Image Credit: John Lynch
Going into the 2020 draft, the San Francisco 49ers situation was different than any year in recent memory. With a roster returning 19 of the 22 starters from the previous Super Bowl, general manager John Lynch and the 49ers front office were looking for quality over quantity. The team had two first-round picks, two fifth-round picks, a sixth-rounder, and two seventh-round picks. They had previously sent their second round pick for Dee Ford, and their third- and fourth-round picks for Emmanuel Sanders and one of those fifth round picks.
With those seven draft picks, the 49ers were able to find three immediate starters, and possibly a fourth, as well as competition at the tight end and wide receiver positions. Not a bad haul considering they had no day-two selections. Lynch accomplished the feat by maneuvering the draft board, something we have seen him do in each of his first four drafts. Just like in the past, Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan went out and got players they had identified before the draft as must-have prospects. I know that is a statement that would cause many people to say, “Duh, every front office does that,” but Lynch and Shanahan take the risks to move around the draft board and insure they get their guys and not just the next best option available.
Of course no one will know how successful this specific draft is going to be right now, with teams quarantined from each other and unable to even meet for workouts at the moment, but let’s take a look at how it appears the team did addressing their needs this past draft weekend.
Starters needing to be replaced: Deforest Buckner (defensive tackle), Emmanuel Sanders (wide receiver), and Joe Staley (left tackle).
Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina, pick 14
When Buckner was traded for pick 13, nearly everyone targeted Kinlaw as his possible replacement with that exact pick. Going into the draft, it was thought that maybe Kinlaw wouldn’t last that long, or that the team wouldn’t want to draft Buckner’s replacement with that pick, and thus tie the two together forever. It turns out all of that analysis was wrong. With one of the top offensive tackles, and the two top receivers available the 49ers traded back one spot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and drafted Kinlaw at 14.
As a 6’5” 315 pound DT, Kinlaw has the size and athletic ability to replace Buckner immediately, even if not at the level that Buckner left at. Some have stated the Kinlaw’s ceiling is higher than Buckner’s and one fact that sticks out to me is that he improved each of his three seasons at South Carolina (his tackles went down from 2018 to 2019, but his sack total increased). Kinlaw was the right pick to replace Buckner. Interestingly enough, this pick won’t be tied to Buckner, but rather Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb, the two receivers that 49ers fans were drooling over for most of the draft season.
Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona St., pick 25
After passing on Jeudy and Lamb, the 49ers traded up for Shanahan’s favorite WR in the draft in Aiyuk. Many people grumbled over this pick becauseno other receivers were picked between this point and the 49ers’ original pick (31), and the 49ers traded away the fourth round draft pick they received by trading back from number 13 to No. 14. My response is this: watch the highlight film linked above and tell me Aiyuk doesn’t look like a younger more athletic Sanders. He will immediately step into the role that Sanders held. He has the ability to beat a cornerback at the line and take him long, or catch a pass in stride and take it to the house. He should be a YAC machine for the Jimmy Garoppolo-led offense and will definitely open up opportunities for Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.
His 2019 season at Arizona State included 65 catches for 1,192 yards and 8 touchdowns, and he could very easily be replicating those numbers in a couple of years in the NFL. If the offense didn’t have so many options and lean on the run game so much, he could possibly put up those numbers as a rookie. His 81-inch wingspan makes him a red zone target, even though his frame is only 6’0” and 201 pounds. He incorporates everything the team loves in a WR, and the more I watch him play, the more it makes sense that he was Shanahan’s pick to fill Sanders’ role in the offense.
Colton McKivitz, OL, West Virginia, pick 153
McKivitz played tackle for West Virginia for four seasons, earning ten starts as a redshirt freshman. He started at left tackle his senior season. It was learned that if the 49ers were not able to accomplish Plan A to replace Joe Staley, McKivitz was their Plan B, and they even had ideas of trading up in the fourth round to ensure they got him. This is a bit puzzling considering most analysts had a sixth-round grade on him, but as was stated before, the front office and coaching staff go after who they view as valuable.
At 6’6” and 306 pounds, McKivitz ran a 5.35 40-yard dash and put up 20 reps in the bench press. McKivitz did play a little bit of right guard at West Virginia and could be seen as possible competition for Daniel Brunskill to fill the void left by Mike Person’s release. His ability to play right guard and both tackle positions along the offensive line had to help the team decide that he was worthy of this draft pick.
With other players like Brunskill, Shon Coleman, Justin Skule, Ben Garland and the recently-signed Tom Compton on the roster, some have wondered if this pick would have been better used on a cornerback or a safety, positions with lots of free agents after this season –especially since their Plan A to replace Joe Staley happened right before McKivitz was drafted.
Charlie Woerner, TE, Georgia, pick 190
After losing Garrett Celek and Levine Toilolo during the offseason, the 49ers were continually linked to multiple tight ends, whether in the draft, free agency, or via a trade. There has even been speculation that receiver Jalen Hurd would be transitioned to the position. So it was no surprise when the 49ers drafted one.
Woerner is not a George Kittle clone. He was utilized more of a blocking tight end, the same waythe 49ers used Toilolo last season. He also played a little bit of fullback in college, and it wouldn’t be that big of a surprise if he was insurance in case Kyle Juszczyk isn’t re-signed next offseason. At 6’6” and 245 pounds, he has the size to match up against NFL blitzing linebackers. He only caught 9 passes his senior year, but saw playing time in all four of his collegiate seasons. Having a skilled blocker like Woerner will allow Shanahan to move George Kittle out of a blocking role late in games and into the passing game where he is needed.
Woerner isn’t the type of pick that blows you away, but he could be one of those sneaky late-rounders who ends up making a big contribution.
Jauan Jennings, WR, Tennessee, pick 217
Jennings capped his five year career with Tennessee with a 59-catch, 969-yards, and 8-touchdown season. Two knee surgeries and some behavioral issues caused Jennings to be pushed down to the seventh round where the 49ers were lucky enough to add him as the last piece of their draft roster. At 6’3” and 208 pounds, Jennings is a bigger target who is an absolute beast to bring down after the catch. He is another player built for Shanahan’s system, which depends on YAC yardage. As a seventh-round pick, Jennings has a real chance of making the roster, and could push out someone like Richie James or Dante Pettis.
The Really Big Elephant in the Room
You can’t talk about the team’s draft without mentioning the acquisition of left tackle Trent Williams, who is one of the best in the league, when he’s on the field. Giving up a fifth-rounder and future third for an All-Pro caliber tackle to replace the All-Pro caliber tackle you just lost to retirement is a home run, no matter what team you’re talking about. Williams only has one year left on his contract, but one would have to assume that he is willing to sign an extension. Williams was the cream cheese frosting to perfectly top the draft off with.
So what’s the Grade?
I would have to give the San Francisco 49ers’ front office an “A-minus” for the 2020 draft. Adding Williams and being able to trade back a spot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while still drafting the player you wanted at No. 13, along with the fact that the second-round pick became Dee Ford, who has already shown himself to be extremely valuable, pushes this draft into the “A” grade discussion.
Packaging the seventh to the Buccaneers, and drafting McKivitz a round earlier than they probably could have pushes the grade out of the “A” and down into the “A-minus” category for me. I still think the team got better over the three days, and found at least three immediate starters if not four, while possibly finding gems in Jennings and Woerner.
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