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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Why John Lynch is ‘encouraged’ about upcoming draft despite 49ers lacking early picks

Apr 25, 2023 at 1:49 PM--

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Barring any blockbuster trades, the San Francisco 49ers might take it easy during the first day of the 2023 NFL Draft. The team doesn't own a selection until the end of the second day. On Friday night, they'll make their first selection, No. 99 overall.

The Niners own 11 total picks. Will they use them all? San Francisco held nine picks entering last year's draft and finished the event with nine new players. There was no movement when it came to the team's draft slots. However, that was not necessarily the plan.

"We've had drafts where we're incredibly active, and last year we didn't make one move," Lynch told reporters on Monday during his annual pre-draft presser. "That wasn't for lack of trying. We tried to move around. Nothing came to fruition. I think a lot of that's just sitting there, and it's kind of painful to do when you're sitting there just as it was last year, [when] we picked at 61. It's a lot of sitting and waiting and seeing names go off that you really like.

"I think what you start doing is saying, 'Hey, if all the players we like are starting to go, okay, now, is this an opportunity for us to move up and go get one of the last few that we really have a high grade on?' Those things can factor in."

That means we could see some movement on Friday. San Francisco owns three of the final four selections of the night, which it could use as a package to move up. Of course, that's assuming someone the team's decision-makers love falls enough to motivate them to jump into action.

Lynch also noted that the 49ers love the quality and depth of this year's draft, which might prompt them to stay put.

"I really believe at 99, at 101, 102, and 155, there's going to be players we really like and want to add to our team, and that has me encouraged," Lynch said.

Lynch and the 49ers have had much success in mid to later rounds. There's no reason to believe that won't continue. They've added names like George Kittle, Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, Talanoa Hufanga, and, most recently, Brock Purdy via those later slots.

Lynch believes identifying starters and potential stars in the later rounds has been a collaborative effort.

"I believe it's when your personnel and your coaching staff are in lockstep, and there's constant communication, there's constant challenging of each other's views," Lynch said. "'Hey, we really like this guy. Okay, we didn't see it like that. Let's see if we can get there.' I think we really take pride in doing that, and we do it from the top on down.

"Kyle and myself spend a ton of time watching players together. I think when you do that, and you do that throughout the draft, that gives you an opportunity to really hit throughout the draft at any pick, and I think that's something we've done."

Early on, after being hired, head coach Kyle Shanahan helped create a guideline for what kind of players fit within his system. He broke down the traits he wants everyone to look for when scouting players. That created a roadmap for how the roster has been built over the years.

"I think one of the things, too, that we forced ourselves to do early on, is really not just be vague about what we wanted at each and every position, but really talk about the traits we want at each position, both physically and mentally and in the spirit, we call it, of each position," Lynch explained. "I think we've done a nice job of defining that so that when you're in those meetings, everyone knows who's a Niner, and when you have that as a starting point, I think you can start finding those guys.

"We aren't perfect. We've had our share of misses, but I'm proud of our track record, and hopefully, that continues because we got a lot right there this year."

The general manager is correct. There have certainly been critical misses over the years. Solomon Thomas never lived up to his first-round potential, while Reuben Foster's character concerns never went away and pushed him out the door. You had coaches pounding the table for Joe Williams or convincing themselves that Dante Pettis was worth a second-round pick.

Even more recently, another first-round pick, Javon Kinlaw, has failed to live up to expectations. We'll see how his story ends.

Despite the misses, the 49ers know what they seek in potential contributors.

"We want tough, dependable, fast [players]," Lynch shared. "We don't need rocket scientists, but we need smart football players. We want people that are contagiously competitive. Do you make people around you better because you're so darn intent upon getting better and competing each and every day? Those are the kind of guys that play well.

"And then, we like physical players. ... We play with such a physical mentality, I think our mentality is a lot about attacking on both sides of the ball and on special teams, such that when you have someone who's not a fit, it stands out. I do think that when we've missed, it's been more that spirit part than it has been the talent. The talent we're pretty good at identifying. I think it's probably the spirit."

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