John Lynch: Mock draft “exercises are invaluable”
A bleary-eyed John Lynch, coming off a long night of commiserating with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan at the NFL owners meetings at the swanky Biltmore hotel, measured his words carefully Monday morning when he was asked about the team’s plans for the NFL Draft.
“Experience always hardens your beliefs that you better be prepared for everything,” the general manager said. “We’re certainly taking that purview that we’re going to be prepared from every angle.”
Lynch and Shanahan are approaching their third draft since taking the keys to the franchise in 2017. They’re expected to add a player to improve their defensive front, with Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Kentucky’s Josh Allen the favorites for the No. 2 overall pick, unless San Francisco decides to trade back.
“But I think we can’t just settle in on two, three guys and say these are our guys here,” Lynch said. “We’re looking at a ton of people right there and kind of figuring out, ‘If we’re here, that’s what we’re doing.’ If not, we got to prepare that we understand who are the guys we like that we think can make us a better football team.”
Lynch confirmed the 49ers will host Bosa, Williams, Allen and Michigan’s Rashan Gary among 30 prospects that will have official visits in Santa Clara leading up to the draft. He and personnel executive Adam Peters linked with Bosa and Williams at their pro days last week.
They ate with Williams at an IHOP in Tuscaloosa, Ala. — and Lynch was surprised by the 303-pound defensive tackle’s food choice.
“The thing that stunk,” Lynch said, “I was all fired up for pigs in a blanket when we used to go IHOP as a kid. (Williams) went all healthy on me. He had a garden omelet so I felt compelled to have a garden omelet.”
Perhaps Williams wanted to make a statement about his decision making by going healthy at breakfast, which goes to show that similar minutiae can influence the way a team views a prospect, which is why their pre-draft meetings at the team’s facility can be vital.
Those are some of the things that could happen between this week’s gathering of league officials and the draft, which begins April 25.
The owners meetings in the past have been a fertile ground for conversations among teams, much like the NFL Scouting Combine. Lynch said his relationship with Bears GM Ryan Pace blossomed at the owners meetings in 2017, where the seeds were planted for the trade that allowed Chicago to pick quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick with San Francisco moving back one spot to take defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.
“I think maybe relationships start to get formed,” Lynch said. “So things like that happen when you start to talk to people and those things oftentimes are relationship like, who do you feel comfortable talking with and who do you trust?
“... You really want to come out of it with a player who’s going to really be able to change the fortunes of your franchise. This year, it’s a draft that’s really deep. And there’s also very good players at the top. I think we’re in good position.”
While signs point to Bosa, Williams or Allen heading to San Francisco, trading back could be in the cards, particularly if the Arizona Cardinals go with one of those players rather than Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray with the No. 1 selection.
There’s a chance the 49ers entertain trading back for more picks because they only have six in the entire draft — and several needs throughout the roster, particularly on defense. They totaled 19 players in their first two drafts.
The parameters of the Chicago trade in 2017 didn’t come together until a week before the draft, Lynch said, which is why San Francisco’s front office holds regular “mock drafts” to run through various scenarios.
“That’s something you constantly are doing,” Lynch said. “You’re playing out different scenarios: ‘Hey, we can take this guy or this guy or this guy, or if the opportunity presents itself, let’s play different scenarios. OK, we move back here. Who are the different guys that are in this bucket that we’re interested in? Does that excite you? Does that make us better?’ So those are all the things we’ll be doing the next month.”
Those meetings include having people in the front office act as opposing general managers. Lynch even tapped his executive administrative assistant, Angela Banister, to make draft picks for simulations. “She’s awesome. She’s on fire. I may turn over the number two pick to her,” Lynch said, laughing.
Lynch and Shanahan addressed two of the team’s most pressing defensive needs in the first week of the new league year this month. They traded for Chiefs star pass rusher Dee Ford and signed him to a five-year, $87.5 million contract. They also found linebacker Reuben Foster’s replacement with Kwon Alexander, inking the former Buccaneer to a four-year, $54 million deal.
Adding those players should allow the 49ers more flexibility at draft time, following through with the philosophy to fill roster holes through free agency and take the best players available in the draft.
“Flexibility is the best word because we addressed (needs with Ford and Alexander),” Lynch said. “Could we add to that? Sure. Could we go in a different direction, add picks? That’s available as well.”