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Upgraded pass rush a top need for 49ers in draft

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The 2017 NFL draft is set to begin on April 27 in Philadelphia. The San Francisco 49ers own 10 picks, including No. 2 overall.

With a new regime of coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch in place, it's hard to know what direction the Niners will go with their picks, as both men will be going through the process in their jobs for the first time. But the 49ers have plenty of needs as they go about reconstructing their roster.

Here's a look at what the 49ers need on the defensive line:

In place: DE Arik Armstead, DT DeForest Buckner, DT Earl Mitchell, DE Quinton Dial, DE Tank Carradine, DT Ronald Blair, DT Mike Purcell, DT Chris Jones, DE Aaron Lynch.

Potential fits:

Possible "Leo" defensive ends -- Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett, Stanford DE Solomon Thomas, Tennessee DE Derek Barnett, Missouri DE Charles Harris, Michigan DE Taco Charlton, Kansas State DE Jordan Willis, UCLA DE Takkarist McKinley, Houston DE Tyus Bowser.

Possible left defensive ends -- Thomas, Charlton, Florida State DE DeMarcus Walker, Michigan State DE Malik McDowell, Villanova DE Tanoh Kpassagnon.

Possible nose tackles -- Alabama DT Dalvin Tomlinson, UCLA DT Eddie Vanderdoes, Washington DT Elijah Qualls, Florida DT Caleb Brantley, Auburn DT Montravious Adams, Clemson DT Carlos Watkins.

Possible three-technique defensive tackles -- Thomas, Brantley, McDowell, Alabama DT Jonathan Allen, Michigan DT Chris Wormley, Iowa DT Jaleel Johnson, Oklahoma DT Charles Walker.

What's needed: The Niners jumped before free agency even began to land Mitchell and plug him into the nose tackle role in new coordinator Robert Saleh's 4-3 scheme. Mitchell will be asked to help bolster a run defense that was historically bad in 2016. Elsewhere, the Niners will have some moving pieces as they figure out where their returning players go. For now, it seems likely Buckner will get the first shot to play the three-technique defensive tackle spot, with Armstead at left defensive end and Lynch at the "Leo" spot.

The Niners have drafted defensive linemen in the first round each of the past two years, but it's possible they could do so again. While Mitchell will be crucial in improving the run defense, the Niners need help rushing the passer from the edge. They haven't had a player post more than 6.5 sacks in a season in the past two years, and Lynch has proved unreliable.

Saleh indicated last week that Buckner and Armstead will get the chance to prove themselves at multiple spots, but he also acknowledged how important the "Leo" spot is in his defense. That's the spot for the team's best pass-rusher, and Saleh invoked names like Von Miller and Charles Haley when describing what he's looking for at that position. The current roster simply doesn't have any pass-rushers that offensive coordinators will lose sleep over when making game plans. Aside from a franchise quarterback, it's probably the position on the roster that needs the most attention.

Verdict: In a perfect world, the Cleveland Browns will do something crazy and Garrett won't go No. 1 overall. He's the ideal fit for the "Leo" spot and would also give the Niners the type of talent they can build around moving forward. Not that Garrett is a sure thing, but he seems to be the closest to that status of all the players in this year's draft. If that doesn't happen, the Niners could realistically look to someone like Thomas with the second pick, though his projection is a bit more difficult. Some believe he's capable of playing the "Leo," but his college tape shows he'd likely be a better fit at three-technique. Thomas probably can play the "Leo," but it's a bit of a projection, which isn't ideal with the second pick. Allen is also widely regarded as a top-five prospect, but he is also thought to be best at the three-technique.

The good news for the Niners is if they don't choose a pass-rusher with their first-round pick, this is considered a deep draft at the position. Players like Harris, Willis, Bowser and Charlton could potentially be in play at the beginning of the second round, and a trade down to the middle of the first round could still land them Barnett.

As for defensive tackle, the Niners brought Purcell and Jones back and Dial offers enough versatility that they should have the depth to prevent them from spending serious draft capital on someone for the middle of the line. Still, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if they looked to add to that depth later in the draft if someone they like falls.