SF 49ers: Grading all 4 of John Lynch’s NFL Draft classes
SF 49ers 2018 Draft Class
Much of the 2017 season for the SF 49ers was an example of extreme incompetence both offensively and defensively. There were signs of life seen in a record-length of one-score losses, but it didn’t actualize into wins until the Niners traded their own second-round pick for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was a fresh breath for a team plagued by QB incompetence and rattled off five straight wins to close the season.
The addition of Garoppolo as the functional second-round pick, as Kyle Shanahan mentioned, changed the SF 49ers’ plans for this draft likely, shifting them to shore up and support their QB.
Round 1, Pick 9: OT Mike McGlinchey
Notable players drafted afterwards: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James, Jaire Alexander
In watching the 2017 SF 49ers season, the first thing that popped from the screen was just how atrocious the offensive line was beyond left tackle Joe Staley.
C.J Beathard wasn’t particularly great at handling pressure on his own, but that offensive line did him no favors. Garoppolo’s performance may have been overstated simply because he managed to survive the barrage opposing teams sent.
While McGlinchey was not a surefire top-10 talent, he fit a positional need, albeit one of many. Many pundits leading up to the draft, and several fans included, had considered the Niners a likely spot for either of the two young dynamic safeties, and the secondary was indeed a spot of worry. Jimmie Ward was slotted in at cornerback, leaving Adrian Colbert, a productive but ultimately limited seventh-round pick as the deep safety.
The career of McGlinchey thus far has been exactly what was a reasonable expectation of him. McGlinchey grades as an above-average run blocker, and throughout his career, particularly in 2019, he played at that level and beyond. His pass-blocking is by no means perfect, and it’s sometimes hard to call even average. But by and large, he has been an average pass-blocker. 2020 for McGlinchey has been ripe with splash plays (not good for an offensive lineman), but the highlights are worse than he has been. He does need to bulk up to manage edge rushers in his pass sets more to get that development and stay at worst average on the edge.
All in all, the lack of development as a pass-blocker for McGlinchey to anything beyond slightly above-average at best has been the greatest limiting factor of his upside, an issue especially given his draft position. He most certainly has not developed to match his ceiling, but he has played at a floor the Niners wanted.
The talent taken behind him makes this pick hurt a decent bit, but all in all, it was a very average selection, and one, given the circumstances, the Niners would do again.
Round 2, Pick 44: WR Dante Pettis
Notable players drafted afterwards: Christian Kirk, Jessie Bates III, Donte Jackson, James Washington
Well, the good of the McGlinchey pick was that he may have never hit his ceiling, but he has at least played to his projectable floor of average pass-blocking and above-average run-blocking.
If that’s the case, what to make of the wide receiver Dante Pettis selection?
Kyle Shanahan is demanding and strict with his wide receivers, expecting a lot from them and rarely offering them praise. It’s both his personal method of motivation and the resultant factor of him having played receiver in college. So, after a promising rookie season for Pettis following a strong training camp, Shanahan continued to attempt to motivate and criticize Pettis, demanding more from him at least through the public eye and the media.
Few know what happened behind closed doors, but whatever did occur, the result was a complete disappearance from the game plan and eventually the active roster for Pettis. He played sparingly in the first few games, and by the time veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders was acquired in 2019, Pettis had become a healthy scratch before eventually being waived in 2020.
Pettis is an interesting case because he did flash on his potential. However, he had a bad case of the drops, had a bad case of fumbles, and he seemed to simply fade away. Though he may have had quality reps to get open, eventually the SF 49ers stopped trusting him with the ball.
In the end, it was a failed pick.
Round 3, Pick 70: LB Fred Warner
Yes, the unquestioned best pick of the SF 49ers 2018 draft and the second-best steal for the SF 49ers under Shanahan and John Lynch.
Linebacker Fred Warner was a former safety who had terrific coverage ability coming out of BYU. The understanding was he would be a good coverage linebacker who may not reach the levels of game control and run-play disruption to be a terrific starter. He was drafted to play alongside Reuben Foster and fill the MIKE-WILL combination the Niners want from their off-ball linebackers.
Obviously, things changed when Foster was released, but Warner, despite some growing pains, developed comfortably into one of the best linebackers in the NFL by his third year. His coverage ability has been exquisite and at a level beyond most linebackers, which allows Warner to act as an eraser and uniquely benefit Robert Saleh’s schemes. Warner’s football IQ has been off the charts, making him a second coordinator as the best linebackers are, and he’s developed a knack for forcing turnovers and just making the right play.
