Let’s take a look at the five most important takeaways from the 49ers’ eight-player haul in the 2019 NFL Draft:
1. Improving secondary starts with bolstering pass rush
The 49ers largely ignored their pressing need to add pass rushers off the edge in last year’s draft. But they were aggressive this offseason, trading for Dee Ford after his Pro Bowl campaign and using the No. 2 overall selection on Ohio State’s Nick Bosa.
The key to defending in the pass-happy NFL is pressuring quarterbacks without relying on the blitz, and coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch hope their investments can prop up a secondary that struggled last season.
The 49ers’ two interceptions were the fewest in league history, though Shanahan would argue that fell more on the line’s inability to generate pressure than the secondary playing poorly. He expects the addition of Ford and Bosa to have dramatic ramifications.
“I don’t think we dropped too many (interceptions) as a whole, which should tell you something,” Shanahan said. “We’ve got to cause more havoc on that quarterback so he throws some wild passes that do come to us, and if they drop too many, then we’ll have to put our receivers there.”
The 49ers didn’t invest heavily in the secondary despite it seeming like a pressing need when the draft began. They added one defensive back, Virginia’s Tim Harris, in Round 6. Simply put, they feel confident in their recent investments at cornerback and safety, including third-round picks Ahkello Witherspoon (2017) and Tarvarius Moore (2018), and free-agent acquisition Jason Verrett, a first-round pick of the Chargers in 2016.
Perhaps next offseason they give the secondary the same treatment they did edge defenders this spring — if the young players don’t show the necessary signs of improvement.
2. Shanahan makes it clear who’s running the show
Drafting two receivers seemed plausible, particularly finding one as early as Round 2. Picking South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel at No. 36 overall was almost as predictable as landing Bosa at No. 2. Samuel’s route running and ability after the catch make him tailor made for Shanahan’s offense.
What wasn’t expected was tapping Baylor’s Jalen Hurd (6-foot-5, 226 pounds) early in Round 3. Hurd is hardly the refined receiver Shanahan typically covets. But making sense of the pick requires projecting his role. Remember, the 49ers were interested in free-agent tight end Trey Burton before he signed with the Bears in 2018. Burton would have been an intriguing complement to George Kittle as a versatile H-back.
That may be where Hurd ends up, offering San Francisco unique athleticism and a skill set the offense hasn’t had since Shanahan took over. Shanahan was asked Saturday how Hurd compares to Burton.
“He’s got that type of body. I think he can do more things,” Shanahan said. “I don’t know if we would have used (Burton) as a running back and stuff, also, but yeah, I think he’s a very similar build.”
Hurd began his college career as a powerful running back at Tennessee, weighing roughly 240 pounds. He changed positions and transferred to Baylor, hoping he could save his body from the pounding. But he’s far more limber than most tall running backs and could be dangerous with the ball in his hands. If Shanahan can get him in space, like he did so often with Kittle last season, Hurd could become a valuable weapon.
It didn’t come without risk. Hurd has had multiple shoulder surgeries and didn’t run at the combine because of meniscus surgery. It’s the type of pick an offensive coach makes when he has ultimate sway in the building.