Updated: Apr 30
Heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, there were quite a few concerns about how John Lynch would restock the roster with two Day 1 picks, and three Day 3 picks. How would he replace production from the departures of Deforest Buckner and Emmanuel Sanders, and also address current CB and IOL depth? Would he get ahead of addressing a future LT need, or wait until the 2021 Draft? Was the Joe Staley retirement chatter pre-draft smoke, or a legitimate concern?
We now know the answers to all of those questions following the draft and the trade for Trent Williams ... but, who are the Niners as they head into the 2020 season? Outside of their physical abilities, what did this team value in the players it assessed? I bullet-pointed the shared themes and traits of all five drafted players.
The characteristic that jumps out to me across the board is toughness. Don't get me wrong, all football players are tough, but the guys Lynch drafted are extremely physical, and they pride themselves on it. Look at the tape on Kinlaw, McKivitz, Woerner, and Jennings. These guys all play like junkyard dogs and take pride in physically dominating their opponents. Even Aiuyk, who is a skill player, exhibits this in his YAC. Their draft interviews were full of quotes about how they love to mix it up. Whether it's YAC, breaking tackles blocks, or motor...these guys are all tough.
Love of football
To be a Niner, football must be your primary passion. The Niners have been burned recently on this by taking chances on guys who weren't 100% focused on football. The five guys in this draft class truly love football. When you look back at the last few drafts, the guys who haven't panned out as expected, seem to be guilty of this (granted this is a tough — and even unfair — thing to assess from outside of the locker room). If you have off-the-field issues, or your focus is split between football and off-the-field goals, you will not be a fit for this organization moving forward.
I think this applies to all units, but none more so than the WR corps. Not only did they get two wide receivers, they got two who run block, and specialize in YAC. Two receivers who are tough, and love the game. The most talked-about draft pick, period, has been Jauan Jennings, a 7th-rounder. Why is the fan base obsessing over a 7th-rounder? YAC, dominant run-blocking, and all-out effort on every play. My favorite clip of his is him laying out a DB who intercepted the ball. His competitive fire jumps off the screen...and if all WRs are healthy, the competition for WR6 and WR7, is going to be absolutely fierce. A clear message was sent to the existing WRs. Show up ready for camp, fight for your job and a role on this team, because two guys were brought in to take your job.
Immediate role on the team
The depth of the roster was the main reason I didn't think Lynch was going to aggressively trade back for 7-8 total 2020 picks. He spent his five picks on players who can immediately make an impact on this team, and join the 53-man roster. The best example of that is Woerner. I thought a move TE was probable on Day 3, but Lynch went with the best run-blocking TE in the draft to replace Levine Toilolo. He expects Woerner to have an immediate impact and role on this team through run blocking, and helping to manage George Kittle's run-blocking snaps. This is usually a spot in the draft where you grab a project CB or OL, but Lynch wanted a guy who does one thing exceptionally well and wants him to do it this upcoming season, starting in Game 1. An immediate role is also the reason Matt Brieda and Marquise Goodwin were traded (as well as cap space). This isn't the 2017-2018 Niners any more, the Super Bowl window is now, there is no time to wait for player development, or roster spots to waste. The tone has been set for the offseason program and the preseason. You either have a role on this team, or you won't be on this team.
These four themes and traits were sought after to both continue the overhaul of this roster, and further fuel the camp battles and regular-season snap battles. The makeup and mindset of the roster has gotten grittier and more competitive. Lynch has sent a message. Be a tough football player, love the game, compete, play a role on this team ... or the Niners will move on from you.
Media courtesy Santiago Mejia/SF Chronicle