The draft is one of the most exciting periods on the NFL calendar, partly because there truly are so many unknowns leading up to the event. Which players will go where? Which position group will teams prioritize? The theories are endless, and part of the fun always stems from the fact that, as of now, anyone’s guess is as good as anyone else’s.
Every draft is different, and with roster turnover in the NFL, the needs for individual teams change every year as well. However, there is something to be gained by examining a regime’s past drafts to see if any patterns are consistent over the course of a front office’s tenure.
The 49ers are entering their sixth draft with John Lynch as the general manager. Let’s take a look at how Lynch has allocated the 40 draft picks that the 49ers have made under his watch since 2017.
The position group drafted most frequently by the 49ers? Wide receiver, with seven selections over the last five drafts. In recent years, there have been some big hits as all three of the 49ers starting wide receivers were drafted by the team in back-to-back seasons.
Deebo Samuel’s All-Pro season in 2021 certainly overshadows the swing and miss the 49ers had when they traded up into the second round for Dante Pettis in 2018. Grabbing Jauan Jennings in round seven in 2020 also appears to be a tremendous value just one year into Jennings having an impact role with the team.
It was clearly a position of need for the 49ers in past seasons and one that will always carry importance for a team coached by Kyle Shanahan due to what he looks for from receivers in his offense. With only four players on the roster currently looking locks to make the final 53 man roster at this point, expect the 49ers to target a wideout in this upcoming draft.
So with receivers being the position group selected the most often, I’m sure you can guess what’s number two—the defensive line. If we split it up based on edge and interior, it changes, as both have been selected three times apiece since 2017. For the sake of this article, I’m going to group them together to simplify things.
San Francisco has made it clear that they will prioritize their premium assets to be diverted towards landing impact pass rushers, something to remember even though they don’t pick until the back end of the second round this year.
This regime spent the very first pick they had on defensive end Solomon Thomas, who they took third overall. They then followed that up by taking Nick Bosa’s number two overall in 2019 and drafting Javon Kinlaw with a top 15 pick a year later.
Although things didn’t go according to plan with the Thomas pick, the 49ers did not waver in their belief of prioritizing the pass rush and managed to redeem themselves in a monumental way when Bosa fell to them just two years later.
The Kinlaw pick can only be graded as incomplete at this point in time because, frankly, there just hasn’t been enough on-field sample to make a judgment one way or the other. But the pick itself again aligns with what this team has clearly made their priority for the majority of the drafts they have had, which is beefing up the front seven.
There was also success in the later rounds, as the 49ers got tremendous value with their sixth-round selection of D.J. Jones. No matter how good the unit is, always expect this front office to go above and beyond scouting this position group in any given draft class.
They’ve drafted a defensive lineman in four of their five drafts, and I not only expect them to make it five in six this year, I expect them to use their first pick in the draft at 61 overall on a defensive lineman, most likely an edge rusher.
The position group drafted third most might surprise some folks. With five selections, cornerback fell in just behind the defensive line over that span. There hasn’t been a great track record of success with these picks, and there has been a reluctance to spend significant capital when selecting this position.
The highest the 49ers have drafted a corner was when they used the 66th overall selection in 2017 to draft Akhello Witherspoon. That’s the only time the 49ers have used one of the 15 top 100 picks they’ve had under Lynch on a cornerback.
Their best selection at the position is a player who not only doesn’t play for the 49ers anymore but who also blossomed into an impact player while suiting up for the 49ers’ bitter rival in, the Seattle Seahawks.
While the 49ers took two corners in the 2021 draft, they still were mid to late-round selections. The front office did make a big splash by signing Charvarius Ward, but as of now, based on their track record, it’s hard to envision them spending one of their first couple of selections at the position, even though I think that it would be wise to do so.
Pivoting to the other side of the spectrum, the area that has been neglected the most in Lynch’s draft has been by far the interior of the offensive line. Only one has been spent on an interior offensive lineman among the 40 picks Lynch has made as general manager.
The 49ers have not selected a center in the draft since 2017, and the only guard they have selected in that span is Aaron Banks. I’d expect the chances are high that both of these positions get addressed in the upcoming draft.
Here is the full breakdown for each position group, showing the number of picks invested, the rounds those picks were used, and the players who were drafted with them.
Quarterback (2) - 1st round (Trey Lance), 3rd round (CJ Beathard)
Running Back (3) - 3rd round (Trey Sermon), 4th round (Joe Williams), 6th round (Elijah Mitchell)
Wide receiver (7) - 1st round (Brandon Aiyuk), 2nd round (Deebo Samuel), 2nd round (Dante Pettis), 3rd round (Jalen Hurd), 5th round (Trent Taylor), 7th round (Richie James Jr.) 7th round (Jauan Jennings)
Tight end (3) - 5th round (George Kittle), 6th round (Kaden Smith), 6th round (Charlie Woerner)
Tackle (4) - 1st round (Mike McGlinchey), 5th round (Colton McKivitz), 5th round (Jaylon Moore), 6th round (Justin Skule)
Guard (1) - 2nd round (Aaron Banks)
Defensive end (3) - 1st round (Solomon Thomas), 1st round (Nick Bosa), 4th round (Kentavius Street)
Defensive Tackle (3) - 1st round (Javon Kinlaw), 6th round D.J. Jones, 7th round (Jullian Taylor)
Linebacker (4) - 1st round (Reuben Foster), 3rd round (Fred Warner), 5th round (Dre Greenlaw), 6th round (Pita Taumoepenu)
Cornerback (5) - 3rd round (Akhello Witherspoon), 3rd round (Ambry Thomas), 5th round (Deommodore Lenoir), 5th round (D.J. Reed), 6th round (Tim Harris)
Safety (4) - 3rd round (Tarvarius Moore), 5th round (Talanoa Hufanga), 6th round (Marcell Harris), 7th round (Adrian Colbert)
Punter (1) - 4th round (Mitch Wishnowsky)