The 49ers are back in the first round of the NFL draft after a two-year layoff

SANTA CLARA, California — It’s the first round of NFL draft took place in the past two years, San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan spent those nights sharing the same feeling: boredom.

Instability is a product of a trade the Niners made in 2021offers a first-round pick for that year, as well as for 2022 and 2023 (along with a third-round pick in 2021) for the Dolphins to jump from 12th to 3rd.

That move generated significant interest in the Niners’ first-round pick, as endless debate raged over which quarterback San Francisco would select in the month between the trade and the quarterback selection. Trey Lance. The lack of a top pick over the past two years has made the 49ers’ drafts almost completely uninteresting, at least in real time.

“It was painful not having the first pick just sitting there and watching it and not having anything to do that day,” Shanahan said.

That two-year wait is over. The Niners are scheduled to return for opening night of this year’s tournament, which takes place April 25 in Detroit. After taking the lead just briefly against the captains in Super Bowl LVIIIThe Niners hold the No. 31 spot to advance nine more pickssix made it into the top 135.

The Niners’ first-round return has far greater roster-building consequences than giving Shanahan, Lynch and their respective staffs something to do. That’s their ticket to extending their Super Bowl window beyond 2024.

When Shanahan and Lynch took over in 2017, they vowed to rebuild through the draft. While they have had notable misses, especially at the top, they have found All-Pro talent throughout the draft process.

Tight end George Kittle (round 5, 2017), defender Fred Warner (round 3, 2018), defender Nick Bosa (round 1, 2019), recipient Deebo Samuel (round 2, 2019) and defender Dre Greenlaw (fifth round, 2019) formed the nucleus of a team that has been to at least the NFC Championship Game in four of the past five seasons, winning the Super Bowl twice.

The Niners’ successful approach to drafting and developing also comes with some lasting impacts.

First, it increases San Francisco’s sense of urgency push its chips into the transaction that could put it over the top while eating away at its cache of valuable draft picks.

Second, the rise of players like Kittle, Warner, bosa And Samuel superstardom leads to lucrative contract extensions that leave the roster increasingly top-heavy, especially without the benefit of top picks to provide valuable competition and/or depth.

“I think we have a good problem where we have a lot of people that we’ve hired that we’ve paid and signed and you can’t keep everyone,” said owner Jed York. at the time”. “I wish you could, but that’s why you have to keep going back to the draft. At some point, you have to build through the draft.”

This year’s draft feels like a throwback to San Francisco’s roster-building roots as well as a return to the first round. Kittle, Warner, Samuel, Bosa, cornerbacks Kyle Juszczykleft handle Trent Williamsrun again Christian McCaffreydefensive phase Javon Hargrave and fullback Charvarius Ward ranked among the top 12 at their position in the NFL in average annual salary.

That doesn’t take into account expansion Brandon Aiyuk and midfielder Brock Purdyboth people in the group Hope to sign a big money extension over the next 16 months or so. Free agency offers glimpse of San Francisco’s recalibrated approach, as Niners opt in rebuild the middle class of the list instead of taking multiple swings for the fences on one or two star players.

This requires the Niners to make even more difficult decisions such as what they did in March in freeing the defender Arik Armstead. The easiest path to adding to the roster is to find more starters and key contributors in the draft.

That started in the opening round, where many expected San Francisco to target an attacking midfielder, fullback or possibly an inside forward. Regardless of position, the Niners cannot afford another first-round miss.

Of the seven first-rounders the 49ers have drafted under Lynch and Shanahan, only Bosa has signed a second contract with the team, although they hope Aiyuk will become the second. Handle Mike McGlinchey (2018) is a solid start to five seasons and Price yourself out of San Franciscobut the Niners’ remaining first-round picks — DT Solomon Thomas (2017), LB Reuben Foster (2017), Tel Javon Kinlaw (2020) and Lance — performed much worse than their draft status.

“The higher you go in the draft, the better players you get to look at,” Lynch said. “I think this is a deep draft, especially at certain positions. So whether it’s round one, round two, I just think you’re probably going to get a good amount of quality players at the top. And it’s great to be back there.”

Beyond the first round, the Niners find themselves needing more players capable of contributing early and starting later to prepare for a future without some of their stars.

It’s probably not a coincidence that without a first-round pick and several other early-to-mid-round selections due to trades, San Francisco hasn’t gotten much out of the past two drafts.

Although the Lance selection was arguably one of the biggest draft picks in NFL history, San Francisco found key players in the later rounds. In 2023, the 49ers received 3,548 snaps (10th in the NFL) and 50 starts (seventh) from a 2021 draft class that included linebackers Aaron Bank (second round) and fullback Deommodore Lenoir and safe Talanoa Hufanga (both fifth rounds).

The playing time and production of the latter two classes have decreased significantly. If the 49ers hadn’t come across Purdy with Final selection in 2022there will be little to show for the past two drafts.

In 2023, the Niners received 2,254 snaps (26th in the NFL) and 29 starts (tied for 25th) from their 2022 class, a group held together by Purdy and guard. Spencer Burford (fourth round). Last year’s class was even smaller and safer Ji’Ayir Brown (third round) accounts for all five of the Niners’ rookie starters (30th in the NFL) and 1,705 combined snaps from the 28th-ranked class, with kicker Jake Moody (third round) team’s highest-yielding pick.

It’s worth noting that the Niners still don’t need much from their past two draft classes. The book on those teams is far from over, and Shanahan doesn’t believe the picks lost in the trade have left many scars, an assertion backed up by the Niners’ recent string of success.

“Before we do that [Lance trade] “We feel pretty good about where our team is,” Shanahan said. We think we can do that. We knew it was risky, but we thought where our team was at that we didn’t necessarily have those options and I think it worked out well.”

As it currently stands, there aren’t many obvious places for a rookie to start in 2024. But that time will come soon. That’s why this draft, more than any in recent memory, will go a long way in shaping the future of the 49ers.

“You always have to make sure that the draft is the lifeline,” York said. “That’s the only way to have lasting success.”


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