If there were three letters 49ers fans didn't want to see on draft day, it was these: ACL.
The team's former general manager, Trent Baalke, made a habit of picking rehabilitating players – seven total were drafted with ACL issues between 2013 and 2016 – and suffered for it when hardly any of those picks saw any significant playing time with San Francisco.
So when the 49ers used a fourth-round pick Saturday on North Carolina State defensive lineman Kentavius Street, who tore his ACL on March 31, fans wondered if Baalke had snuck back into the war room. The day's haul also included a player coming off an Achilles tear, one who broke his collarbone last season and one who had suffered an ACL tear in 2016.
"We've been told about that history. Sure, we know about it," general manager John Lynch said. "But we can't let it affect us. … We're not looking for guys like that, but when you find a guy you really like, sometimes you've got to be patient."
Lynch said that landing physical, big-bodied defensive linemen who can move, especially on the third day of the draft, is hard, and teams can't be too picky when they find one.
More than that, any defensive lineman the 49ers bring in this year is going to have to beat out a talented veteran on a defensive line that includes three former first-round picks.
That was a theme on Saturday for Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, who had to be more strategic with their draft picks this year than they were a year ago when the roster was threadbare and they were merely filling slots at a lot of positions. That is, there are simply fewer openings now versus 2017.
Street, for instance, could find a better opportunity next season if the 49ers don't pick up the fifth-year option on Arik Armstead's rookie contract. The team has until Thursday to decide on Armstead and another 2015 first-round pick, guard Laken Tomlinson. No decision has been made yet on either player.
"I would say that perhaps last year was a little more role specific," Lynch said of the team's draft plan. "'Hey, we need someone to play the slot. Let's identify these traits.' This year, we kind of went more to, 'Hey, we want some cornerstones. We want some players that are going to be here for a long time.'"
After using their two highest picks on offensive players, the 49ers mostly spent Day 3 of the draft on defense, starting with Street, whom the 49ers envision at their "big" defensive-end spot or perhaps as a future backup to DeForest Buckner at defensive tackle. The others:
▪ Fifth round: D.J. Reed, cornerback, Kansas State. The 5-foot-9 Reed will push K'Waun Williams for playing time at nickel cornerback. He also was a special-teams standout in college and scored a touchdown on both a punt return and a kickoff last year.
▪ Sixth round: Marcell Harris, safety, Florida. As it stands now, the 49ers don't have much depth behind Jaquiski Tartt at strong safety. Harris missed the 2017 season with an Achilles tear suffered in the summer but should be ready by training camp. "He's a thumper at the safety position, a guy who has a presence on the field," Lynch said.
▪ Seventh round: Jullian Taylor, defensive end, Temple. Like Street, Taylor is a bigger-bodied player with good quickness that the 49ers envision playing at two spots, big end and defensive tackle. He, too, suffered an ACL tear. It occurred in 2016, and he played a near full slate of games last season.
▪ Seventh round, Richie James, receiver, Middle Tennessee State. James set school records in receiving yards, catches and touchdowns despite playing just two and a half seasons. His 2017 season was cut short by a broken collarbone. However, he caught more than 100 passes the two seasons prior, and Shanahan and Lynch said they liked the ferocity with which he plays. Shanahan said James likely would start out at the X receiver spot, which is where Marquise Goodwin plays.
A year ago, seven different rookies who were selected on Day 3 of the draft played a total of 2,400 snaps for the 49ers. They were led by seventh-round pick Adrian Colbert, who logged 703 snaps and who appears to be the team's top choice to play free safety this season. Another eight rookies – led by running back Matt Breida – went undrafted but ended up playing 1,552 snaps.
This year, those types of players will find the roster decidedly more crowded and the snaps more difficult to come by.
"It's going to be certainly more competitive and that's what you want on your team," Lynch said. "You want competition at every position. You also have to fill numbers at each position, both in the short and long-term, and we feel really happy with where we came out in terms of that with this year's draft."
49ers 2018 draft class
Selected: First round, No. 9 overall
College: Notre Dame
Position: Offensive tackle
Height/weight: 6-foot-8, 309 pounds
Comment: The 49ers invested heavily in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the offseason, and protecting that investment is priority No. 1 in the future. The team’s starter at left tackle, Joe Staley, will be 34 in August while their right tackle, Trent Brown, isn’t signed for next season, and the 49ers are hesitant about signing him to a long-term deal.
Selected: Second round, No. 44 overall
Position: Wide receiver
Height/weight: 6-foot-1, 186 pounds
Comment: Pettis will compete with Trent Taylor, Aldrick Robinson and Kendrick Bourne for snaps at wide receiver in 2018. He and Taylor become the top two candidates on punt returns.
Selected: Third round, No. 70 overall
Height/weight: 6-foot-3, 236 pounds
Comment: Warner fits the mold for a 49ers linebacker in that he’s got very good speed and is good in coverage.
Selected: Third round, No. 95 overall
College: Southern Mississippi
Position: Defensive back
Height/weight: 6-foot-2, 190 pounds
Comment: Moore appears to have freakish size and athleticism, standing 6-2 with long 33-inch arms and running his 40-yard dash at his school’s pro day in 4.32 seconds.
Selected: Fourth round, No. 128 overall
College: N.C. State
Position: Defensive end
Height/weight: 6-foot-2, 280 pounds
Comment: Street, a big, powerful defensive end, suffered an ACL tear during a workout with the New York Giants on March 31, meaning he is unlikely to play in 2018.
Selected: Fifth round, No. 142 overall
College: Kansas State
Height/weight: 5-foot-9, 188 pounds
Comment: Reed is far shorter and smaller than the 49ers’ profile at outside cornerback, suggesting he will play the nickel spot for them.
Selected: Sixth round, No. 184 overall
Height/weight: 6-foot-1, 216 pounds
Comment: Harris missed all of the 2017 season after suffering an Achilles tear in the Gators’ fall camp. He could provide depth at strong safety behind starter Jaquiski Tartt.
Selected: Seventh round, No. 223 overall
Position: Defensive tackle
Height/weight: 6-foot-5, 280 pounds
Comment: Taylor is a strong, big-bodied interior defensive lineman who had 29 bench press repetitions of 225 pounds at his pro day.
Selected: Seventh round, No. 240 overall
College: Middle Tennessee State
Position: Wide receiver
Height/weight: 5-foot-10, 183 pounds
Comment: James’ size and quickness may suggest he’s a slot receiver, but Kyle Shanahan said he’ll probably start out at the X position, which is where Marquise Goodwin plays.