Coming into the 2017 NFL Draft, the hardest team to mock was the San Francisco 49ers. No other team had a rookie general manager and head coach. Despite the lack of experience in the draft room, the 49ers came away with quite the haul. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan inherited a baron roster. After a solid free agent class and a stellar draft class, the duo have the 49ers poised to start building towards a sixth Lombardi Trophy. Here’s who they selected:
1st Round, 3rd Overall: DL Solomon Thomas (Stanford)
1st Round, 31st Overall: LB Reuben Foster (Alabama)
3rd Round, 66th Overall: CB Ahkello Witherspoon (Colorado)
3rd Round, 104th Overall: QB C.J. Beathard (Iowa)
4th Round, 121th Overall: RB Joe Williams (Utah)
5th Round, 146th Overall: TE George Kittle (Iowa)
5th Round, 177th Overall: WR Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech)
6th Round, 198th Overall: DL D.J. Jones (Ole Miss)
6th Round, 202nd Overall: DL Pita Taumoepenu (Utah)
7th Round, 229th Overall: S Adrian Colbert (Miami)
49ers 2017 Draft Grade: 9.5/10
San Francisco 49ers 2017 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player
It makes sense that best player the 49ers drafted would be the first one they took in the draft: Solomon Thomas. There is a reason Thomas was consistently mocked within the first five or so picks. One does not need to look further than the Sun Bowl to see the type of havoc Thomas can wreak on opposing quarterbacks. Thomas should step in and instantly boost a 49ers defense ranked 28th in 2016 defensive DVOA.
The most questionable move of the draft was the selection of third round quarterback C.J. Beathard from Iowa. Beathard was a prospect that many scouts had going in the later rounds. With Nathan Peterman, Brad Kaaya, and Joshua Dobbs on the board, it especially felt like a reach. However, Shanahan has defended the pick, stating Beathard fits the mold of what he was looking for in a quarterback. He cited leadership, accuracy, ability to read coverage, and passion for the game as positives. Beathard even received high praise from the President of the United States, who called him “the next Tom Brady.” This pick may seem like a head-scratcher now, but if Shanahan truly is the offensive genius, this pick may be looked at in the future as a steal.
The biggest surprise of the draft was the hard hitting safety taken in the third round, of the 1993 draft. John Lynch, selected with the 82nd overall pick by Tampa Bay in 1993, put to bed all early doubts and criticisms of his hiring as general manager. Lynch fleeced the Chicago Bears, convincing them to part with multiple picks to move up one spot and take a quarterback, who the 49ers did not want to take. While Foster was dropping in the draft, Lynch jumped ahead of the would-be suitor New Orleans to steal him. Throughout the draft, Lynch traded six times, targeting players he liked and stockpiling high picks for next year’s draft. All of this came from a general manager with less than two months experience. Lynch not only managed to hold his own, but completely manipulated the draft to the 49ers advantage.
The steal of the draft was easily Reuben Foster. John Lynch stated Foster was one of the three highest rated players on the 49ers draft board. Concerns over his shoulder and diluted sample at the combine caused him to drop, but he should have been long gone by pick 31. Coupling Foster with NaVorro Bowman, the 49ers hope to recreate the elite linebacker duo of Bowman and Patrick Willis, which was an integral part of the 49ers last Super Bowl run.
Most Likely to Turn Heads in Training Camp:
Ahkello Witherspoon could be the player who impresses the most in Training Camp. With Jimmie Ward moving to safety and Tramaine Brock cut due to off the field issues, the 49ers depth chart at corner looks thin. Witherspoon will be competing against Keith Reaser and Dontae Johnson for the second corner spot, opposite Rashard Robinson. Witherspoon’s length and high football I.Q. also fit the mold for the exact type of corner that defensive co-ordinator Robert Saleh will want to build his defense around. Witherspoon will likely come out of camp as the second corner on the depth chart.
With ten selections, the 49ers were able to add more intriguing prospects. Joe Williams gives the 49ers a home run threat running back with his dynamic speed. There are questions about his passion for the game and pass catching ability, but if he can stay motivated and develop, he can be special.
George Kittle will join a crowded tight end group, but has the raw athleticism to be a play maker. He is a little small for the position, but he makes up for that with speed. His familiarity with C.J. Beathard could help both their development.
Trent Taylor was one of the most productive wide receivers throughout his college career. His 5’8 frame is less than ideal, but he will give the 49ers a fast and shifty slot receiver, accustomed to proving critics wrong.
Waiting until the sixth round to add an edge rusher may be questionable, but Pita Taumoepenu is an interesting option at the LEO position. He is more of a “tweener,” but could steal some snaps from Eli Harold and Aaron Lynch.
The last pick was Adrian Colbert, who can play both safety and corner back. With his blazing speed and size, he seems destined to make the team as a special team’s gunner. Eventually, he may fight his way up the depth chart at corner back.
The Bottom Line
John Lynch may be a rookie general manager, but he moved up and down the draft board like a savvy veteran. The 49ers used their first three picks on defensive players that should have immediate impact. Then, the 49ers got intriguing offensive prospects that Shanahan can fit into his offensive system. It is also important to note that Lynch selected zero players with serious injuries.
Under the previous regime, general manager Trent Baalke liked to take such “red-shirt” players frequently. A big take away also is Lynch’s moves to add second and third round picks in the 2018 draft. The 49ers will have a plethora of draft capital to obtain a quarterback next year. It may be a few years before the 49ers are back to competing for a Super Bowl, but the 49ers are well on the way after this stellar draft class.