John Lynch has so far received good reviews on his first draft as the 49ers general manager.
He made two deals on Day 1, picking up extra picks to move down one spot while still getting the player he wanted in defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, then selected Alabama linebacker Reuben at the bottom of the first round. Later, he picked up players such as running back Joe Williams, tight end George Kittle, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon and wide receiver Trent Taylor that drew applause.
Bucky Brooks, an NFL.com analyst, gave the 49ers an “A” for their draft, with Brooks saying Lynch deserves credit “for knocking it out of the park in his first draft.”
Certainly, the 49ers -- going through organized team activities (OTAs) this week -- need an outstanding draft class to help turn the franchise around under Lynch and new head coach Kyle Shanahan. The failure of the 49ers to add quality talent over the past few years was one of the key factors in the team’s slide from NFC champions to the NFC basement. As key veterans departed – Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Mike Iupati – there were few talents available on the roster to make an impact in their place.
How bad was it? Bad.
David Fucillo, who covers the 49ers for SB Nation, this week pointed to a chart compiled by SB Nation’s Jeff Hunter recently that shows the 49ers under former general manager Trent Baalke rank near the bottom of all NFL teams in retention of drafted players since 2011. Just 42.6 percent of the team’s roster is composed of its own draft choices. The failure was acute even this past season, when 72.7 percent of its selections – the lowest total in the league – made the roster. The other glaring hole is 2012. Five years after that draft – headlined by wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, a bust – not a single player remains.
“(The) 49ers fired general manager Trent Baalke this offseason following a run of drafts that featured some successes, but had way too many misses,” wrote Fucillo. “The team tried to get cute with numerous injured players, they tried to move players into positions that just did not fit, and there have just been plain whiffs.”
The 49ers still have 70 percent of the 2015 draft group, 50 percent of players taken in 2014, 36.4 percent of the 2013 class and 10 percent of the 2011 crop.
The failure is particularly evident among players taken in the second round. Second-rounders can be high-impact picks. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was, for a while, and Carlos Hyde may be. But safety Taylor Mays (taken in 2010), running back LaMichael James, defensive lineman/linebacker Tank Carradine and tight end Vance McDonald have failed to stick or star. Another, safety/cornerback Jaquiski Tartt, appears he may be a longtime contributor.
Before he was fired, Baalke acknowledged he had fallen short in acquiring talent.
“I feel bad for the fans, I feel bad for a lot of people, the ownership in particular,” Baalke said in a November radio interview. “You know, they give us everything we need and I’ve said that. I’ve gone public with that. If we don’t get it done, put it on me.”
In the end, CEO Jed York did just that. Starting this fall, 49ers fans will get to see how well Lynch’s first draft class performs.