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How the 49ers wooed Matt Breida

The successful approach to a popular UDFA tells us a lot about how John Lynch works

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Georgia Southern v Georgia Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

We’re still learning how John Lynch operates as GM. Despite his lack of previous front office experience, the Pro-Bowl-safety-turned-TV-commentator has been impressive in his first few months on the job.

17 teams pursued Georgia Southern running back Matt Breida, according to Tampa Bay Times reporter Matt Baker, who was embedded with him at the RB’s fiancee’s house during the draft. Baker’s feature story about the process gives good insight into Lynch’s methods.

Breida was considered a top draft prospect last summer, after averaging 8 yards a carry and 17 touchdowns per year in his sophomore and junior years. Per PFF, his 2015 “breakaway percentage” — share of yardage from runs over 15 yards — was second only to Dalvin Cook in FBS football, and he had more yards after contact (3.61) than Ezekiel Elliott or Derrick Henry. Then head coach Willie Fritz left for Tulane, even before the Eagles’ 2015 bowl game (their first in history).

Colorado State’s defensive coordinator Tyson Summers took over as head coach last year, and the team sputtered to a 5-7 record. Breida’s production tumbled drastically from 1,609 yards in 2015 to just 646 yards and 3.8 yards per carry in his senior year. Not surprisingly, the undersized (5’10, 190) RB dropped down — and off — many teams’ draft boards, and he was not invited to the NFL Combine.

Then came an astounding Pro Day that rekindled interest in Breida. He ran a 4.38 40 yard dash, and that wasn’t all: 23 bench press reps (at 225 pounds), 42” vertical jump, a and a 142” broad jump. Though Pro Days often give better numbers, those results would have ranked a close 2nd, 3rd, 1st and 1st respectively among the RBs at the Combine.

Here’s where Lynch’s methods got interesting. Leading up to day 3 of the draft, when UDFAs are all suddenly pursued after the draft ends, other teams had telegraphed their interest, Baker tells us; especially the Cowboys, the Bears, and the Jets, who “had been calling four or five times a day.”

The Niners had been more discreet.

Two and a half hours in, San Francisco's running backs coach called. The 49ers hadn't seemed interested until Friday, when they grilled Breida about everything from his birth date to his injury history. ...

San Francisco just wanted more information about his production at Georgia Southern, how a back who ranked in the top five nationally in yards per carry in 2014 and 2015 rushed for only 646 yards and three touchdowns as a senior.

Breida didn't hide from the numbers or make up excuses. The 49ers appreciated that. “Hopefully," they said, "we'll be calling you back in a little bit."

The afternoon wore on, as Breida munched chips nervously and wondered if he’d be drafted in the 6th or 7th round. Once San Francisco made their move, they went all in.

“Breida's phone kept ringing. ... A New York City number popped up. It was the 49ers. He paused that call to take another, from an Atlanta number. It was someone else from the 49ers.

"Are you guys not sitting in the same room?" Breida asked. When Breida's agent called, Silvana had to call him back from her phone with an update.

The Niners kept calling, and had a strong pitch about why Breida was a good fit in San Francisco.

They told Breida about the two-back system the coaching staff previously used in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Even though they drafted Utah's Joe Williams in the fourth round, he's a bigger back. They needed a speedy one. They needed Breida. If another team offered a better signing bonus, they'd match it.

Part of the attraction for Breida was the presence of DuJuan Harris, a local high school star he had watched growing up. Oops.

After the draft ended, Breida took a dozen calls. He ended up signing with San Francisco just 31 minutes after the draft ended, with one of the higher signing bonuses received by a UDFA this year ($30,000).

The approach confirms a lot of what we’ve seen from Lynch in other aspects of his job; effective control of information (no leaks!), a clear plan to implement Kyle Shanahan’s vision, and decisive action once he settles on a goal.

There’s no guarantee that Breida will make the Niners’ roster, though early indications are good.

In any case, the way that the team made sure he was on the 90-man roster is very encouraging.