Reading the Tea Leaves at John Lynch’s Pre-Draft Presser

Lynch expects Aiyuk to stay, and says the 49ers are positioned for opportunity, if it comes to them.
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49ers General Manager John Lynch held his annual pre-draft press conference and lowered the mercury on Brandon Aiyuk trade rumors while giving some hints to the Niner thinking heading into the NFL Draft.

On Aiyuk

The intention is to keep him and Lynch would like to speed up the contract negotiations. When asked if Aiyuk’s agent has team permission to seek a trade, Lynch provided a “no comment.”

My read is the Niners are open to a trade on their terms, a 1st round pick at 20 or above. If they get that, and if Georgia tight end Brock Bowers or an offensive lineman they love drops, it’s possible. However, I don’t think they’ll get either one. Bowers and linemen Troy Fautanu and Taliese Fuaga are gone by 10-16 and the Niners in my view are unlikely to get the trade ante they seek.

Aiyuk stays after a long drawn-out negotiation, same ol’. Not a lock, but in my view likely.

Offensive line versatility

Lynch prefers a lineman with multi-position versatility.  This exceptional draft class delivers on that, nearly every lineman can play at least two positions. The Niners plan would presumably be for a rookie to sit a year or platoon at guard and eventually migrate to tackle or center.

170 draftable players, 22 first round grades, and 16 gold helmets

So that means the Niners are unlikely to have players they’d draft in the sixth round at 211 and 215. Both picks could be packaged in trade with 176 to move up in the fifth round, but who would want those picks?

Washington and Kansas City don’t have 6th round picks but may prefer that given the dearth of quality.  Practice squad picks that are normally undrafted free agents start early this year.

I can see the Niners using two of their three 4th round picks to move up in the 2nd to target Washington tackle Roger Rosengarten and in the 3rd to get UCF wide receiver Javon Baker.

22 first rounders and 16 gold helmets speak to the value and motivation to trade up from 31. The Niners also have a need for impact, all the more reason to move up.

Many talk about the value of moving down and Lynch said he’s open to it. The question is if the opportunity will arise.

It was a safe assumption to believe quarterbacks Michael Penix Jr. of Washington and Bo Nix of Oregon would fall. But new rumors indicate the Raiders will consider drafting Penix at 11, and if a team deals above the Niners into the late first for Nix there goes the opportunity.

I expect Nix will still be on the board at 31, but it’s not a lock. Teams from 24 to 31 will all be open for business if a team wants to trade up for Nix.

Also a note on trade value. Many are saying deal back to 30-40 and get an extra 3rd. The trade value charts predict a pick from 30-40 would be matched with a 4th rounder in a trade for 31. Still helpful, but not the bounty some are anticipating.

“There's a number of spots that we see, probably more than people might think, where there is opportunity.”

I believe Lynch is referring to team needs outside of offensive line, given that tackle draws most of the attention locally and nationally.

If the Niners are confident they can deal up from 63 in the 2nd to secure Rosengarten then 31 is truly open.

Wide Receiver: A.D. Mitchell gets the talk, but Adam Schefter says he’s heard Mitchell goes before 25. Ladd McConkey? The Alabama DBs made him disappear, too light. Malachi Corley? Deebo Samuel is unique, no sequels, limited route tree.  Keon Coleman can’t separate. The speed receivers are too light to block in the run game.

Which leaves Xavier Legette. 4.39 40, huge catch radius, outstanding hands, physicality. The Niners had a formal interview with him at the Combine and brought him in for a 30 visit.

Center/Guard: The 49ers likely see interior offensive line as too rich at 31. Plus, this draft class is exceptionally deep, particularly at center. If they kick the tires at center, at least one of Oregon’s Jackson Powers-Johnson or West Virginia’s Zach Frazier will be on the board at 31.

Defensive Tackle: Jer’Zhan Newton just proved his heath at his pro day and had a dominant season on a Jones fracture. Disruptor.  Fast off the line. He’s their type. Too early for the rest.

Edge: Not seeing it. Tony Pauline says they are off Marshawn Kneeland now. The Robinsons? No, they have Chop in Robert Beal and Darius is too slow of the line and plays too high up.

Linebacker: Not at 31. Edgerrin Cooper is poor in pass coverage. Payton Wilson has had surgery on both shoulders and a torn ACL.

Slot DB: Mike Sainristil of Michigan is a brilliant playmaker, six picks, calling out routes and formations in the title game to UW’s Jalen McMillian. But Sainristil is 5-9. Not at 31.

Outside DB: A 30 visit that got no attention, Nate Wiggins of Clemson. He’s an elite cover corner with 4.28 speed but he can’t defend the run. However, a 30 visit says the Niners are interested, he should drop to 31, and he’s only 20. You can’t rule it out.

I’d take Missouri’s Ennis Rakestraw, the draft’s best corner run defender, but Wiggins is on their radar. Kool-Aid McKinstry, same issue, great coverage, doesn’t invest in his run d. T.J. Tampa, size/speed, off-coverage experience, closes well, six PBUs, two picks, but 31 is early.

Free Safety: Cooper DeJean gets knocked for technique with his back to the QB and tight hips, but put him at free safety and it plays to his strenghs. Outstanding diagnostician and a pure playmaker. Two pick sixes (one called back on a bad call), can blitz, great in run d, and an elite returner. In my view he’s the best center fielder in the class and a great fit for a move to more simulated pressure. He’s not worth 31 at corner but he is at free safety.

My guess at 31: Legette WR, Powers-Johnson C, Newton DT, Wiggins DB, DeJean FS - with Newton the most likely choice, if he lasts.


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Tom Jensen

TOM JENSEN