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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

John Lynch talks to the media following Akhello Witherspoon selection

Apr 28, 2017 at 9:41 PM--

Opening comments:

"First of all, I want to thank [former 49ers RB and running backs coach] Tom Rathman and [former 49ers LB] Takeo Spikes for delivering our pick. Today, I also want to congratulate Tom on his induction into the 49ers Hall of Fame. It was a fun ceremony yesterday and fun to watch him. We're really pleased with our third-round pick Akhello Witherspoon and [Sacramento Bee reporter Matt] Barrows, we got you one. A local boy from Christian Brothers and Sac City College. He's a player, as we studied what we thought was a very strong corner class. We obviously had a need, but we really grew to like this player. And, I think the reason that we grew to like him after a lot of study, I even went back with [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan], [vice president of player personnel] Adam [Peters], and [senior personnel executive] Martin [Mayhew] today, and we gave it one more, kind of group of corners we had clumped together, one more good look and that made it clear in our mind that this was the guy at that position that we were going to take if available. A unique set of skills in that he's just under 6-3, close to 6-3 and about 200 pounds, just under that and we feel like he's got a lot of room for growth. Yet, his movement skills and his profile will allow him to really be an excellent scheme fit for us. He's a really smart kid. That was quite apparent when he came on his visit here. And, we grew really comfortable. Had a great conversation, I think it was last week, with his [University of Colorado] head coach Mike MacIntyre who I got to know when I was living in Denver, the head coach at Colorado. And, coach MacIntyre is a former DB coach in the NFL and I think has a keen eye for defensive backs and he really helped me kind of understand what this kid is all about. Matt would know better, but from what I understand and coach MacIntyre said, I think in high school he was 5-9 and then he just really sprouted up. And so, he has the athleticism still of a guy who is 5-9, but yet he has that great length and size that we covet at that position. With that, I'll open it up. And, I guess you would want to know too about the trade at 67. We started getting a lot of calls and when you get offered a second-round pick in next year's draft, and so now all of a sudden we have a first, two twos, and two threes next year. There were players we liked, but that and a seventh round pick in this year's draft, we just felt like that was a really enticing offer and we've got a couple of fours, a couple of fives. We've got a lot of picks with a lot of players left that we like. That went into our decision there and with that I'll open it up for any questions that you might have."

You just mentioned what you have available next year and you haven't drafted a quarterback this year. When you start making moves like that do you think about the future of what you may potentially need to go get a franchise quarterback in 2018?

"I think that's in the back of your mind. I think there's multiple ways that we'll explore to continue to improve at that position. I've said many times, we're happy with what we have here with [QB] Brian Hoyer and [QB] Matt Barkley and the first two days on the field gave us a strong indication that it's just a really good system fit. They understand, they're both good play-action passers and I think that fits into what we're doing. But, I think we're gaining a lot of ammunition to go acquire players, either by drafting them, but it will give us some flexibility to do a lot of things."

How do you balance stock piling versus getting a guy you like?

"Yeah, I think as I said, there were some players we liked, and so it had to be something good. And again, I guess something about third-round picks right around there, that phone started going crazy. People wanted, I think they saw the fact that we had two threes and that maybe we could be a good trade target. I think we had three or four different calls from different teams and the one, the deal with the Saints, they had a player, it turned out to be [New Orleans Saints RB Alvin] Kamara who they really coveted, was something they wanted to do and we were still able to get the guy we really wanted there and get what we thought was too good of a deal to refuse and not take."

How much did you entertain using both of the third round picks to go up into the second?

"We did not do that. There were some conversations early in the day, but two third-round picks, extremely valuable. We got a player we really liked and we turned it into a second next year and a seventh this year."

He has a diverse sports background. Can you see that when you watch him? Is his footwork any different because he played soccer? That sort of thing?

"Well, I think that's really apparent on the film. The one thing that strikes you and anyone who's watching football but caught my eye too is he has excellent feet, excellent feet. My kids play soccer. I think it's a great sport for developing that, and talking to coach MacIntyre, he thinks it's a rare quality that he has, particularly for the size he is and I agree with him and we all did. So, very unique skillset that we think's going to translate well to what we do on defense."

His tackling has drawn criticism. Is that something that you think is just going to come with time as he gets--?

"Yeah. It needs to improve. It's something that Mike MacIntyre helped me a lot with because I like physical players and I think what helped is that I saw examples on film where he can do it and I think that's why you go get guys like [DL] Solomon Thomas and [LB] Reuben Foster to draw that out of them. I always believe when you put people in a room that are exhibiting the way we want to play, the other guys have no choice if they want to be on the field. And so, I think Ahkello, it's something that we raised to him and we didn't hide from it. I said this and showed him the film, that bothers me, help me out here and he was aware that it does need to approve and committed to making it improve. And in talking to Mike MacIntyre he sees it as something that as long as it's expected and demanded, he thinks really will."

Is head coach Kyle Shanahan getting antsy to take a player on offense? Late round sleepers tomorrow is his wheelhouse.

"Yeah. We were just joking. He said, 'Alright. We're going offense now. You've had your fun.' But, we're both trying to improve this football team and we felt like these were the best players for us at the time and we'll see where we go from here moving forward."

Is it also a sign of maybe how confident you guys were and how well you were able to stock the offensive side in free agency?

"I think yes, [San Jose Mercury News reporter] Cam [Inman], that was our goal to really fill some positions so that we could go into the draft and not necessarily target defensive players, but target the best players. Going and getting [WR] Pierre [Garçon] and [WR] Marquise Goodwin and those guys and doing all the things that we did allowed us to really go into this draft, which we knew was a strong and deep draft, and I think our plan's really worked well."

