Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

John Lynch: 49ers learning from draft hits and misses; Aaron Banks, Ambry Thomas will contribute

Oct 17, 2021 at 9:28 AM--

A lot is riding on the selection of Trey Lance. The future of the San Francisco 49ers — and likely head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch — depends on the rookie quarterback developing into an impact player.

The NFL Draft has seemingly been a crapshoot for the Niners. For every Nick Bosa, there is a Solomon Thomas or Reuben Foster. There have been George Kittles and Fred Warners. However, selections like Dante Pettis severely impact evaluations of recent draft classes. The jury is still out on last year's first-rounders, Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk. The latter's lack of involvement this season has been baffling.

The 49ers have hit on several picks. Unfortunately, they've also missed far more often than fans are willing to tolerate. There have certainly been learning experiences over the years. General manager John Lynch and his staff constantly examine their mistakes, comparing them to the in-house success stories and those across the league to determine what went wrong.

"We always do [re-examine everything]," Lynch recently told NBC Sports Bay Area. "It's something that we feel is very important. You have to study yourself. You have to study the league and say, 'OK, this worked. Why? This didn't work. Why?' And we look at things up front. I think we have a very good process. We've got an excellent scouting staff. We involve our coaching staff a lot, and we have had a lot of hits. We've had some misses. We need to be better there, and we're working hard to identify, OK, what's been the common threads when we've hit, and where have we done wrong when we missed?

"I think we have a good idea of what that is. I think we're going to keep that in-house, and we're going to continue to hone that because I think that's a strength of ours. I really believe in it.

"I think it's really easy when you're struggling as a team. Everyone starts looking at all that. But I think there's a lot of things that we should be proud of, and we are, but we'll never [not] continue trying to strive for excellence."

This year's draft class is an interesting one to examine. Some of the later selections have paid more dividends than the earlier ones. The most obvious example is the team's sixth-round draft pick, running back Elijah Mitchell, earning more opportunities than the team's third-round pick, Trey Sermon. Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, a fifth-round selection, has contributed, while third-round selection Ambry Thomas has been inactive for three games.

Do these types of results matter to Lynch and the 49ers?

"Yeah, it matters," Lynch responded. "But I think the ultimate thing, we talk a lot about we don't care where you're drafted, if you're drafted. We've got a lot of representation of that. [Undrafted] free agents who have gone on and done extremely well in our tenure. We have first-round picks, like Nick Bosa, who have done very well. We also have a lot of George Kittles who have ascended. Fred Warner. We're proud of them, but it's really important that the [offensive lineman] Aaron Banks' of the world become players."

Banks, a second-round pick, has been inactive for each of the 49ers' five games this season. That's a red flag to fans and evaluators, especially with the thought of the Pettis failure, another second-rounder, still fresh in their minds. However, the 49ers sound confident that Banks won't be yet another draft misstep.

"Aaron Banks, in my belief, is going to be a great player for us going forward," Lynch said. "I'm very confident in that. [Daniel] Brunskill is a tough player to beat out. He does enough to get you through a game. And not just through a game, to be part of the reason you have success. So, Aaron has moved from left guard over to right guard. That's a little bit of a challenge, trying to get his body honed and ready for NFL action. He's getting better every week. He's being coached hard.

"Aaron, I think, I'm a firm believer that at some point this year, he's going to be out there helping us win games and that his future is incredibly bright."

Thomas is another player lacking significant playing time that Lynch and the 49ers believe will eventually contribute to the team's future success. The rookie cornerback has played just nine defensive snaps while mostly contributing (31 snaps) on special teams.

"Ambry has been active, inactive," Lynch explained. "We still believe that Ambry is going to be a really good football player for us. We drafted him because we thought that he had starting traits in our league. He had been away from football for a year. He opted out.

"There's some strength development that we knew had to take place. That's happening. He's working incredibly hard. We have a really good plan for him. I'm sure it's hard for people to see, but we're very encouraged by what we're seeing out of Ambry.

"He wasn't quite ready at the start of the year. We're hopeful that, at some point this year, he's going to come and really help us, and we really are believers that, in the future, he'll be a big important piece of what we're doing."

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