With no third-round pick this year, the result of a penalty for alleged salary-cap violations, the Niners are limited with their trade mobility in the early rounds.
"Our ability to gather a lot of firepower to move up in the draft is somewhat restrained," Donahue said. "I would say there's a better probability that if we do anything, we'll move back and try to create more picks. I think that's a higher probability than moving forward."
As director of player personnel two years ago, Donahue watched then-general manager Bill Walsh make seven deals - including trading the No. 3 overall pick in the draft for first-rounders that became starting linebacker Julian Peterson and starting cornerback Ahmed Plummer - to land 11 picks. All of them made the team as rookies and 10 still are with the Niners today - five as starters.
With all his connections, Walsh is working the phones again this year with the hope the Niners might be able to trade back - but not far back - from their No. 27 overall pick to acquire another second-round pick and a third-round pick.
"I do envision a couple of scenarios possibly occurring where we might get an opportunity to move backward," Donahue said. "One of the frustrations we have going into the draft is the pool of players that exists from when we pick in the second round and when we pick in the fourth. There's a whole lot of guys there, and we can't get our hands around them.
"As we project where players are going to go - what rounds, what their values are - there's this pool, and we're just going to be sitting there having our bagel during that time. And munching away and watching all these guys fly off the board, which is going to be difficult for us. So if we could somehow maneuver backward and get into that pool, that would be maybe advantageous for us to think about."
Six of San Francisco's nine picks are in the fifth round or later, meaning the Niners likely would have to deal one of their first two picks to land a pick in the third round while moving down.