Four years ago, former San Francisco 49ers' general manager Trent Baalke selected punter Bradley Pinion in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft. The 49ers already had a capable punter in Andy Lee on the roster, but Baalke decided Lee's services and his 46.4 average yards per punt were no longer needed in the Bay.

Just when the groans about the Pinion pick had been lost to the memory hole, general manager John Lynch selected punter Mitch Wishnowsky from Utah in the fourth round of the 2019 draft.

Most fan and expert reactions were a justified balance between angry and confused. It was as if Lynch forgot the 49ers' defense struggled to remain consistent and healthy in 2018, and his weak roster of interior offensive linemen.

In between shouts at the television and the roaring Twitter debate, 49er fans watched three defensive backs, two guards, one linebacker and one edge defender get drafted after Wishnowsky. These position groups were all roster needs coming into the draft.

Losing Pinion to free agency was akin to spilling a bit of coffee on a white shirt; soak the spot in some club soda, and then cover it up with a suit coat. I saw no draft expert or football pundit making any claim that Lynch needed to seek an heir apparent in the draft.

With over a week gone by, let's try and find the answers to this mystery together.

An Objective View

I have no doubt in 100 years of professional football, a team or two won a close game because the punter kicked a perfect 52-yard punt, trapping the offense inside its own five-yard line. And maybe, somewhere floating through the ethos of infinite time, is a post-game transcript with a head coach heaping a spoonful of praise on his punter for the crucial kick.

Little things, like a coffin-corner punt at the right time, can win close games and place a team inches closer to hoisting seven pounds of sterling silver into the air; it's the little things the 49ers have not done well over the past few seasons.

Maybe Baalke crunched Lee's stats before drafting Pinion. If he did, Baalke would have noticed that Lee pinned the opponent inside the 20-yard line 300 times in 941 attempts – about 32 percent of the time.

Pinion was an upgrade. In four seasons, Pinion has 334 career punt attempts and placed the football inside the 20-yard line 131 times, or on about 39 percent of his kicks.

With assistance from the slightly thin, alkaline air of Salt Lake City, Wishnowsky 74 of 175 career punts land inside the 20-yard line, which was about 42 percent of the time.

Further, Wishnowsky kicked 62 punts over 50 yards and averaged 45.7 yards per punt in three seasons at Utah. Pinion left Clemson with a 41.1 yards per punt average, and could only add on 2.6 yards on his college average while in San Francisco.

If Wishnowsky follows the same path, the 49ers could have a kicker averaging 48 yards or more per punt.

Looking at these numbers, Wishnowsky fits a need and a gap in the 49ers roster. The pick might have been a bit early, but was necessary.

The Numbers Do Not Justify Wasting a Pick

Average yards per punt and the hope of more than 40 percent of punts landing inside the 20-yard line are not the cornerstones of championship football.

There's been plenty of fan chatter defending the pick, but a properly balanced football team with a fiery, consistent offense and stingy, stout, sound defense simply does not need to rely on a kicker for wins.

An opponent's starting field position does not corollate to whether the 49ers win or lose a game.

Back in 2011, 49er opponents started drives on their own 24.3-yard line. The next year, opponents started drives on the 24.9-yard line. Six-tenths of a yard was not the reason the 49ers won 13 games in 2011, nor was it the reason the team dropped to 11 wins in 2012.

In 2012, Lee had 36 punts that put opposing teams inside the 20-yard line. It's a useful statistic, and a small reason opposing offenses started drives behind the 25-yard line.

Coincidentally, Pinion had 36 punts inside the 20 in 2015 when the 49ers finished 5-11 and again in 2017 when the 49ers finished 6-10. The 49ers' defense was 18th overall in 2015, and 25th in 2017.

Of note, Lee had 42 punts inside the 20 in 2007, but the opposition started drives on their own 30.2-yard line. A thin defense allowed an average of almost 30 yards per drive, and the 49ers only finished with 5 wins.

The 49ers' defense was 2nd in the NFL in 2011 and 2012, racking up 63 takeaways and allowing an average of 3.6 yards per rush. The defense also finished both seasons second in the league in the number of first downs allowed.

Even with the 11th best offense in 2011 and 2012, the 49ers were able to sustain drives over 2:30 seconds. The offense benefited from excellent field position both seasons, starting drives at its own 33.5-yard line in 2011 and 31.8-yard line in 2012 – both league bests.

I won't deny the last two seasons the 49ers have suffered from unfortunate injuries to key players. It's hard to scrape together a .500 record with third-string players in starting roles.

On May 2, Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network tweeted the 49ers were not exercising guard Joshua Garnett's fifth-year option. Now, I have a hard time believing that two weeks ago, Lynch and Shanahan didn't already have this idea in mind.

At some point, the lack of investment at the guard position is going to come back to bite the 49ers. Guards Laken Tomlinson and Mike Person are capable players, but can capable win the NFC West? What happens if either of these men succumbs to an injury? We've seen the results when the 49ers play subpar talent on the offensive line.

I'm wholly unclear why the need for a punter was more significant than taking Oklahoma guard Dru Samia with the 110th overall pick.

A punter is not going to clear a running lane for a back or protect Jimmy Garoppolo during a late 4th quarter drive.

A 65-yard punt that pins the Rams or Chiefs inside their own 10-yard line is a good start, but we live in an NFL full of high-powered offenses that destroy weak secondaries and exploit linebackers who overpursue running lanes.

I want to see the selection of Wishnowsky through the eyes of the 49ers' brass, but I'm exhausted from the 49ers punching holes in the raft and then cheering about the warm water seeping through the floor.

I hope I'm woefully wrong and overblowing a fourth-round draft pick; otherwise, each sack, blown coverage or bad punt is going to hang like a black cloud over the 2019 season.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.