Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it's worked so far. Who am I to argue?
As fans, we want to believe the San Francisco 49ers did well just about every time they make a move. When they select a player in the 2015 NFL Draft, we'd like to hope it was a good pick and that the player will contribute in a meaningful way. It's easy to get sucked into the hype of a "draft steal," particularly in the later rounds. I myself am guilty of this every single year, and it's just as disappointing when that player doesn't wind up being as great as I'd let myself believe when it's all said and done.
Last year, the player I latched onto was Aaron Lynch. Yesterday, I wrote a 90-in-90 for Corey Lemonier, another player I liked a lot on draft day, but other than a position the two don't have much in common. Lynch was all I'd hoped for and more last season, and I'm more excited for what he can potentially bring to the table than any other single player on the roster next season.
Anyway, Lynch is kind of a big deal, or at least, that's how I felt when the 49ers drafted him. I want to make it clear that I've been a fan of what Ahmad Brooks does on the field, though I imagine I'm harder on him than most when it comes to his offsides and encroachment penalties. Still, I was ready for Brooks to be replaced sooner rather than later due to those mistakes, and the fact that he's getting up there in years.
I hardly expected Lynch to see the field as much as he did as a rookie. By the end of the season, he was out-performing Brooks. When Lynch was on the field, the 49ers were a better team and I jimmies were thoroughly rustled when the 49ers rewarded Brooks' late-season temper tantrum with a start in his next game.
Lynch took 100 fewer snaps than Brooks, but matched him with six sacks. He also had eight quarterback hits and 27 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. Brooks had 11 hurries and five hits and Lynch also graded out better in run defense and penalties. But his biggest question mark is obvious: we don't know how he'll perform in pass coverage. He did it so few times last season it's not even worth discussing his performance on those plays.
The 49ers sent Lynch after the quarterback on a whopping 90.8 percent of the time the opposing team dropped back to pass. To compare, Brooks came in at 72.9 percent. That's a significant difference, and signifies one of the advantages Brooks has over Lynch. That advantage, though, is just that he's pretty decent in coverage and not much else. The bar hasn't been set particularly high, though with the departure of Dan Skuta and Patrick Willis, solid cover linebackers and the fact that the 49ers want Aldon Smith getting after the quarterback as often as possible, every little bit counts.
I think the 49ers are interested in moving on with Brooks sooner rather than later, but they'll need to ensure the position will be fine without him. I worry that Lynch's absences while nursing a hamstring injury will lead to Brooks getting the edge and starting to begin the season. I think that would be a negative outcome for the 49ers, personally. I'm not going to feel comfortable about the position until I know Lynch is the starter.
Why he could improve:
Lynch should get more opportunities, possibly as a starter. I think he's well-equipped to take advantage of those opportunities provided he's healthy. The 49ers coaches like him, he caught onto last year's scheme very quickly and it stands to reason he'll pick up Eric Mangini's defense without issue t his season. He's young and has all the room in the world for improvement. Obviously, I think he'll shine.
Why he could regress:
Maybe Lynch's strong play last season was just lightning in a bottle. Maybe he's not as good as we thought, and took advantage of a strong group of players around him, coupled with a lack of tape for opposing teams to focus on and pick at. Teams know who Lynch is at this stage, and that could lead to some struggles for him. There's also the possibility that he's thrown into the deep end and is called to cover quite a bit next season, which could obviously expose some faults.
Odds of making the roster:
Lynch is going to make the roster next season, there's no doubt about that. I'd like Whatever the case, the position should be an interesting one going forward. Lynch is obviously going to be on the roster next season, but what shakes out with Brooks, Lemonier, Smith and Eli Harold should be intensely interesting this season and next.