What the 2018 NFL Draft told us about the 49ers
The dust has already long since settled on the 2018 NFL Draft and, though it was perhaps not as exciting as the 2017 edition for the San Francisco 49ers, it provided a significant window into the direction of the organization and the thinking of general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan.
San Francisco was widely anticipated to focus on the defense in the early rounds of the draft but instead the Niners spent their first two picks on offense before then using the remainder of their capital to add talent at linebacker, further build the secondary and add depth to the interior of the defensive line.
Questions remain about the talent, or lack thereof, at edge rusher, but it is clear the 49ers are abiding by a plan and a number of team-building philosophies. Here we look at what we learned from San Francisco's draft.
Awkward offensive fits will not be tolerated
The exit of running Carlos Hyde, the focal point of the 49ers offense in what was until last season a malaise-riddled post-Jim Harbaugh era, and the big payday handed to his multi-faceted replacement Jerick McKinnon was an early indicator that less-than-ideal fits for Shanahan's scheme will not survive on the roster for long.
And further evidence of the Niners' unwillingness to tolerate such players came as they drafted tackle Mike McGlinchey ninth overall and then quickly traded Trent Brown to the New England Patriots.
Brown is a rock in pass protection but has always had issues blocking on the move in the run game. Athletic linemen are necessary for the Shanahan offense to click and McGlinchey, though less effective as a pass blocker, carries much greater athletic upside and excels at getting to the second level.
This Niners regime will take that trade-off all the time. For all its success with Jimmy Garoppolo under center, Shanahan's 49er offense has still to fully click, and the San Francisco head coach has made it clear the best fit possible is needed at every position for it to do so.
Athleticism and team speed is a must
McGlinchey will have been highly valued in part because of his athleticism and San Francisco's selections in this draft proved just how much emphasis the franchise places on athletic ability and team speed on both sides of the ball.
Receivers Dante Pettis (44th overall) and Richie James (240th overall) were taken at different ends of the draft but each have showcased the speed to be able to stretch opposing defenses and make big plays down the field.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's scheme is predicated on having team speed and the 49ers clearly recognize the increased importance of possessing defensive players who can play fast in an NFL in which the quick passing game, skilled receiving running backs and move tight ends are becoming the norm.
In the third round the 49ers drafted BYU's Fred Warner who excels in space and posted the 10th-highest SPARQ score of all off-ball linebackers, and a safety in Tarvarius Moore who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds at his Pro Day, testing in the 99th percentile.
With such selections the 49ers are making sure they have defenders who can run with people and cover. The Niners are building their identity on defense and one thing is clear, they will not be slow.
The 49ers believe in building on strengths
The draft is as much as about building on strengths as it is about addressing weaknesses, and the 49ers displayed their belief in that philosophy as they added multiple pieces at two of their strongest positions.
Two picks were spent on safety position, where the 49ers already have plenty of talent in Adrian Colbert, the recently extended Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward, as San Francisco followed the third-round selection of Moore with that of Florida's Marcell Harris in the sixth.
Similarly the Niners used a pair of picks on the defensive line, spending a fourth-round selection on NC State defensive end Kentavius Street, who will need a redshirt year after tearing his ACL in the pre-draft process but brings interior pass-rush value as a rotational three-technique, and then choosing Temple's Jullian Taylor in the seventh round.
The 49ers think Moore can play cornerback as well as safety while Taylor has played every position across the defensive front. San Francisco clearly believes in building on strengths and in finding versatile prospects, but the 49ers' continued investment in the defensive line indicates that they may also be trying to mimic the formula of reigning Super Bowl champions.
The Eagles' formula may be being copied
The Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl-winning campaign was forged, at least partially, on the back of a stacked defensive line.
It was well documented throughout the 2017 season that the Eagles had the advantage of being three rotations deep on the defensive side of the trenches.
And, after drafting both Street and Taylor, it is evident the 49ers plan on having a defensive line that is similarly imposing in depth.
Street and Taylor join a D-Line group that boasts DeForest Buckner -- one of the most dominant yet underrated interior rushers in the NFL -- two further first-round picks in Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas, veteran 1-technique Earl Mitchell and Sheldon Day, who struggled for snaps with the Jacksonville Jaguars but flashed as both a pass rusher and run defender after signing with the Niners.
Ronald Blair and D.J. Jones have also shown signs of promise, ensuring the 49ers have intense competition on the defensive line and the options to be able to rotate at will.
The parallels with the Eagles end with a look at the disparity in edge talent. San Francisco does not have any edge player of the caliber of Brandon Graham or Derek Barnett but, after ignoring the edge rushers in the draft, a team in the second year of a rebuild accelerated by the arrival of Garoppolo may view finding an elite edge talent as the final piece of a puzzle that is taking shape quicker than anyone expected in 2017.