Why the 49ers should steer clear of Arden Key in 2018 NFL Draft

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 28: Kyle Allen #10 of the Texas A&M Aggies avoids a tackle by Arden Key #49 of the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 28: Kyle Allen #10 of the Texas A&M Aggies avoids a tackle by Arden Key #49 of the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers sit at an interesting position at Pick No. 9 or No 10. Here we examine LSU edge rusher Arden Key and his off the field issues, and why the Niners should avoid the temptation to select him at the upcoming NFL Draft.

Last year, the 49ers, specifically first-year general manager John Lynch, were widely praised for their 2017 NFL Draft class before the players had even reported to their new teams.

The play of the 49er rookies lived up the hype as well. Defensive end Solomon Thomas started slow but showed flashes of his ability, linebacker Reuben Foster was a heat-seeking missile and might have been a fancy for Defensive Rookie of the Year if he had played all 16 games. Defensive backs Ahkello Witherspoon and Adrian Colbert locked down starting roles in the secondary, and the trio of tight end George Kittle, wide receiver Trent Taylor and undrafted-running back find, Matt Breida, found substantial roles in the Niners offense.

This year proves to be perhaps a bigger test for Lynch. The trade for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo looks to be an excellent one, and with the demand for the quarterbacks in this year’s draft the Niners look set to have an option fall to them.

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers /

San Francisco 49ers

After writing an article for a player I believe San Francisco should race to draft if available, I now want to highlight why LSU EDGE Arden Key is a player I feel San Francisco should stay away from.

Arden Key’s Weight Issues

Almost every Niner would, no doubt, be happy to see the departure of EDGE Aaron Lynch. Lynch is a very talented pass-rusher on a team that lacks those, but he just doesn’t seem to care about his career. He showed up 30 pounds overweight in 2016 and used his wife’s pregnancy as an excuse. He showed up 20 pounds overweight this season.

Key showed a very concerning pattern of behaviour after taking a mysterious absence (which I’ll get into) from the team, and then showing up to LSU overweight. He showed up at a huge 270 pounds (his playing weight last season was in the 230s), and even after losing some weight, he’s looked a much slower player this season.

The Niners may cut one talented defender who’s struggling with weight, and it’d be questionable to add someone also struggling to replace him.

Arden Key’s Mysterious Absence

“Personal reasons.”

That’s the reason cited by Key’s father for the talented-but-questionable EDGE’s temporary departure from LSU in this article. But perhaps the most eyebrow raising quote by Arden Key Sr. concerning Key’s mysterious absence is this:

"“Let the past be the past,” Key Sr. said. “All those rumors are going to surface through his career. As a family, we had challenges and we worked through them, and we’re still working through them.”"

Problem is, NFL scouts are not going to let the past be the past. Countless infinitely skilled players have blown their careers, including with the 49ers (Aldon Smith anyone?). They are going to want to know why he took time off from LSU and then showed up drastically overweight.

Take this quote from walterfootball.com and their piece on Key:

"Sources from a few NFL teams said the off-the-field concerns are significant enough to have a big impact on Key’s draft stock. Key took a leave of absence from the LSU program in the spring of 2017, and that may be related to the off-the-field issues. Evaluators at multiple franchises brought up off-the-field concerns independently of each other. They all said that the background check on Key is very important, and how he interviews with teams during the leadup to the 2018 NFL Draft will be critical. If the interviews go well, Key could be a high first-rounder. If they don’t, sources say his slide could be substantial.After shoulder surgery prior to the 2017 season, Key was overweight and had to work himself back into playing shape after missing a few games to open the season. Therefore, his weight and health will also be watched closely by teams when he reports to the NFL Scouting Combine. Key is a wild card in the 2018 NFL Draft, and teams are going to be putting a lot of emphasis on how he interviews prior to the draft. Right now, it sounds like the off-the-field issues could cause Key to slide."

GMs and scouts are taking notice, and given how secretive the Key’s have been over this, he may not be worth the risk of being another Aldon Smith.

The 49ers Should Look at Another Position

The 49ers could very well choose to upgrade their defense once again in the first round, but another defensive lineman may not be the route they go, given they’ve taken defensive linemen Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Thomas in consecutive drafts.

They may instead look at schools a bit more North of LSU. Iowa’s Joshua Jackson and Ohio State’s Denzel Ward will definitely be of interest to the Niners for the secondary, who will look for someone to pair with Witherspoon. Georgia’s Roquan Smith could also be a choice to pair with Foster at linebacker.

More from Niner Noise

Offensively, unless the 49ers strike gold and running back Saquon Barkley falls to them (we can dream), there’s also varied talent to consider: Notre Dame linemen Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey , Alabama WR Calvin Ridley and SMU WR Courtland Sutton.

The Niners, in my opinion, would be better off looking elsewhere and taking a look at a veteran like Ezekiel Ansah, or someone later on. Miami’s Chad Thomas is an intriguing prospect, who turned heads during the East-West Shrine practices, and could be a good fit for the Niners as a pass-rusher in Round 3.


You can sum up John Lynch’s first draft in many ways. Splendid, amazing, unbelievable, to name a few. The end of the first draft had him turn into 49ers royalty practically overnight.

But this draft people will now be expecting a lot more from him. There’s a lot of options for him to go for, but one wrong move can disrupt the progression of San Francisco.

The Niners have gone from one of the worst teams in the NFL to a team that can compete for playoffs next season, but there’s still a lot of holes to plug.

Next: 5 Round 1 NFL Draft scenarios for the 49ers in 2018

Key is a great player and his problems could be overblown, but given the very important nature of this year I’m not willing to risk the progression of the 49ers on it.