49ers

Bizarre first night of NFL Draft fit perfectly with the country’s general mood

Bizarre first night of NFL Draft fit perfectly with the country’s general mood

This was the NFL Draft that went off the road before the first pick and kept burrowing into the woods deeper and deeper until that special moment right after the Dallas pick when Rich Eisen yanked off his own head and shrieked, “I hadn’t prepared for this!”

Okay, that didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean Eisen wouldn’t have tried to do so if he thought it would help people stop booing Roger Goodell, but instead the entertainment was basically as a nation of draft junkies simultaneously wept and cursed for four hours.

Which is just as it should be – a festival of rage based on so many people realizing simultaneously that months of pretending to know things about football has turned out to be a colossal waste of time.

From the moment Cleveland decided to fight orthodoxy and take Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first selection, the day just got progressively weirder. USC quarterback Sam Darnold fell to the New York Jets. Cleveland jumped about 12 more coveted players to take Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward. Buffalo traded up to take double polarizing quarterback Josh Allen of Wyoming.

And just when it looked like both the 49ers and Raiders would luck into the guys they wanted, Chicago stole Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith from San Francisco, and San Francisco stole Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey from Oakland, and Oakland frantically traded down so Arizona could have UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, who looked like he’d just been handed a sizzling hot pan with no handle. New Orleans traded two first round picks for Texas-San Antonio defensive tackle Marcus Davenport, and the Raiders ended up taking UCLA tackle Kolton Miller, who most folks thinks is a far cry from McGlinchey.

And then, because that wasn’t sufficiently bizarre, they traded their third pick to Pittsburgh for wide receiver Martavis Bryant

(For the record, nobody knows if McGlinchey or Miller will be 10-year starters or washouts, and projections on where they might fall on the scale will not happen here. Both John Lynch and Jon Gruden got players they hope will keep their high-priced quarterbacks safe and unjostled, so they did “address a need,” as the pundits say. Maybe that will help your moods).

And so it went. The first day of the annual Pavlovian recitation of names most people barely know that began with Goodell learning what commissioners should have known well before this – that even human shields cannot save you from yourself – ended with every draft pundit in America asking his or her editor if it would be permissible to give 26 teams “F” grades in their first nonsensical report card stories.

That is, except Baltimore, which traded up to 32 to get Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, who should have been a first-rounder, and formerly paralyzed Steeler linebacker Ryan Shazier, who walked onto the stage to introduce the Pittsburgh pick at 28. Those were the feel-good moments, unless you feel good about Goodell being booed like Public Enemy No. 1.0.

Oh, a few teams won nods of tolerance for their safe and solid choices, like Penn State running back Saquon Barkley (New York Giants), or Darnold, or NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb (Denver), or Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson (Indianapolis).

And that, children and adults, is what the NFL Draft should be in these angry times – another vehicle to vent angrily about something they once loved. With every surprised guffaw, the TV boys exposed how off the rails this evening went, and the reactions everywhere else ran the gamut from “Well, maybe the general manager knows something we don’t” to “No, no they don’t.”

I will put it to you, then, that this was the right draft night for the country’s general mood. America has never been less satisfied with its place, and all human interactions seem to begin with a shaken fist and a guttural “Why I oughta . . .” Thus a draft where only a few fan bases got what they wanted and everyone else wanted a do-over seemed perfect.

Whether this can be blamed on Roger Goodell’s schadenfreude-soaked appearances or the Browns re-establishing their Brownsian bonafides is for others to decide, but it seems fair to say that this was not the thigh-slapping commode-hugging good time most folks thought Draft Night would deliver.

Except for Lamar Jackson and Ryan Shazier. If that’s your idea of good entertainment, and it should be.

49ers' George Kittle rated as top tight end in NFL, per Sporting News

49ers' George Kittle rated as top tight end in NFL, per Sporting News

Who is the best tight end in the NFL?

Well, believe it or not, 49ers GM John Lynch isn't 100 percent confident saying George Kittle deserves that title.

Nevertheless, Sporting News declared the 25-year-old is the best guy in the league at the position -- and there is plenty to back up that statement.

Last season, the Iowa product set the 49ers franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end in a single season with 1,377. He also averaged 15.6 yards per catch, which Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer dubbed as "ridiculous." And he's not wrong. 

Kittle should benefit even more from a full season with Jimmy Garoppolo, who also will have new pass-catching weapons Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd and Jordan Matthews at his disposal. 

[RELATED: 49ers considered Ward's injury history with one-year deal]

Kittle finished his 2018 campaign with 88 receptions, five touchdowns, and well, you know the yardage.

49ers considered Jimmie Ward's injury history with one-year contract

49ers considered Jimmie Ward's injury history with one-year contract

The 49ers carefully considered the risks.

