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San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan will begin navigating their third NFL draft together today. Both were probably up at 4 a.m., methodically going through their morning preparations. That’s one thing they have in common: they are both methodical. They follow their own self-instructed rules. Doing so has led to a complete overhaul of the 49ers organization; everything from players to culture has improved since the first day of the 2017 season, their first together.
Joe Staley is the only offensive starter left over from before the start of that first season, while backups Garrett Celek and Joshua Garnett also remain, and both of their roster spots are in question. DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Jaquiski Tartt, and Jimmie Ward are the only defensive players penciled in at a starting position. Lynch and Shanahan have remade the roster.
They have also returned the franchise to former owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.’s culture, one that emphasizes family and human relations. They showed it in their handling of Brock Coyle. Nick Bosa talked about it when asked about his visit with Lynch, Shanahan, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. The franchise looks to be being built for the future, and a possible dynasty run.
But in order to accomplish that climb, the team will have to draft well, year-in and year-out. Their first draft together showed the growing pains of two individuals who had never run an organization before. It appeared in their draft picks of Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster, C.J. Beathard, and Joe Williams that they allowed themselves to be swayed by personal connection rather than what was shown on film and in workouts. Thomas may still prove to be a great player, but so far he hasn’t shown what you would want from a top-five pick. [ed. note: Thomas is being shopped as this is written.] Beathard may be traded and the other two are off the roster. They did bring in George Kittle, Adrian Colbert, and Ahkello Witherspoon in that draft, so they were definitely not all misses.
The only mistake that the two have shown during the draft process is falling in love with other teams’ players, and then trading away draft assets for them. This has left them with only six picks in the draft this year. They don’t have the assets to move up for players they fall in love with, unless they auction off next year’s picks or trade back from the second pick. Luckily, with a solid offseason bringing in Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander, and the hits like Mike McGlinchey, Dante Pettis, and Fred Warner in last year’s draft have left the team with fewer holes than ever in the Lynch-Shanahan era.
Lynch has stated that they only have 185 draftable players on their board and their last pick is at 212. That means they may view that pick with little value and let them move into the fifth if they packaged it with their other sixth, or the pick could be involved in some other package to move up for a player.
If the two of them follow their own self-imposed rules and trust in their process, the 49ers should be able to add three or four starters in the top end of the draft and then take a couple swings in the sixth. Adding four contributors to this roster, at offensive line, defensive line, wide receiver, and in the defensive backfield would solidify the starting lineups, and give the team enough depth to survive whatever injuries happen this upcoming season.
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