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The 49ers are slated to pick in the 1st round for the 1st time since 2021

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers will no longer be spectators on the opening night of the NFL draft.

After sitting out round one the past two years thanks to a pricey decision to trade up for quarterback Trey Lance in 2021, the 49ers will be in position to fill a hole on the roster on day one of the draft this year.

San Francisco holds the 31st overall selection in the draft, as well as nine additional picks the final two days, making the opening night far more entertaining for the Niners than the past two years.

“It’s pretty miserable not having a first-round pick, just watching and having nothing to do that first day,” coach Kyle Shanahan said last month at the NFL owners meetings. “We knew we weren’t going to have one the last (two) years, so we didn’t look as much at those top picks. We’ll be prepared for everybody this year. You never know whether we stay where we’re at or if we move around, but at pick No. 31, you have to be ready for anything.”

San Francisco gave up its first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 when the Niners traded up in 2021 from No. 12 to No. 3 to draft Lance. That moved backfired with Lance making just four starts in two seasons as he never got completely comfortable in Shanahan’s offense and then was usurped by Brock Purdy, the last pick of the 2022 draft.

The 49ers overcame the move by making it to the NFC title game in Lance’s first two seasons and then to the Super Bowl last season after trading Lance to Dallas before the season for a fourth-round pick.

NEEDS

San Francisco’s roster is one of the strongest in the league but isn’t without needs. Upgrading the right side of the offensive line that struggled in the Super Bowl could be a priority after the Niners did little to improve that group in free agency. San Francisco also could use a cornerback to team with Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir and is always interested in adding defensive line depth.

DON’T NEED

The quarterback position is set with Purdy still on his rookie deal and Joshua Dobbs added this offseason as a backup along with Brandon Allen. Linebacker isn’t a high priority either even with Dre Greenlaw working his way back from an Achilles tendon injury suffered in the Super Bowl. All-Pro Fred Warner anchors that group and free agent De’Vondre Campbell should be able to hold down the other starting spot until Greenlaw can return.

READY FOR RECEIVER

The Niners appear to be set at receiver with Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and Jauan Jennings all under contract. But Aiyuk’s uncertain future could come into play. He is seeking a long-term deal to replace the fifth-year option his is set to play on this season but the two sides haven’t come to an agreement. San Francisco doesn’t want to trade Aiyuk, even if there is interest, but it could be tough to keep him and Samuel on high-priced deals. Drafting a receiver now would offer protection if the Niners can’t extend Aiyuk or opt to trade Samuel after this season.

PLANNING AHEAD

There are two other key spots on offense where San Francisco has no immediate need for a starter but could seek a rookie to develop as a long-term replacement. All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams turns 36 in July and won’t be able to man that spot for too many more years. Drafting someone to step in as a starter at right tackle this year, who could eventually move to the left side could be an option. All-Pro tight end George Kittle turns 31 next season and finding a backup who could eventually take over could be a direction San Francisco goes this year.

BUSY DAY THREE

San Francisco only has its own picks the first two days, but has several extras on day three with three picks in the fourth round and two in the sixth round. Shanahan and GM John Lynch have had a good track record of finding gems on day three of the draft with picks such as Kittle, Greenlaw, Jennings, Lenoir, safety Talanoa Hufanga, and Purdy all playing a big role in San Francisco’s recent success.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

By JOSH DUBOW
AP Pro Football Writer

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