With just one game remaining in the 2017 season, it’s clear that the first draft class of 49ers general manager John Lynch has been a success.
Seven of the 10 players selected by Lynch have played big roles for the Niners as rookies, and several appear to be on track to play key roles for many seasons to come.
This past week in the 49ers’ victory over the Jaguars – their fourth straight – No. 1 pick Solomon Thomas (defensive line), No. 2 pick Reuben Foster (linebacker), No. 3 pick Ahkello Witherspoon (cornerback), No. 6 pick George Kittle (tight end), No. 7 pick Trent Taylor (wide receiver) and and No. 10 pick Adrian Colbert (safety) all were contributors. That’s great production on a team that was desperate for playmakers and depth on its roster coming off a 2-14 season in 2016. Plus, quarterback C.J. Beathard, the 49ers’ fourth choice, moved into a starting role this season after Brian Hoyer faltered, and goes into next season as Jimmy Garoppolo’s backup.
Thomas – after a slow start – has come on strong. The former Stanford standout, the No. 3 overall choice in the draft, was in on six tackles against Jacksonville (including one for a loss), had a sack (his third) and a quarterback hit. For the third time this season he was nominated as a candidate for the NFL’s Rookie of the Week award.
Foster and Kittle, meanwhile, were among the team’s highest-graded players by the analytic website Pro Football Focus against the Jaguars. Foster has turned into a high-impact linebacker on the inside against both the run and the pass, while Kittle has become a great target for quarterback Garoppolo.
The 49ers, at 5-10, will go into Los Angeles this Sunday to close out their season against the NFC West-champion Rams (11-4), with kickoff set for 1:25 p.m.
But with great contributions from Lynch’s first crop of college prospects, NFL observers already are looking toward 2018 and what this young 49ers team may be able to accomplish (especially with another draft class and a very flexible salary-cap situation that will aid in free agency).
As Frank Schwab of Yahoo’s Shutdown Corner website wrote this week: “The 49ers are on the right right path. They have a general manager they believe in, a good young coach and exciting quarterback who looks like a franchise guy. How many other teams picking in the top 12 next April can say that?”