And, ultimately, they came up with a one-year, prove-it contract offer that led to versatile and hard-charging defensive back Jimmie Ward remaining with the 49ers for the start of his sixth NFL season.

“It’s not an easy answer, because there’s a long (injury) history,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. “But there’s also a very, very talented football player who I would tell you grew into a really special leader.”

Said coach Kyle Shanahan, “I love Jimmie Ward. . . . We all know he’s struggled a little bit to stay healthy. But he’s a guy, as a person, I’ll go to war with every day. I really trust and believe in, and I love him as a player, too.”

Ward missed 29 games through his first five seasons in the league.

Ward sustained a fractured collarbone while diving for a ball in a non-padded practice during organized team activities on Thursday in Santa Clara. He will undergo surgery, and the 49ers expect him to be out of action for eight to 12 weeks.

Eight weeks would place Ward as healthy a full week before the start of training camp. With a 12-week recovery (Aug. 16), the 49ers will have played one exhibition game with the second game coming up on Monday, Aug. 19, against the Denver Broncos.

Ward has now sustained broken bones in five of his six NFL seasons. The first four fractures came during the regular season and landed him on season-ending injured reserve lists.

Here is the rundown of Ward’s injury history since completing his college career at Northern Illinois:

2014

When Ward showed up at the combine, he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right foot and was not allowed to take part in any on-field testing. The injury came as a surprise to Ward, who had not experienced any pain. He felt healthy enough to run several weeks later at this pro day, where he was timed at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Ward underwent surgery in March to repair the Jones fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his foot, and the 49ers drafted him with the No. 30 overall pick in the draft.

He did not take part in the offseason program as a rookie, but he appeared in each of the team's exhibition games that summer.

Ward was not active for the Week 7 game against Denver due to a quadriceps injury.

In Week 10, while making a tackle against New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, the screw bent from his March surgery in his right foot and fifth metatarsal broke again. He finished the game, but a new, larger screw had to be inserted. He was placed on injured reserve.

Games missed: 8

2015

Ward appeared on the injury report just once all season. He was listed as probable for the 49ers’ Week 15 game against Cincinnati with an elbow condition, and he played well. As the team’s nickel back, he had six tackles, a sack, two tackles for losses, and a pass defensed.

Games missed: 0

2016

Ward sustained a non-contact left quadriceps injury in Week 3 while running down the field to cover a kickoff against Seattle. He missed three games due to the injury.

In Week 11, Ward was diagnosed with a concussion, but he returned to play the following week against Miami.

In Week 15, Ward sustained a fractured right collarbone when he landed hard upon tackling Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Aldrick Robinson down the field. He was placed on injured reserve.

Games missed: 5

2017

Ward sustained a left hamstring injury in the conditioning test at the start of training camp in late-July. In late-August, he was activated off the physically-unable-to-perform list. He did not play in the preseason, and he sat out the season opener against Carolina.

While playing free safety, he fractured his left forearm in Week 8 while tackling Philadelphia tight end Trey Burton. He was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Games missed: 9

2018

Ward missed extended time in the 49ers’ offseason program due to an ankle injury. He was bothered by a hamstring injury during training camp and left the team’s Week 3 exhibition game against Indianapolis after playing just two snaps on special teams

Ward, who was starting at cornerback, left the 49ers’ Week 6 game against Green Bay with a hamstring injury. He missed the following game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Upon moving to free safety, Ward sustained a fractured left forearm – but in a different place than a year earlier – while tackling Tampa Bay’s 225-pound running back Peyton Barber in Week 12.

The 49ers had evaluated Ward as playing better than anyone in their secondary at the time of the injury.

After the game, Ward said his injuries can be attributed to how hard he plays.

“I play physical,” Ward said. “I don’t know no other way but to play. When I’m at corner, I’m physical. Nickel, physical. Safety, physical. I’m just a tough bird.

“When it happens, it happens. I’ve been here before. I’m just going to grind and get back.”

He was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Games missed: 7

2019

The 49ers re-signed Ward to a guaranteed one-year, $3 million contract in March. He can earn an additional $1.5 million in per-game roster bonuses.

[RELATED: Bosa to miss a few weeks of practice with hamstring injury]

The club expects Ward, if healthy, to start at free safety this season. And it was clear during an open practice on Tuesday, that his style of play is every bit as aggressive as ever. While covering rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel, Ward got physical and flung Samuel to the ground in a drill designed to be non-contact.

Ward sustained a fractured collarbone in the team’s next practice. Adrian Colbert will take over as the 49ers' first-team free safety for the remainder of the offseason program, which concludes June 13.