San Francisco 49ers: A look at what John Lynch may do in the NFL draft
The assumption heading into the NFL Draft on Thursday night is the Arizona Cardinals will tap quarterback Kyler Murray first overall, leaving the 49ers with the chance to take the best non-quarterback available at pick No. 2.
Naturally, San Francisco general manager John Lynch on Monday fielded questions about the top two defensive prospects, Ohio State’s Nick Bosa and Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, who could give the 49ers a chance to create a formidable pass rush after needing to improve there in recent seasons.
The big takeaway from Lynch’s meeting with reporters: The 49ers seem poised to take either Bosa or Williams, because there may not be much of a market to trade down from No. 2 if Murray goes off the board first, though Lynch said those preliminary trade discussions with other executives around the league may happen this week.
“There’s some really good players up there,” Lynch said. “I would imagine there’d be some interest (in making a trade). We’ll certainly listen. But we’ll also be prepared to pull the trigger, because I think we have some high grades on a number of players that we really feel could help our franchise get where we want to get, in the immediate future and further on into the future.”
Lynch was effusive in his praise of Bosa and Williams. He and personnel executive Adam Peters met with both players at their pro days and shared meals afterward. And both visited the club’s headquarters this month.
But neither is a perfect fit with San Francisco. Bosa enters the NFL with concerns about his durability — he missed the final 11 games of 2018 after surgery to repair a core muscle injury and ended his high school career with a partially torn ACL. He also faces questions about his political viewpoints, if they would mesh in an NFL locker room, and social media habits.
Bosa recently admitted to deleting a series of tweets in support of President Donald Trump and calling former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick a “clown” for his protest against racial discrimination and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. There have also been reports of Bosa “liking” racist posts on Instagram.
Lynch said the team has investigated Bosa’s social media history and background, just like it would for any prospect.
“I would tell you that we look at everything,” he said. “You try to be as thorough in the process as we can. (Social media) is something we look at. But we also look at what kind of teammate is he? What do his teammates think about him? When I say him, I’m speaking of any prospect.
“In particular, when you’re talking about guys that are going to go that high, you’ve vetted these guys in every way. You try to look at things like that. What kind of member of the organization would this guy be in every respect? So you look at it all. We’ve done with that all the prospects we might be considering at that spot.”
Lynch’s conclusion after the intensive investigation into Bosa? “I think he’s a great teammate,” he said.
The questions surrounding Williams have more to do with the players already on the roster. The 49ers drafted three defensive tackles in the first round since 2016 — Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas — which might make it hard to integrate another in Williams.
But Lynch noted the versatility San Francisco has on the defensive line. Armstead and Thomas have played defensive end, and the versatile Williams can play anywhere on the line, Lynch said. Williams spent the bulk of his snaps at nose tackle during his breakout campaign for the Crimson Tide in 2018.
“Gosh, the season he had may have been as good of a college football season I’ve ever seen,” Lynch said. “It was just dominant, and to think that was his first year playing nose tackle. It’s a great story.”
The potential of Williams comes while the 49ers are discussing a lucrative contract extension with Buckner, who became eligible for a new deal this offseason as he enters his fourth NFL campaign. Buckner last week said the discussions were in the “very early” phase, and Lynch echoed the sentiment.
“Shoot, I would love nothing more than have DeFo be here,” Lynch said. “We’ve got a long time to work on that. He’s very important to us. And he’s another guy that’s a big part of what we’re doing. Just love everything about him and the way he goes about his business. I think he’s a special player and we’d like to keep him here a long time.”
Buckner isn’t likely to hit free agency until after the 2020 season, following his fifth-year option, though he would be an obvious candidate for a franchise tag. Having Williams, in theory, could give the 49ers leverage in contract talks and allow them to trade Buckner if they can’t agree on a long-term deal that could be worth $18 million to $20 million per season.
But there’s no indication, for now, the team is factoring in Buckner’s future while evaluating Williams. Nor is Lynch concerned about the positional overlap, given both might be best used as a “three technique” tackle that lines up opposite the left guard.
“If (Williams) ended up here, there’s room for all those guys. We really feel like that,” Lynch said. “The one thing we’ve tried to do is take some versatile players that can have the flexibility to play inside, outside. And I think that gives you flexibility in who you bring in. Philosophically, coming in waves, we like having strength in numbers and strength in the quality of those numbers.”
Bosa would fill a void at defensive end opposite new acquisition Dee Ford, a first-time Pro Bowler in 2018 after logging 13 sacks and a league-best seven forced fumbles for the Chiefs. From a football perspective, Bosa should be the odds-on favorite to land in San Francisco at No. 2, as long as the Cardinals go the expected route and draft Murray.
Either way, it appears the 49ers expect to improve the pass rush significantly through this year’s draft class.
“We feel really good about what Dee Ford has added to us, and we do feel that if we can add more pieces, we’re going to have that chance,” Lynch said. “And I think we might need it. When you look at our division, when you look at Russell (Wilson), who’s going to be a part of Seattle long term, and some other things that could happen, you better be able to rush the passer.”