San Francisco 49ers

49ers mailbag, NFL Draft preview edition: How to fix the defense? Who’s better at No. 2?

San Francisco 49ers: A look at what John Lynch may do in the NFL draft

San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch talks about the NFL draft coming April 25, 2019. Ohio State player Nick Bosa and Alabama player Quinnen Williams are mentioned as Chris Biderman gives his takeaways.
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San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch talks about the NFL draft coming April 25, 2019. Ohio State player Nick Bosa and Alabama player Quinnen Williams are mentioned as Chris Biderman gives his takeaways.

The 2019 NFL Draft is just two days away. Let’s get to another edition of our mailbag:

Eric Abeyta asks: How do the 49ers fix the issues on defense from last year where receivers were wide open, down the middle. Is it communication, personnel, or scheme?

It’s an interesting question, particularly with the draft just two days away. I think A LOT went into the 49ers’ struggles defensively.

First, the scheme the 49ers run was successful in Seattle because the Seahawks had four Hall-of-Fame players in their primes (Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Cam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner) — and an elite defensive coach. The scheme is simplistic because it relies on players to just play to their strengths. There’s no need for smoke and mirrors.

San Francisco clearly doesn’t have that level of talent, nor does it have Pete Carroll pulling the strings. The draft is the 49ers’ best chance to add the talent they need. Improving the pass rush could have big ramifications for the overall structure of the defense. The secondary, for example, could look much better if quarterbacks are bothered at a higher rate than in recent seasons. The addition of Dee Ford and Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams could re-shape things.

The team also had bad injury luck. The 49ers started eight combinations of safeties last year and constantly shuffled at cornerback opposite Richard Sherman. Continuity was the most likely source for all the communication issues.

The inability to take the ball away might have been the biggest story of the season defensively. Turnovers are always a vital stat to track, and San Francisco was the worst team in league history at taking the ball away. They finished with just seven takeaways and two interceptions (!). Not surprisingly, they finished with the NFL’s worst turnover margin.

Turnovers can be a fluky statistic. I’d expect many more in 2019 by way of the pass rush and, honestly, dumb luck. If they hold on to the ball better on offense, they could see a significant turnaround.

Just-T-Tom asks: Do you think Quinnen Williams is a better and safer pick than Nick Bosa?

I don’t. I agree with those who say Bosa is one of the safest picks in the draft.

Bosa plays very, very hard and everything I’ve heard indicates he’s dedicated his life to football. He’s explosive, immovable and technically sound. Thinking about a defensive line featuring Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Ford should have the front office excited about what could happen in 2019.

But Bosa isn’t risk-free, obviously. There are health concerns surrounding the core muscle injury that cost him the final 11 games of 2018. His social media history is also a talking point that will only get magnified if he’s the pick at No. 2.

However, I don’t think conservative political beliefs are going to be a problem. The 49ers already have several right-leaning players in the locker room and this team is one of the closest I’ve covered since 2013. There haven’t been any concerns from Bosa’s previous coaches or teammates regarding his political views.

On the other hand, if Bosa’s viewpoints are racist, like some recent reports about his social media have indicated, that could be a problem. For now, I don’t think the 49ers are too concerned.

Williams could be great. I just wonder about the value in taking a defensive tackle so early. He’s not nearly as athletic as Aaron Donald (comparing Allen to Donald is insane, in my opinion). And the team already has Buckner, which makes Williams a tricky fit. If Williams turns out to be as good as Gerald McCoy, is that worth the No. 2 overall pick? I’m dubious.

Ryan asks: If the 49ers take Quinnen Williams, what does that mean for Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas?

Armstead is playing on his fifth-year option, so there’s a good chance he would play elsewhere in 2020 if Williams was brought in. Thomas’ future will likely depend on how he plays in 2019.

Thomas was the first draft pick of the Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch regime. They won’t want to admit their mistake so early. Plus, improving the defensive line could put Thomas in more positions to succeed in one-on-one match-ups, but that might be tough with at least two other defensive tackles above him on the depth chart.

This time next year, the front office will have to decide about Thomas’ fifth-year option for 2021. Gun to my head, I think they pick it up regardless of Williams’ presence.

Tortured but Hopeful Knicks Fan asks: What would a successful 2019 draft look like? Not in terms of specific players necessarily but more in terms of goals achieved.

Lynch was asked this exact question Monday. His answer was relatively bland, though he said it will be harder for draft picks to make the team after the club addressed needs in free agency by bringing in Ford and signing Kwon Alexander.

“We still have some things where we feel like we can improve,” Lynch said. “Every time we come into this we feel a little better. So I think just adding good football players who fit into our culture and fit into what we want to be as an organization. I think that’s the most important thing that we can come out of this draft with.”

My opinion, the 49ers need to come out of this draft with three starters: one with their first-round pick, a receiver on Day 2 and a safety or cornerback to help fortify the secondary.

Erod52 asks: What if the Cardinals take Bosa with the first pick? Who should they take? I like Josh Allen or trade back but still inside the top 12 to get a guy like Ed Oliver, Devin White or Greedy Williams.

I think the 49ers would seriously consider trading back if Bosa were off the board, leaving Kyler Murray available to the highest bidder. I’d have to think they’d target pass rushers like Allen, Montez Sweat or Brian Burns in such a scenario.

But defensive end isn’t their only need. Perhaps they could parlay a trade into landing Joe Staley’s potential replacement (Jonah Williams). Trading down could allow them to get the top receiver on their board (N’Keal Harry, A.J. Brown or Deebo Samuel). They could use a cornerback to eventually replace Richard Sherman (Williams, DeAndre Baker, Amani Oruwariye, Justin Layne).

From what I gather, however, it would take a massive trade package for the 49ers to move down because they would be perfectly content with drafting Williams at No. 2. Remember, Lynch used the phrase “too good to be true” when asked about what it would take to trade down.

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