An unquestioned superstar and a home-run pick.
Round 3, Pick 95: DB Tarvarius Moore
Tarvarius Moore was a college safety drafted by the SF 49ers to be a prototypical Cover 3 safety given his long arms, height, and blazing speed. After his rookie year, which he played cornerback and even gave some good spot snaps because of injuries, he was moved over to safety his natural position.
Last year, Moore had some early season starts because of an injury to Jimmie Ward and played like a raw athletic safety. He had poor tackling angles, which caused some big splash plays, and he wasn’t always set in coverage. That said, he demonstrated the skills and talent to be a consistent player and a talent at the free safety position.
In 2020, Moore played much more because of injuries, and he’s shown signs of development. There are still poor angles at times, but he uses his speed much better this year, and though his coverage isn’t always consistent, it has been an improvement from the past.
Moore has also been a fantastic special-teams player, which is important, but given his draft position, shouldn’t be his primary position. Moore still has a future as a starting safety, but time is ticking for him to actualize on his talent and make big plays.
Round 4, Pick 128: DT Kentavius Street
A redux of a traditional former general manager Trent Baalke strategy, Kentavius Street tore his ACL in draft prep, resulting in a drop through the draft and a chance for the SF 49ers to get a steal late.
It did not pan out.
Street hadn’t gotten healthy to play consistently, and when healthy, he never was able to significantly crack the defensive line rotation and make significant plays compared to a D.J. Jones or a Kevin Givens. A mid-round pick who hasn’t panned out isn’t as bad as missing in Round 1, but he doesn’t get the benefit of a late-round pick.
Round 5, Pick 142: DB D.J. Reed
Given both of D.J. Reed’s career interceptions come as a member of the Seattle Seahawks, and one of them was against the SF 49ers, it’s certainly an interesting situation to grade.
Reed was drafted as a potential nickel corner or free safety, and though his performance at safety wasn’t good enough, he settled in nicely as a strong backup nickel back. Never an elite player but a good competent selection by the SF 49ers who provided valuable depth. Reed’s forearm injury his third season resulted in the Niners cutting him this year hoping to stash him later instead of using the roster sport, which failed. Given the injuries, it’s fair to wonder what Reed would look like on the field for San Francisco.
Overall, though, this is the type of players teams typically want to get in the fifth round.
Round 6, Pick 184: S Marcell Harris
Safety Marcell Harris is an aggressive fierce tackler who plays with reckless abandon. Though he may not always take the right angle and he misses a significant number of tackles as he flies around, he has been a good depth piece as a backup and he even showed signs as a SAM linebacker, an interesting leveraging of his talents which are more suited for a close to the line linebacker role.
All in all, for a sixth-round pick, the SF 49ers should be pleased.
Round 7, Pick 223: DT Jullian Taylor
Another late-round lineman, Jullian Taylor hadn’t played like Jones, but he also had been a filler depth piece for a strong defensive line rotation. There isn’t much to write home about here, considering Taylor is no longer on the roster after being waived in the middle of 2020, but this was a good seventh-round pick.
Round 7, Pick 240: WR Richie James
Richie James is a backup wide receiver. That should be made clear. He is not a very good return man, though his return against the Seahawks in 2018 was pretty electric. Though he may flash at times and has a monster game on his resume, he doesn’t have the consistency to be a full-time starter. That’s not an insult; to be a good depth piece as a seventh-round pick and make some plays when called upon is a favorable career outcome so far.
Notable Undrafted Free Agents: RB Jeff Wilson, TE Ross Dwelley, CB Emmanuel Moseley
Again, a backup running back, a backup tight end, and a cornerback who played his way to a start in the Super Bowl from the undrafted free-agent pool? That’s a fantastic haul again. Undrafted free agents are typically a volume play, but for the second season in a row, the Niners managed to to get quality players from the undrafted ranks.
Overall Draft Grade
A draft that wasn’t as bad as the 2017 one at the top but still had some bad misses only to be propped up by a fantastic mid-round selection that essentially saves the draft much like 2017.
Unlike 2017, the SF 49ers have garnered more competence from the mid and early rounds while not having the same obvious misses 2017 did. Because of that, we’ll slot them in at just passing.