As we inch closer and closer to the kickoff of the 2018 NFL season, the buzz surrounding the 49ers has been running high. Why so much buzz for a team that finished last in the AFC West?
Midseason acquisition Jimmy Garoppolo instills hope, yes, but general manager John Lynch has been building a roster like a savvy front office veteran from the day he arrived in Santa Clara. Lynch has collaborated with head coach Kyle Shanahan to draft and sign “their guys,” passing on big-name free agents and sexy top picks for guys who fit their plan in their second draft together.
Lynch and Shanahan are targeting foundational players. Ninth-overall pick Mike McGlinchey out of Notre Dame certainly fits that mold.
While most draftniks had the 49ers linked to a defensive player in the first round of the NFL Draft, Lynch flew under the radar and grabbed the former Irish offensive tackle to protect Garoppolo. For a team that had holes at edge rusher, linebacker and safety, this came as a surprise, but after peeling back some layers, McGlinchey could be a cornerstone for years to come.
The 49ers offensive line had and up and down season, with more downs than ups. Investing in a quarterback like Garoppolo, you need to hedge that investment with protection up front. McGlinchey looks the part as a the next great Notre Dame offensive tackle, but before we crown him, he and the 49ers have some things to prove.
The 49ers haven’t had great success developing offensive line talent. Witness: Joshua Garnett, Marcus Martin and Trent Brown. McGlinchey will need some work before he blossoms into the type of talent 49ers fans hope he can be.
McGlinchey’s biggest drawback right now is his strength level, but that can be fixed by an NFL training regimen. Apart from that, McGlinchey is everything you want in a modern day offensive tackle. He is big, with long arms and possess serious athleticism — something Shanahan wants in an offensive linemen.
From a business standpoint, drafting McGlinchey to play a premier position sets San Francisco up with a relatively cheap contract. The McGlinchey selection sets the 49ers up to have flexibility down the road with the salary cap while he is still on his rookie contract.
The Dark Horse
Now to one of my favorite picks in the entire 2018 draft–– the 44th overall selection, wide receiver Dante Pettis out of Washington. The all-time NCAA leader in punt return touchdowns is much more than a special teams contributor, though.
After watching Pettis in college I had high hopes for the receiver, but I always felt that he needed to land in the right offense. Pettis is an incredibly crisp route runner with versatility to play all over the field, regardless of the formation or personnel grouping. He is also very crafty with the ball in his hands. He consistently made tacklers miss with his elusiveness.
Shanahan’s offense is the perfect landing spot for Pettis.
To me, Pettis always seemed like one of those Patriots-type players that Bill Belichick always seems to nab. Luckily for the 49ers, he was available at 44. Not only was Pettis available, but San Francisco moved up to get him, making Pettis the fourth receiver off the board.
The 49ers moving up to get Pettis proves how highly Shanahan values him. Shanahan will have the ability to get creative with Pettis’ versatility, and he’ll also have the perfect mentor in the receivers room with Pierre Garcon — a versatile, crafty veteran Pettis should strive to follow.
The 49ers backed up the Pettis selection with another outstanding pick in BYU linebacker Fred Warner. Warner gives the 49ers much needed depth, and also provides a spark of athleticism to the position group.
Warner was one of the better fits in the entire draft class as a complement for Reuben Foster. Warner has the speed and length you want in a modern-day NFL linebacker. His coverage skills were his best attribute at the college level, something that will prove handy to a 49ers defense that struggled in coverage in the middle of the field last season, allowing eight touchdowns to opposing tight ends. Worst case scenario? Warner uses his athleticism to make an impact on special teams right away. Best case scenario? The 49ers found their heir-apparent linebacker pairing to Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis in Warner and Foster.
Looking at the 49ers roster you could easily make the argument that edge rusher was the biggest need heading into April’s draft and instead of attacking that position early, Lynch waited to the fourth round to select the biggest question mark in the 49ers draft class: Kentavious Street.
The NC State defensive end, taken No. 128 overall, will miss all of 2018 with an ACL injury. Lynch and company must really value Street’s skillset, because they passed on the highly touted Florida State edge rusher Josh Sweat, who went just two picks later. Sweat had injury concerns of his own, but also showed serious flashes at Florida State.
Florida safety Marcell Harris was one late-round pick that really peaked my interest. Harris had an injury riddled college career that lead him to miss the entire 2017 season with an Achilles injury, but he’s a serious hitter in the middle of the field and adds a dose of swagger to whatever secondary he’s patrolling. While Harris didn’t see the field in 2017, in 2016 he was a contributor to Florida’s special teams unit, something he should be able to do at the NFL level.
Undrafted Free Agents
Surprisingly, Tarvarus McFadden out of Florida State went undrafted, and the 49ers were able to snap him as a free agent. McFadden played alongside first-round pick Derwin James and was just as important to the Seminoles defense. McFadden is a long corner that fits defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s scheme, and he’ll have All-Pro Richard Sherman as his mentor. What’s most impressive about Mcfadden is his ball skills, he pulled in eight interception as a sophomore in 2016 which was the highest total in all of college football.