The 49ers currently sit at #9 in the 2018 NFL Draft and, with the probable early run on quarterbacks, are in line to get an elite player like linebacker Roquan Smith or defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. However, the player the 49ers should covet the most, Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson, will most likely be gone at least a few picks before the 49ers. This presents the case for general manager John Lynch to trade up and secure the draft’s best overall prospect, regardless of position. Of course, this decision raises a lot of questions, and comes with pros and cons, which I will weigh in this article.
Why is Quenton Nelson your top prospect in the draft?
The answer to this question, to me, is very simple: he is infallible. There is literally not a single thing you can legitimately knock on Nelson’s game. His strength and athleticism give him the ability to anchor in the passing game, and allows him to be a force to be reckoned with in the run game. Combine his immense talent with his mentality and nonstop motor, and you have a potential all-pro player as a rookie.
Why should he rank #1 on the 49ers board?
Aside from being the draft’s best player, in my opinion, offensive guard is among the 49ers top three needs (with EDGE and LB). The 49ers should take a very long look at Roquan Smith, but IOL should take priority due to immediacy, but EDGE is a different story. The 49ers have a definite need for an EDGE that can create consistent pressure, something they have lacked since Aldon Smith, and they have the opportunity to take Harold Landry at #9 or trade up for Bradley Chubb, if possible. The reason I would put Nelson higher than those two is that, at the time I am writing this, I don’t think the 49ers will have the chance to trade up for Chubb and Nelson is a better prospect than Landry.
Also, it’s impossible to deny the fact that the Rams’ addition of Ndamukong Suh to a defensive line that already created issues along the interior plays a massive role into why I think Nelson should be highly coveted by the 49ers. If guard was a need before this, it was, that need has multiplied. Jonathan Cooper and Laken Tomlinson won’t get the job done, but adding a player like Nelson will.
Why should the 49ers trade up for a guard when the position isn’t valued highly?
This is a topic (trope?) I’ve wanted to speak about for a while now. Why is it that the “building of a strong offensive line” is one of the most harped on things in all of football, but we shouldn’t value 2/5 of the offensive line? How, in an era where interior pressure is becoming paramount, can people still try and claim that offensive guard isn’t a position that should be valued at the same level of center, or even offensive tackle? It should, plain and simple.
Also, it’s easy to see that NFL front offices are actually beginning to realize that the value of guards is rising with each passing season. The salaries of guards are increasing significantly, with guards owning 17 of the top 200 contracts, in terms of average, per Spotrac. We have seen players like Kevin Zeitler, Andrew Norwell, Kelechi Osemele, and more receive huge contracts, signaling the realization for the need for top OG play. And while the draft position of guards hasn’t risen to nearly the same value they possess in free agency, with only 4 guards being taken in the top 10 since 2000, it shouldn’t be surprising to see more guards go earlier and earlier in the near future.
Why trade up for Quenton Nelson when you can stay at 11 (or trade down) and get Isaiah Wynn?
This question is the toughest to answer, because both players rank highly in my opinion (Nelson #1 and Wynn #14) and they both have very bright futures in the NFL. The short answer is that Nelson is better and the 49ers should take the chance to add the top talent. However, like I just said, Wynn is an amazing player that I feel will have a long career at guard, but he also possesses the ability to play tackle, meaning he can eventually take over for Joe Staley. Wynn also fits Shanahan’s offensive scheme very well and would be an instant starter. They both have qualities that would make them great picks, and the question of who to take comes down to whether or not the 49ers are comfortable trading draft picks.
With all these questions answered, it’s time to way the pros and cons of trading up for Nelson.
• The 49ers acquire the best player in the draft and fill a huge need with an immediate impact starter.
• The 49ers have an interior offensive line better suited to take on destructive defensive fronts like Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
• Shanahan gets the foundation he needs along the offensive front to better run the offense exactly how he envisions it.
• You lose draft picks, which isn’t always the greatest decision when your team has as many needs as the 49ers do.
• Harold Landry provides great value at #9 at a position of equal need and doesn’t require surrendering picks.
• There is another amazing guard prospect that will be available at pick #9 or later allowing the 49ers to keep their picks or add more (sensing a theme with the cons?).
Quenton Nelson is a fantastic player than 49ers fans should be more than happy to see wearing red and gold next season. However, if Nelson is not somehow available at #9, the 49ers should refrain from trading up for him. The amount of teams that are trying to trade up into the top 10 will inevitably drive up the price of trading up. The 49ers have too many needs to be parting with a boatload of picks. In my opinion, the 49ers should either take Roquan Smith, who I absolutely love, or trade down and take Isaiah Wynn if they are committed to shoring up the IOL.