Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports


The 49ers, the 2020 NFL Draft, and How to Calm Frayed Nerves

Bret Rumbeck
Apr 23, 2020 at 7:00 AM0



The NFL Draft has evolved from a hotel conference room event into a sentient being. Instead of a smoke-filled room and chalkboards, the draft is a four-month affair, filled with mock drafts and hours of television content, ending in a room of giant plasma screens and a floor jammed with people.

It is and will continue to be a pinnacle life moment for 255 young men who have the distinction of celebrating with family, friends, and a massive global audience.

The draft, in its purest form, is more of a Las Vegas-style table game for 32 NFL teams. Key veterans have retired, been traded, or signed with a new team. The free-agent talent has all but gone, and that leaves general managers investing millions of dollars and future success into a lucky handful of 20-something-year-old men.

The pressure upon an NFL general manager, the coaching staff and the scouts must be incredible. Hit on a blue-chip prospect or a mid-to-late-round gem, and the football choir sings your praises. Draft an unknown wide receiver from the University of Illinois, and then only activate him for three games, and the fans will burn you in effigy.

Between the 1992 and 2017 drafts, approximately 6,351 rookies entered the NFL. Some of these men are still on an active roster, but most have said goodbye to professional football. From that number, I've estimated that roughly 0.0025 percent of those drafted have or will make the Hall of Fame.

These odds haven't stopped football experts and fans from screaming for perfection.

As San Francisco 49ers' general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan build the roster for the 2020 season, they must know the odds of success are not in their favor.

Take off your surgical mask and breathe, Gentle Reader. Trust what happens this evening has been extensively poured over for months and will be in the best hands in the NFL.

Here are a few comments Lynch made on April 20, 2020, that may help keep your hands from breaking out in a rage sweat.

"I think what we always end up with is, 'Let's just evaluate this player like we always do. Let's look at his talent. Let's look at his spirit. Do they fit with us?' If they fit with us, we're going to move forward and we really believe that gives us, because our criteria is set up that they can succeed now, but they can succeed for a long time."

Fit is a term that gets tossed around the offseason like a playground rubber ball, but it seems to be a foundational mantra under the Lynch/Shanahan regime. A coach and scout can learn plenty from game film or a three-cone drill, but finding a young man who embodies the direction of the 49ers is a far greater task.

Former linebacker Reuben Foster might have been a project player for Lynch - Foster fit what the 49ers wanted to do on the field, but was not mentally ready to play professional football. It's a learning process, and I'm much more confident in today's 49ers to overcome inevitable rookie setbacks or gaps in talent.

Keep in mind that what the 49ers are weighing - brains, brawn, skill, temperament, coachability - hardly scratch the surface of what the general public wants from a player. What someone may consider a 'reach' at a particular draft position might be the greatest fit and need for the 49ers. I'd love to see the tweets from folks who thought the 49ers were 'reaching' for Joe Staley at the 28th overall pick in the 2007 draft.

"Really at 13 I think you think more about if this guy is a difference maker whatever position he plays and that's really what we're focused on more than anything. We want someone who is going to come in and make us a better football team."

Here's where things get a bit off the rails, especially in a hard-charging era that demands instant gratification. There are players, such as defensive end Nick Bosa, who had an immediate impact on the 49ers' defense. He was one of the missing pieces to get defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's scheme to function as it should.

On the other hand, there's defensive tackle Solomon Thomas, who has yet to make a significant impact as a professional. Fans and I have to assume some 49er personnel have waited patiently for Thomas to start climbing toward his ceiling, but he continues to shoulder some massive growing pains.

Not every rookie is created equal. Some players take time to develop, others may find instant success and then fall back to earth, and more might need two or three seasons to grasp the NFL's speed and complexity.

Lynch needs to find two difference-makers in the first round this year, not to please a fickle fan base, but to prepare for losing talent after the 2020 season.

For me, that means he has to draft a tackle or guard in the first round. Tackle Joe Staley can't play forever, and the three interior offensive line positions are still the weakest on the roster.

"As for Brunskill, huge credit as I've given before to our guys in pro scouting, [Pro Personnel Scout] R.J. Gillen and [former 49ers scout] A.J. Highsmith who has moved on with the Bills. They saw something in him. We brought him in and he had a great workout for us but never did we know he'd end up saving us like he did. The neat thing about Brunskill, I really believe he could play all five spots on that offensive line."

The undrafted free agent pool is where NFL scouts can earn their weight in gold. It doesn't happen often, but an unknown rookie gets inked to a low-dollar contract after the draft and becomes an NFL star.

Offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill went undrafted in 2017 but was signed by the Atlanta Falcons on May 1, 2017. He never made it past the practice squad until he ended up in the Alliance of American Football in January 2019.

Last season, he was the 49ers' unsung hero on the offensive line.

Certainly, Lynch is not basing the team's future on five or six undrafted rookies, but the team could use a player or two from this pool to drive competition and challenge others during training camp.

This evening cannot come fast enough. The mock drafts have become stale, and the endless 'what if' conversations have killed more of my brain cells than a bottle of 190 proof grain alcohol.

I'm excited about sports making a return to television, and to give everyone something new to discuss for the next few weeks.
  • 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.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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