SANTA CLARA — This is the last time that John Lynch wants to have the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
“I hope we’re never here again because it means we didn’t play well enough that year,” the San Francisco 49ers general manager said on Monday, three days before the first round. “Whatever happens at No. 1, we have a group of players that we’ve vetted thoroughly and I think we’ll get a really good, difference-making player.”
With rumors and contradicting reports swirling about what the Arizona Cardinals will do with the No. 1 pick, San Francisco is in an enviable position. They could pick some of the most exciting pass rushers in the draft, or use other teams’ desire to snag a quarterback as a way to acquire even more picks. While possessing the pick has a clear upside yet counterproductive downside, the trio of options the 49ers will likely face on Thursday are the same by nature. Lynch discussed these options on Monday afternoon and what each may mean for the 49ers.
Bosa is the clear choice— or so we think.
A glaring need highlighted throughout the 2018 season was the lack of edge rushing talent — San Francisco finished with only 37 sacks for the year. Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa looks to be the perfect player to fill the 49ers’ need to bolster their pass rush in the event that the Arizona Cardinals select quarterback Kyler Murray out of Oklahoma.
“Nick is one heck of a player,” Lynch said. “He’s one we really enjoyed studying throughout this process.”
At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Bosa looks the part. And with his pass rushing ferocity as well as his edge-setting abilities against the run, he appears to be a consensus home run pick. There are, however, a few glaring downsides to selecting a player like Bosa.
After undergoing surgery in September to repair a core-muscle injury, Bosa did not return to the field, thus missing the final 11 games of the 2018 season for the Buckeyes. Bosa also entered Ohio State with a partially torn ACL, and though the two are unrelated, his injury history has to be a consideration, and a concern.
As of late, however, Bosa has been under more scrutiny thanks to his political views and social media posting habits. In addition to being an open supporter of President Donald Trump, he’s also publicly criticized former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in Twitter.
This, in turn, has presented questions about how Bosa will fit inside of an NFL locker room and how he would fit in a politically liberal area like Northern California.
“We look at everything,” Lych said. “We try to be as thorough in the process as we can. But we also look at what kind of teammate he is. What do his teammates think about him? … When you talk about guys who are going to go that high, we’ve vetted these guys in every way. You try to look at things like that, [and ask] what kind of member of the organization is this guy going to be.”
In the past, the 49ers have taken chances on players with character red flags. The most recent example of this was former Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster.
Despite issues with doctors at the NFL Combine as well as submitting a diluted urine sample, the 49ers traded up to the No. 31 overall pick to select Foster late in the first round.
Following three arrests during his year-and-a-half stint with San Francisco, which included two domestic violence incidents, Foster was cut by the 49ers.
“I think with Reuben, we somewhat accounted for [the red flags] with where we drafted him,” Lynch said. “That doesn’t excuse us. It was a shame … Of course you learn your lesson and if you don’t, shame on you.”
Considering the price the 49ers ultimately had to pay in cutting Foster last season, Bosa’s character issues pale in comparison to Foster’s, enough that they do not seem to be a deterrent for San Francisco. They will likely pull the trigger on the Buckeye product in the event that he falls to No. 2.
The Quinnen WIlliams conundrum.
Touted as the second-best pass rusher in the draft this year, Alabama product Quinnen Williams appears to be the 49ers’ backup option for the second overall pick if Bosa winds up being selected by the Cardinals.
Moving to nose tackle for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tides last season, the 6-foot-4 Williams paid dividends for the top SEC team in the country with 71 tackles, including 19.5 for loss and eight sacks.
“He’s an excellent football player,” Lynch said. “The season he had may have been as good of a college football season that I’ve ever seen. He was just dominant. To think that that was his first year playing nose tackle. It’s a great story.”
While Williams seems to be the safest pick at No. 2, the issue comes with the message that it may be sending to a pair of existing interior linemen on the 49ers roster.
By adding Williams, the 49ers would be taking moving away from former first round draft picks Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas.
Over the last two seasons, the team has shown great patience with both in terms of development. But this may change if Williams enters the locker room.
Lynch, however, downplayed this inevitability on Monday. Instead, he voiced his optimism considering some of the changes the 49ers have made to their coaching staff, particularly the addition of defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.
“We’re excited about both those guys,” Lynch said. “One thing that Kyle [Shanahan] really respected about Kris Kocurek, who is really regarded as one of the top D-line coaches, is his style. That’s just cutting it loose. We think that really lends to both Arik and Solomon in what they do and what they need to do to be successful.”
Although Lynch’s outlook on both players seems positive, selecting Williams means the 49ers are one step closer to giving up on them.
Trading back is always an option.
As exemplified by his first draft as the 49ers general manager, Lynch is not afraid of trading back in the draft.
In 2017, when the 49ers held the No. 2 overall pick, they unexpectedly took the Bears up on their trade offer to move back just one spot as Chicago selected Mitchell Trubisky second overall.
Taking the Bears’ No. 3 overall pick, the 49ers also received Chicago’s third-round pick, fourth-round pick and a third-round pick in 2018.
This time around, Lynch isn’t leaving any stones unturned as he is ready and willing to hears teams out.
“I would imagine there’ll be some interest,” Lynch said. “We’ll certainly listen, but we’ll also be prepared to pull the trigger because I think we’ve got some high grades on a number of players that we really feel could help our franchise get where we want to get in the immediate future and further on into the future.”
With teams buzzing about Murray, the chances of teams reaching out to move into the No. 2 pick seem high, especially if Bosa gets picked first.
Murray has been linked to teams like the New York Giants, Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos, all of whom are picking in the top 10 of the first round.
Two weeks ago, the 49ers mentioned that they had not received very many inquiries from other teams about trading up.
“[In m]y experience, it typically happens this week. Sometimes, my first year, some things happened at the owner’s meetings,” Lynch said. “This week, which is just this morning thus far, a couple calls but nothing of substance. I’d imagine if there is interest those things will heat up.”
Regardless of what the 49ers decide to do with their pick, the overall goal is to set themselves up well enough that they won’t be in this position next year.
“But,” Lynch said, “it is a great opportunity.”