SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Rejoice, San Francisco 49ers fans, it is officially NFL draft week. That means the endless speculation will soon come to a merciful end, and we can begin speculating on how the Niners will fare in 2018.
Considering that eight teams will pick ahead of San Francisco on Thursday, it's difficult to project what will be available for the 49ers. But we'll do our best here to lay out the scenarios that could play out, with the caveat that the draft always offers some surprises.
Here's a look at the way things could go for the 49ers in the first round, based on discussions with evaluators and analysts in the league:
These are players who are likely to be available when the Niners pick, but they could go before No. 9.
LB Roquan Smith, Georgia: With uncertainty surrounding linebacker Reuben Foster, Smith could be the perfect marriage of best player available and need-based pick. Smith could play middle or weakside linebacker in the Niners' scheme. His combination of athleticism, instincts and production could be tough to pass up. There's a chance he will be gone by the ninth pick (keep an eye on Indianapolis at No. 6), but that spot seems to be about right for him. Todd McShay's rank: No. 5.
LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech: A big (6-foot-4, 253 pounds), athletic linebacker with the versatility to play inside or outside or even as a situational pass-rusher, Edmunds is one of the most tantalizing prospects in this draft. Questions about his instincts could prevent him from going in the top 10, though a team such as Chicago could make the move. For the Niners, Edmunds could play middle or strong-side linebacker, depending on Foster's status. McShay's rank: No. 14.
DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama: Like Smith, Fitzpatrick could go before No. 9, with Tampa Bay (No. 7) and Indianapolis (No. 6) looking like prime landing spots. If he slips, he'd be tough for the 49ers to pass on because he, too, looks like a good combination of need and value pick. Fitzpatrick has said that he would like to play outside corner in the NFL, and he spent some time with the Niners on a pre-draft visit. His versatility would give San Francisco depth at corner while offering the potential to start him at free safety or slide him into the nickel role. McShay's rank: No. 8.
CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State: The best pure cover corner in the draft, Ward isn't an ideal fit for the Niners from a size standpoint (5-foot-11, 183 pounds), but his feisty, physical approach means he can probably have success in any scheme. Ward was one of the 49ers' 30 pre-draft visitors, so there's at least some interest. Adding him to a backfield that includes Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon would give the 49ers a lot of options as Witherspoon continues to develop and Sherman recovers from injury. Ward could go as high as No. 4 to Cleveland, and Denver (No. 5), Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and Chicago (No. 8) could all be logical fits. McShay's rank: No. 6.
S Derwin James, Florida State: Once viewed as a top-five pick in this draft, James has seen his stock trend upward in the eyes of media over the past couple of months. Capable of playing either safety spot, James would probably be best at strong safety, where Jaquiski Tartt is set to be a free agent after the 2018 season. James could land somewhere such as Tampa Bay before the Niners are on the clock. McShay's rank: No. 7.
These are players who should be available when the 49ers pick at No. 9 and could also be had in the event of a trade down.
DE Harold Landry, Boston College: Landry's stock dropped from 2016 to 2017 as he dealt with injuries, but he remains one of the best pure edge rushers in the draft. Frankly, that's a huge need for the 49ers, and Landry would make sense in the role Vic Beasley plays for the Falcons in a similar scheme. Niners coach Kyle Shanahan saw Beasley's impact up close and could be tempted by Landry, though that seems to be more of a possibility after a trade down. Landry is a bit on the small side, at 252 pounds, and there are questions about his ability to defend the run. A lack of edge rushers and the value of the position could push him up the board, but he should be available if and when the Niners pick at No. 9. McShay's rank: No. 32.
OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame: Someday soon, the 49ers will have a need at offensive tackle. Joe Staley is still solid on the left side but he's 34. Right tackle Trent Brown is coming off a shoulder injury and scheduled for free agency after the season. McGlinchey has played both sides and at 6-8, 312 pounds, he has the ability to play guard before potentially moving to tackle. McShay's rank: No. 27.
DE Marcus Davenport, Texas-San Antonio: Neck-and-neck with Landry as the No. 2 outside rusher in the draft, Davenport is a bigger, more physical presence. He's also more raw as a pass-rusher and faced lesser competition. Davenport could be a fit as the Niners' "Leo" edge rusher, though he seems to be similar to what they already have at the position. As with Landry, it seems that Davenport would be a more likely selection if the 49ers moved down in a trade. McShay's rank: No. 21.
CB Joshua Jackson, Iowa: From a scheme standpoint, Jackson is a clear fit in the Niners' defense. He's 6-foot-1, 192 pounds, with enough playmaking skills to lead the nation in interceptions in 2017. The ninth pick would be a bit rich for Jackson, according to some league evaluators, but he's another possibility if the Niners trade down. McShay's rank: No. 19.
These are players who are expected to be gone before the Niners pick at No. 9 and would almost certainly require a trade up to acquire.
DE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State: It's a dream scenario to have the best edge rusher in the draft fall to No. 9, but it would take some major surprises for it to happen. Chubb would be the best combination of need and value pick, but he's expected to go as high as No. 2 to the Giants, and it's hard to envision him going any later than No. 6 to the Colts. McShay's rank: No. 3.
G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame: This isn't as far-fetched as Chubb falling, solely because Nelson doesn't play a position that comes with as much value as Chubb's. Still, Nelson is widely regarded as one of the five best players in the draft, regardless of position. With teams such as the Giants, Broncos, Colts and Bears all in the market for offensive linemen, it seems that No. 8 to Chicago would be the lowest Nelson would go. If he somehow falls to the Niners, he isn't as obvious of a fit in the team's outside zone scheme, but he's athletic enough to make it work. McShay's rank: No. 2.