He's a pre-med student. I think he had a 4.4 in high school. What kind of person is he off the field? And I know you've talked a lot about culture. How does he fit with what you're trying to build that with?

"Well, we like smart football players, and he's certainly that guy. Sometimes I think, having played at Stanford, sometimes people mistake smart football players is they question can smart guys love football and I don't think just because you have other interests and because you do well in school doesn't mean that you don't love football. And we talked a lot about why he loves football. I think you can ask any player, 'Do you love football?' And they're going to say, 'Yeah, I love football.' But, I find it intriguing to say, 'Why do you love football? What is it about the game?' And Ahkello really communicated his love for the game and why he did and Kyle and I both got really comfortable with it and he was a guy, as I said, we went back today and really zeroed in on if he was there. It was a waiting game and we were hopeful that he would be there and sure enough, he was."

And given that he didn't start playing until he was a senior in high school, obviously his physical traits are there, but do you envision his best football coming to match his skillset?

"Absolutely. I think people say a big upside and I really believe with Ahkello that there is. But yet, I think we can throw him out there next year and he can play. He's demonstrated that he can hang with big time receivers. You see a lot of film of him up against some really fine receivers in the Pac-12 and holding his own. Led the nation, I believe, in pass breakups. He's around the ball a lot and that's something we like."

Were you going to trade the 67th pick regardless after you got Witherspoon or was it just because some guys were off your board?

"Initially, they called and they wanted the 66th and because we really wanted Ahkello there, we said, 'Listen, we'll do it for the 67th.' We really wanted to secure that and obviously that's a position where we felt like we needed to get a little stronger. We felt like we had a guy who fit the bill."

As you stack it for tomorrow, are there certain positions you have to hit or are you going the best player available throughout?

"You know, we have some, I would say that we have our board, but we have specific guys not necessarily positions. You know, it was a player, one thing I think I mentioned yesterday, and [former NFL head coach] Bill Parcells is really a wise football guy and he sent Jed a text to relay to me, and he talked about making sure if you're going to draft someone that everybody from personnel to coaching staff has a clear vision for what this player's going to be for us. And we've tried to, with each player, challenge coaches to say, 'How are you going to play this guy?' And if there's any vaguery or it's not crystal clear how they anticipate playing him then we've either challenged them, 'You better get there or this guy, you know, I can't feel comfortable taking him,' or moved on. And so, you know in each case with the guys we've got we have a real clear vision in our minds as to what he's going to be for us. And that doesn't mean that that can't change once they get here, but you better be able to articulate and feel comfortable with how they see these guys translating into the 49ers."

With Reuben, is he a Will, or where do you see him fitting initially into your defense?

"He's likely a Will right off the bat. And he's, that's where he'll lineup, but he's going to be sideline to sideline. I think that's one of his greatest qualities, he's all over the place. And there's so many different things you can do with him. He's a tremendous blitzer as well. He's very good in pass coverage. He's very good against the run. He's a talented young man."

Did chief strategy office & executive vice president, football operations Paraag Marathe help with the trade with New Orleans too?

"Yes, he did. Yeah, he's manning that post. And we're all up there. We all have phones and we, you know, I don't know why, if it's relationships, people decide to call certain people. And then, we run it through our computer, and it's been a good process thus far, very good for us."

You talked about Ahkello having quick feet and fluid hips. Aside from that, what else jumps out on film when you guys were evaluating his evaluation?

"Yeah, again, I'd go to the size that he demonstrates. And as I mentioned, he's around the ball a lot. He gets his hands on the ball. He's very poised, I call it, at the moment of truth when that ball's delivered. He's got tremendous body control in my mind. Certain guys can't keep from getting there early or they, you know, certain guys are going to be penalized a lot. He locates the ball and has tremendous body control matched with poise, which allows him to have all those PBUs. We're going to challenge him to turn some of those PBUs into interceptions and we believe he's got that in him."

Are you expecting Witherspoon to step in as a starter in a depleted cornerback position group?

"He's gonna compete. And, you know, there's a great opportunity for him to do so, but he's gonna have to earn that."

What's this draft been like for you as a first time GM, really a first time executive? How have these first 48 hours gone?

"Awesome. It's been great. We were here, it feels like yesterday, but it was this morning I guess when Reuben and Solomon came in. It just, the energy those two had, one of the coolest things I thought is just how quickly they bonded. I brought Solomon down to Reuben in the lunch room, in the cafeteria, and it was like they were long lost brothers. It was really, really cool, and I can see those guys being great for us for a long, long time, and being really tight. And that was probably the cooelst thing about it, aside from just envisioning how they're going to help us win football games. And you add Ahkello into that and we're very excited."

You mentioned relationships. You're obviously new in the GM fraternity, but with through your work with FOX you mentioned you had relationships with Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace. I think a similar story was with Seattle Seahawks general manager John Snyder. I don't know about the Saints connection, but have you been surprised or have those relationships made it easier, particularly in the draft, to do some of the things you've done?

"I think relationships are always good. And I just spoke to you about how Mike MacIntyre, he's a guy I've got friends in Denver that are big CU backers and so I've been around Mike on a number of occasions and it helped us out in this instance to be able to discuss things with him. The relationship that I had established with Ryan Pace certainly helped. Yes, you get calls and that doesn't mean, I mean I've gotten to know other guys in a short amount of time, but when you do have established relationships I think you tend to call upon those guys. And so, a lot of guys have done that with us as well."

* Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers

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