49ers news nuggets are starting to accumulate. The 2018 combine kicked off this week, and the spectacle marks the official ramp up to this year’s draft. Both GM John Lynch and Head Coach Kyle Shanahan spoke to the media on Thursday. Each of those combine interviews, as well as other video content, can be found here.
Transcripts to each interview are here and here. Though much of the conversation with the media was a re-tread of the myriad conversations held among 49ers fans both in internet chat rooms and at water coolers across the land, there were a few items of note.
Lynch and Shanahan Want Versatility
Lynch spent about 12 minutes at the mic on Thursday, and one of the points he brought up was player versatility:
“Versatility is always a good thing, and it’s something I think everyone is looking for…versatility has always been an important part of the game”
Lynch pointed to Adrian Colbert as a recent example of a player with versatile traits that can be deployed in dynamic way. Lynch noted that Colbert is “someone who can play both corner and safety, and is also a big time contributor on special teams.”
Shanahan echoed these sentiments, when speaking about the offensive skill positions specifically:
“Running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, they’re all interchangeable. …If they (players) have a bunch of dynamic traits, they can stay out there in a lot more situations”
This emphasis on versatility, coupled to Shanahan/Lynch’s knack for finding good players that are particularly good system fits (think Trent Taylor, George Kittle and Marquis Goodwin), means that the 49ers’ leadership will truly have the luxury of choice in the upcoming draft.
The Niners Understand the Importance of Continuity
Perhaps no component (other than pure talent) is more important to the success of a team than core continuity (“core” in this case refers to the Coach/GM combination, quarterback, and cornerstone players at key positions on the roster).
The 49ers have already locked in several free agents/newcomers, signaling that they are intent to quickly institute a team culture of continuity. Some of these extensions might have surprised some folks, such as the extension of O-linemen Daniel Kilgore and Gary Gilliam.
However, one must remember that the offensive line came together and started to jell at the end of last year. Great O-line play is largely a manifestation of two major components, namely, consistency on the line, and proper execution by the offense as a whole (i.e., dependable quarterback, running back and receiver play).
Therefore, extending offensive linemen that are part of a unit that started to make significant strides last year makes good sense. Kilgore and Jimmy Garoppolo in particular began to solidify their all-important chemistry together, and I can’t think of any missed snaps or botched center-quarterback exchanges between the two last year.
Also freshly re-signed is Cassius Marsh, who came on strong at the end of last year. The Marsh signing is a shining example of both the 49ers’ belief in the importance of continuity and Shanahan/Lynch’s ability to identify players that are versatile scheme fits.
Marsh is primarily viewed by the team as an edge rusher, a position at which he certainly flashed last year. But he can also play SAM linebacker, and is capable of being a special teams stud.
These trends would seem to bode well for the prospects of pending free agents such as Eric Reid and Carlos Hyde, both of whom I think the 49ers should re-sign. In re-signing both veterans, not only would the Niners get high-character “football guys”, they get a leader in Reid who can play both safety and linebacker, and they get a running back who led the team in carries, rushing yards AND receptions.
What to Do In the Draft
With the recent signings along the O-line and Reuben Foster’s situation uncertain, the 49ers can make a case for doing almost anything in the draft.
Given the high number of needs the 49ers have, and the success they found late in the draft last year targeting specific scheme fits (Adrian Colbert & Trent Taylor), trading back in this year’s draft for additional picks is a great option.
If the 49ers do as well in the draft as they did last year, and are able to get even half of the contribution from this year’s rookie class as they did last year, trading back and stockpiling picks is a smart choice.
The 49ers can obviously use a top flight cornerback, and if one falls to them who seems properly slotted at pick # 9, they should pull the trigger. Same goes for pass rusher. The 49ers can also go best player available regardless of position, and that would still be a good use of the pick.
A freak, versatile athlete like Saquon Barkley might be worth the pick as well. Regardless of what one thinks about taking a running back with an early pick, the fact remains: a game-changer is a game-changer, doesn’t matter the position.
Many fans and pundits think the O-line is an area of serious concern, but I am not convinced it needs to be addressed in the first (or even 2nd) round. It seems clear to me that the 49ers want to try and develop their current core of linemen, and there will be good linemen to be found in the mid rounds of the draft.
Most college offensive linemen are not prepared to play at the NFL level coming out of college anyway, so most likely any lineman picked would be best-served to ride the pine and develop during their first season.
The bottom line is that there is no wrong move in this year’s draft (excepting, of course, the ever-present possibility of drafting a bust). The 49ers are in a great position to add talent, develop their core players, and to add players via free agency and trade.
It is an exciting time to be a 49ers fan. The anticipation is picking up steam, and things are sure to get hot and heavy as free agency hits, drafting is complete, and the clock starts ticking down to mini-camp, OTAs and preseason football.
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