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ESPN on 49ers/Vikings trade: I’m confused by what the 49ers did in the first round

Not all analysts are on the 49ers train

NFL: JAN 11 NFC Divisional Playoff - Vikings at 49ers Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s been optimism week here at Niners Nation as most pundits have been fully on board with the San Francisco 49ers draft. During our FanPulse polls, the majority of fans gave the Niners an A. ESPN’s Seth Walder—an analytical guy that relies on quantitative metrics—graded the top-five trades from the NFL Draft. He had the Vikings/49ers trade as No. 1, but it wasn’t in favor of San Francisco:

The trade: 49ers got pick No. 25; Vikings got pick Nos. 31, 117 and 176

The value winner: Vikings

Surplus value: Late third-round pick

I’m confused by what the 49ers did in the first round. Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb would have been logical selections at No. 14 and would have filled a giant need at wide receiver. Instead, general manager John Lynch took defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, a well-regarded prospect who plays a position considered to be less valuable than wideout and a position that is not as much of a need for this team.

Perhaps the argument against Jeudy or Lamb was that this was a deep receiving class, and strong talent could be found later. But that line of thinking went out the window when the 49ers squandered so much value to trade up to get Brandon Aiyuk. In dealing, Nos. 31, 117, and 176 for No. 25, the 49ers actually spent more on Aiyuk than they did on Kinlaw.

To make it worse, at the time the trade was made, there was a 59% chance that Aiyuk was still going to be on the board at pick No. 31, according to ESPN’s NFL Draft Predictor.

All of this seems like bad process by San Francisco. But the Vikings deserve credit, too. They were presented with an offer that moved them down six spots and paid them much more than those six spots are worth, and they took the deal.

Cumulatively, the Vikings’ four pick-for-pick trades in this draft netted them surplus-value worth a pick in the middle of the second round. That could be nudged in either direction a bit, depending on how one views picks for 2021 (we credited them as being worth 90% of a present pick), but regardless, the result is clear: Minnesota’s process increased its expected output from the draft.

This is where groupthink and mock drafts cloud your judgment. Because Mel Kiper and Todd McShay rank or mock a player high, it doesn’t mean NFL teams view that way. I thought Jeudy and Lamb were better receivers than Aiyuk. I also understand that fit matters, and Aiyuk was one of a few receivers that made fit for San Francisco in the first round.

As far as the positional value, Lynch has been consistent in saying that he wants to build this team through the defensive line. The drop-off after Kinlaw was steeper than the drop-off after the top receiver. Kyle Shanahan made it clear that the defensive line is what made the Niners so dominant in 2019, too. The 49ers were comfortable taking Aiyuk at 13, if that’s ‘your guy,’ then no draft calculator or value chart can quantify drafting the right “fit.”

I’d argue this was the correct process when you factor in the strength of the roster, Lynch’s team-building comments, and the type of players the Niners needed.