The San Francisco 49ers were able to land former Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster at the tail end of the 2017 NFL Draft thanks to the efforts of former quarterback Colin Kaepernick in Week 16 of the 2016 season. Here’s why.
Colin Kaepernick is no longer quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, but he probably had a very important role setting up the Niners’ efforts in landing linebacker Reuben Foster at No. 31 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Yes, there’s a direct line here.
Let’s flash back to Week 16 of the regular season. San Francisco is losing 21-7 in the fourth quarter to the Los Angeles Rams. The Niners, of course, hadn’t won since Week 1 and were riding a 13-game losing streak.
San Francisco 49ers
And with a Week 17 bout against the Seattle Seahawks, all signs pointed to the 49ers finishing 1-15 with this probable Week 16 loss in L.A.
Yet Kap managed to engineer two critical drives in the final quarter against the Rams. His first culminated in a 13-yard touchdown scramble at the 5:06 mark to cut the deficit 21-14, including a successful extra-point attempt.
After San Francisco’s defense forced a rare 3-and-out, Kaepernick and Co. retook the field and managed another touchdown drive. This time, former Niners wide receiver Rod Streater hauled in a 10-yard pass with 31 seconds left to cut the deficit to one point.
Instead of tying the game up at 21 and heading into overtime, then-head coach Chip Kelly elected to go for two. Why not? The 49ers season was in the tank.
Then this happened:
Kap’s two-point scramble ensured the Niners didn’t finish on a one-win season. And some may remember, it likely cost the 49ers the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft.
The Battle for the No. 1 Overall Pick
Both San Francisco and the Cleveland Browns were vying for the first overall pick in 2017. Oddly enough, the Browns managed to pull off their first, and only, win of the 2016 season this same week — a 20-17 stunner over the San Diego Chargers.
Had the 49ers lost in Week 16, and all other things had stayed the same, both San Francisco and Cleveland would have boasted a 1-15 record.
The lower the number, the easier the schedule.
All this was, of course, the Myles Garrett sweepstakes. The former Texas A&M EDGE was easily the best player in this year’s draft class.
And here was the scenario before Kaepernick’s last-second scramble:
After the two-point conversion:
As it all panned out, the 49ers wound up with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft and wouldn’t get Garrett, as the Browns weren’t going to screw that one up.
So how does Kaepernick’s actions come into play with San Francisco drafting Foster?
The No. 2 Overall Pick Mattered More to 49ers
Sure, the Niners lost out on Garrett. But if San Francisco did wind up with the first overall selection in the draft, it’s highly unlikely general manager John Lynch would have landed Foster.
We know the story what happened. Lynch traded down — sending the No. 2 pick to the Chicago Bears in exchange for pick Nos. 3, 67, 111 and a third-round pick in 2018 — and still managed to land Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas. And one of those acquired picks, No. 111 overall, was the piece used by Lynch to move up from No. 34 to No. 31 in a move with the Seattle Seahawks.
And that pick landed Foster just ahead of the New Orleans Saints, who were literally on the phone with the linebacker when San Francisco made its move.
But if the Niners finished first in the draft order, the scenario likely removes Foster from the equation.
What if the 49ers Had the No. 1 Overall Pick?
Lynch probably would have entertained a trade-down from No. 1, but the smart money would have been on the Niners grabbing Garrett. It would have been the no-brainer move here.
So cross off the Bears trade and forget adding those three additional picks.
San Francisco would have still owned the No. 34 overall pick — teams with identical records swap order after Round 1 — and could have, theoretically, still moved from this spot up to No. 31. But this likely would have cost the Niners their own pick, No. 109 overall, to make the move.
Knowing the 49ers needed all the draft capital they could, the idea of Lynch trading up is far less reasonable. He probably would have stayed put and just waited until No. 34.
CBS Sports’ Will Brinson explained why the actual, and not theoretical, situation benefited San Francisco:
"The best part about the last pick? It was basically free, because the Bears sent the 49ers No. 111 so Chicago could move up from No. 3 to No. 2 and add Mitchell Trubisky.The 49ers would draft Solomon Thomas with No. 3 overall.So, yes, basically the 49ers got two top-10 talents with two first-round picks and didn’t have to actually spend anything in doing so, while also picking up the No. 67 pick and a 2018 third-round pick.Have a day, John Lynch."
In short, this trade doesn’t happen if the Niners owned the first pick.
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Colin Kaepernick’s Role in the NFL Draft Trade Coup
Had Kaepernick been stopped short of the goal line in Week 16, the Niners would have finished 1-15 and received the first overall pick in this year’s draft.
Sure, the 49ers could have traded down from this spot. But skipping on Garrett doesn’t seem likely.
Moving up from Round 2 into the back end of Round 1 would have required Lynch to use his own draft capital instead of someone else’s — the Bears — which diminishes the possibility of such a transaction taking place, considering San Francisco’s glaring roster needs.
Foster still falls in the first round, but the Saints end up grabbing him after all, before the Niners have a chance early in Round 2.
Is all this conjecture or “what could have happened” history? Sure. But hindsight tells us Kaepernick’s scramble on his two-point attempt might have actually benefited the 49ers in more ways than we initially thought when it happened.
And San Francisco ended up with the best inside linebacker in the draft as a probable result.