The San Francisco 49ers had an incredibly productive rookie class in 2017 that played more snaps than any other group of rookies in the NFL, by far. The 2017 class finished the season playing 5033 snaps as a group while the Saints’ rookies finished in second place with 766 snaps less. While this is impressive, it isn’t always a positive. Fortunately for the 49ers, the rookies not only played a lot of snaps, but they were productive as well. Many outperformed their higher draft pick classmates on other teams.
A look at how many snaps rookies played for every team in the NFL! pic.twitter.com/QPRVgcZ4vM— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 20, 2018
Perhaps the most impressive part of this phenomenon is that it was the first draft for John Lynch as a general manager. Obviously he surrounded himself with a knowledgable team, as smart people do, but they collectively set the bar incredibly high for 2018. Will they be able to continue to find stand out pieces or “bricks” to build their championship team? Or was 2017 an anomaly?
The needs of the 49ers after the 2016 season were nearly at every position. One of the characteristics of the Trent Baalke era (are we allowed to type his name yet?) was the lack of, or even disbelief of the use of free agency. For instance, the 49ers signed quarterback Thad Lewis in 2016’s free agency period. In 2017 Lynch and his team signed so many players in free agency that they barely fit on the press conference stage all at the same time. They signed Pierre Garcon, Malcolm Smith, Marquise Goodwin, Brian Hoyer, Logan Paulsen, Kyle Juszczyk and Robbie Gould.
Multiple free agent signings can take the pressure off of a draft class. Injuries hit the 49ers hard in 2017 with the highest number of players going on injured reserve in the league. This created a need for the rookies to be on the field. One of the positives was that they did get some time under their belts before being forced into playing numerous snaps.
The current needs of the 49ers are more specific. In 2017 the front office could cast a large net at the draft and come up with many usable pieces. This season there are actually positions that are not in need, for instance quarterback. Interior offensive line, cornerback and a pass rusher, however, remain high on the list. How will Lynch and his team strategize the 2018 draft and what will end up being the priority? Will the 2018 rookies be as productive as 2017? Or maybe they won’t need to.