Four Questions and the 49ers Draft

An unambitious draft led to solid talent but limited impact. What are the costs as the Niners aim to "not get worse"?
Nov 4, 2023; Louisville, Kentucky, USA;  Louisville Cardinals running back Isaac Guerendo (23) runs
Nov 4, 2023; Louisville, Kentucky, USA; Louisville Cardinals running back Isaac Guerendo (23) runs / Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The draft reveals a team’s philosophy, strengths and limitations, ability to strategize and improvise, biases, and blind spots. The eighth draft of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch had meager goals, a few solid picks, and some costly whoppers.

1. What did this draft tell us about the priorities and pitfalls of this regime?

The most difficult player to replace on the roster is Trent Williams, lock Hall of Famer. It’s rare to get one player in a draft who can do that. This draft had six. The Niners tried to trade up and failed. The Colts reportedly offered 15 for Aiyuk and 31, Lynch wanted 15 just for Aiyuk. Imagine that the Niners ask for a conditional 3rd or 4th next year to be added and the deal is made.

Lynch would never go for that because he inisists on his price at his terms, Aiyuk for 15 and keep 31. He dug in his heels. As he did for Jimmy Garoppolo and that became his Moby Dick, his white whale. He never got it. Are we about to go through the same thing with Brandon Aiyuk?

Behind door no. 1. Brandon Aiyuk, Ricky Pearsall and Rendardo Green. Door no. 2. Washington tackle Troy Fautanu, Central Florida’s Javon Baker or UW’s Jalen McMillian at wide receiver, an extra 3rd or 4th next year, and the loss of Aiyuk. The priority is my price my terms on an Aiyuk trade over getting a true replacement for Trent Williams for the next 10-15 years.

The pitfall is valuing the trade terms over the Wiliams replacement and Shanahan locking in on the receiver he wanted. He loves Pearsall, but rumor had it he also loved Baker and McMillan. Is the dropoff that great or that important? When you gain Fautanu? See the forest for the trees.

The Niners need to dig in their heels on drafting high impact playmakers. That’s what Bill Walsh did, that’s what Jimmy Johnson did. Six Super Bowl championships between them.

2.      Why didn’t they take an offensive tackle?

The Niners waited for Roger Rosengarten to fall to them, and Baltimore spoiled the party a pick ahead. The Ravens going tackle was no surprise, Rosengarten was mocked to them by some national draft analysts. So trade above them. 63 and 176 to Detroit for 61. Done. Instead the Niners wait, making the process over player mistake yet again.

So Baltimore takes Rosengarten, the Niners trade out of their pick, signaling their target was taken and that Kingsley Suamataia did not impress in his 30 visit. Then in their next two picks the Niners trade up - in reaction to their Rosengarten mistake.

The cherry on top, they assumed they would get Rosengarten and had no plan B at tackle. The best tackle draft in more than a decade and they come up empty-handed.

Not trading up for a Williams replacement, not trading up for Rosengarten, and then not taking a tackle period was in my view a collective mistake that could truly cost them.

3.      Speaking of costly, how damaging is it for Shanahan to prioritize his play design and offensive weapons over team needs in the draft?

The cumulative cost over eight drafts is staggering. Five successes in Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Jauan Jennings, and a lucky Mr. Irrelevant pick in Brock Purdy. Nine busts including three first-round picks on Trey Lance, a second, six 3rds, and a 4th. Imagine what this team could have been. It's not just Lance, seven Day 2 picks wasted.

Fast forward to 2024 and a reach at 31 on Ricky Pearsall, trading up in the 4th for a player whose impact will be at kick returner not running back in Isaac Guerendo, and doubling down on receiver in the 4th in Jacob Cowing.

How many touches will these three players have in 2024? It’s Shanahan saying I must have my replacement for Deebo Samuel before I even trade him. And the replacement for Jauan Jennings. And this speed back kick returner. Ahead of any offensive tackle, center, defensive tackle, edge, or linebacker.  Keep eating candy over veggies and you’ll get sick.

Shanahan and Lynch have picked some talented players, but their draft inefficiency is exceptionally high. An offensive coordinator picking for himself warps the draft to his preferences. Then add they are often reaches with a low hit rate. The cost of doing that every year for eight years adds up.

4.      It’s not all bad, they’ve picked some talented players right?

Yes, I liked the secondary picks and the receivers are talented. I think Pearsall will be quite good, but he’s 24 soon. The Niners' first 1st round pick in three years, and he’ll start for just four years. In a draft that had six potential replacements for Williams. Priorities and pitfalls.

A 2024 need to go all-in Super Bowl contender and what will they get this year? Maybe a starter in their best pick Malik Mustapha at safety, and Guerendo should do well as a kick returner. The rest will be a play here a play there, a few touchdowns.

2025 picks when your goal is to get back to the Super Bowl this year? The aging core isn't getting the help it needs soon enough, and the organization won't get the long-term starters it needs going forward. The Niners drafted rentals to go all-in for extending the window, starting in 2025.

One of my mom’s favorite sayings was you get what you expect. The Niners didn’t expect much and they didn’t get much. After the draft Shanahan said, “I feel we're in a position that hopefully I don't think we did get worse.”

You get what you expect.


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Tom Jensen

TOM JENSEN