San Francisco 49ers: Draft picks success key to John Lynch’s job

The San Francisco 49ers are one of the most storied teams in the NFL, but there have been more downs than ups in recent years. Niner Noise takes a look at whether there should be some heat on Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch.

Both general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan were hired in 2017, signing identical 6-year contracts for the San Francisco 49ers, with the directive to lead the team out of the doldrums and back into contention.

But a series of unfortunate events — namely the loss of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo three games into the 2018 season — derailed the franchise’s expected leap last year. And while there are a lot of cries for patience both within and outside of the organization, there are others who are already wondering if either Lynch or Shanahan or possibly both could be on the hot seat in 2019.

A lot is riding on this season, although more reasonable expectations could help the team sneak into playoff contention rather than pundits looking for a steamrolling juggernaut. That said, if anybody’s job is in jeopardy based on how 2019 turns out, it feels most likely that Lynch will be the one being held under the fire.

Shanahan is well-regarded as one of the greatest offensive minds in the league, and he’s managed to make undrafted quarterback Nick Mullens look competent under center, finishing with a 64.6 overall Pro Football Focus grade last season. He didn’t set the word on fire, and the 49ers offense finished ranked in the middle or lower part of the league, in terms of points scored and yards gained, but Shanahan clearly got a great deal out of lesser talent.

There has also been very little push back in terms of the 49ers execution on the field, with most of the inconsistencies and poor play being chalked up to little roster talent.

There has been, however, a lot of questioning of Lynch’s decision making as a general manager. And while it’s unfair to pin all of this just on Lynch, part of his job is that the proverbial “buck stops with him.”

There have been less than stellar draft choices, such as: Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas at No. 3 overall in 2018 despite Thomas not being a consensus top-five selection, trading back into the first round that same year to take Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster even with Foster’s sketchy past and even bypassing a known weakness (defensive back) until the latter part of the 2019 draft.

Sure, there are reasons some of these haven’t panned out, such as Thomas’ family turmoil last year, Foster’s legal troubles leading to his release and possibly having too much faith in its current crop of defensive backs.

But these, among other key draft and free agency calls, have put Lynch under the microscope heading into 2019.

They haven’t all been misses, though, so it’s important to note wide receiver Dante Pettis is considered by many to be a breakout star going into his second season, and 2019 second-round receiver Deebo Samuel is among the favorites to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors this season.

Linebacker Fred Warner was an immediate starter last season, and 2019 fifth-round pick Dre Greenlaw is already making an impression in training camp this year, also notches in the win column for Lynch’s job performance.

And on top of that, his 2019 first-round pick, edge rusher Nick Bosa, seems to be living up to early expectations.

Greenlaw and Samuel, then, are two key cogs who must work out in order for Lynch maintain his job beyond the 2019 season, especially if the 49ers struggle to make the playoffs. But if players like Bosa, Samuel, Greenlaw, tight end Kaden Smith and other members of the 2019 draft class prove to be quality pieces of the team, Lynch should be allowed to continue as the leader of the 49ers front office.

If there are struggles from these players, it might showcase an inability for Lynch to make quality personnel decisions, especially if second- and third-year guys from the general manager’s first drafts continue to stagnate or fail to show growth.

Shanahan has proved his worth, even if the wins haven’t come at the pace 49ers fans expected, particularly once Garoppolo came aboard. And while the 49ers brass shouldn’t panic too quickly, another season below .500, where the team fails to compete in its division or conference, might signal it’s time for something to shake things up.

Lynch might be the one to be sacrificed in this case. But only if this, his third offseason of draft picks and free agents, doesn’t shake out, suggesting he might not be the man for the job after all.