hayden's case, he still is in the NFL, his eighth season in the league, but he has four career interceptions and zero great seasons. He was the second defensive back taken in the 2013 draft, and other cornerbacks picked much later have enjoyed way better careers. In our mock draft, Horn is the third cornerback off the board. The 49ers would have to hope he's much better than Hayden.
All of this comes back to Ponder. The Florida State product was the fourth QB taken in the 2011 draft, behind Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert. Newton was the only one to be a star, and Ponder's career lasted just four seasons.
Where the 49ers sit now, they likely would be looking at the fourth or fifth-best quarterback in the draft. Is it worth it? Sometimes yes, but sometimes a team takes someone like Ponder.
There's good and bad to every pick in the NFL draft. History is on the 49ers' side -- that is if Lynch hits all the right buttons.