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How 49ers drafting Deshaun Watson in 2017 could've changed NFL history

How 49ers drafting Deshaun Watson in 2017 could've changed NFL history

The No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft will go down as one of the biggest "what if?" moments for this era of football.

Chicago Bears fans no doubt are tired of hearing about how they swapped picks with the 49ers in order to draft quarterback Mitchell Trubisky instead of Deshaun Watson or 2018 MVP and Super Bowl LIV MVP Patrick Mahomes. The Bears deserve every jab and joke they receive from here until the end of time.

But ... what about the 49ers? Had they not swapped picks with the Bears -- and picked up three other picks in the process -- they could have selected their next franchise quarterback and the sliding-door effect would ripple throughout the NFL.

In NBC Sports Chicago's re-draft of the 2017 NFL Draft, they have the 49ers sticking at No. 2 and selecting Watson after Mahomes, obviously, was taken first overall by the Cleveland Browns. With sports paused and the only thing to keep us busy being podcasts, classic games and household chores, let us dive into this alternate reality where the 49ers draft Watson and see how the NFL world has changed.

With Watson at the helm in Kyle Shanahan's first year as head coach, the 49ers don't lose their first nine games. Watson's magic manifests itself early and he leads the 49ers to a 3-6 record through nine games. Facing an upward trajectory with a young stud quarterback, the 49ers don't receive a trade deadline call from Bill Belichick offering Jimmy Garoppolo or Tom Brady, rumors depending.

Instead, Belichick calls his old friend Bill O'Brien, who still needs a quarterback in Houston, and sends him Garoppolo for a first-round pick in 2018 (O'Brien still doesn't know how trades work in this universe). The Patriots then package the No. 4 overall pick and their own first-round pick to move up to No. 1 and select Baker Mayfield -- who Belichick reportedly loved -- to be the Pats' quarterback of the future.

Back in the Bay, the 49ers, led by Watson and Shanahan's genius, finish the season 5-2, including a win over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10. They head into the offseason with a lot of hope for what could be a special 2018 season.

Still owning their second-round pick which never was traded for Garoppolo, the 49ers draft Dallas Goedert in the second round (since George Kittle was selected No. 4 overall in this alternate 2017 re-draft universe).

Watson opens the 2018 season on a tear, reeling off six straight wins to open the season, and doesn't suffer the same fate as Jimmy Garoppolo did in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs. They enter Week 7 against the undefeated rival Los Angeles Rams looking to make a statement, but their defense can't slow down a healthy Todd Gurley in a 31-17 loss.

They finish the season 10-6, good enough for the second wild-card spot. With the Bears not having the 2018 Trubisky magic dust sprinkled on them, Kirk Cousins -- the 49ers QB who never was -- leads the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC North title. The 49ers' playoff run is short-lived as the Vikings bounce them out with a 28-13 win.

The 10-6 record no longer has the 49ers draft No. 2 overall in 2019, but Nick Bosa still packs his bags for the Bay, as the Raiders move up one spot from now-No. 3 to No. 2 to take the generational pass-rusher they sorely needed.

The 49ers, needing wide receiver help badly, draft Ole Miss's A.J. Brown with the No. 22 overall pick, believing their scouts have a better beat on the Ole Miss prospect than others. They still draft Deebo Samuel in the second round, and now Shanahan has all the toys he could want in Brown, Samuel, Goedert, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Kendrick Bourne.

Buoyed by the MVP-caliber play of Watson and a Pro Bowl season from Goedert, the 49ers' offense rips through almost every team in its path en route to a 14-2 season and an NFC West title. They still make the trade for Emmanuel Sanders, seeing an opportunity to create the most explosive passing attack in the NFL by adding the veteran receiver.

While the defense isn't as dominant without Bosa, the combination of DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Dee Ford still do a ton of damage. The 49ers exact revenge on Cousins and the Vikings in the NFC Divisional Round and curb stomp Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

With Mahomes in Cleveland and not Kansas City, the Chiefs aren't what's awaiting the 49ers in Miami. Instead, it's Tom Brady and the Patriots, looking for Super Bowl No. 7 after dispatching Garoppolo and the Texans in the AFC Championship Game.

Watson and Brady duel deep into the night in South Florida, but the 42-year-old hits Julian Edelman for a 19-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left, giving the Patriots a 34-31 win.

[RELATED: Brady, like idol Montana, chooses to finish career on his terms]

After the game, Brady is mum on his future but knows Mayfield is waiting in the wings.

A free agent, Brady reaches out to his hometown 49ers but is quickly rebuffed after Watson finished second in MVP voting to Lamar Jackson.

With Chris Godwin no longer in Tampa due to the 2017 re-draft, Brady elects to be the poster child for the Las Vegas Raiders, who have an up-and-coming defense spearheaded by Bosa, Malik Hooker (2017 re-draft) and Trayvon Mullen. Jon Gruden promises to get Brady some weapons and promptly fleeces Bill O'Brien for DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, leaving Garoppolo to deal with O'Brien by himself.

Entering the 2020 season, it's expected to be another duel between Watson and Brady for the Lombardi Trophy.

Watson and Shanahan are the NFL's top QB-coach duo and are primed to be kings of the NFC for years to come. The Bears still don't have a quarterback.

We now return you to reality where Brady is a Buc, Bosa, Garoppolo and Shanahan are looking forward to a Super Bowl revenge tour in San Francisco, Watson is trying to get away from O'Brien, Gruden is rolling with Derek Carr again and the Bears ... still don't have a quarterback (sorry, Nick Foles).

It was a fun exercise, though.

49ers safety Jake Thieneman teams with non-profit to produce ventilators

49ers safety Jake Thieneman teams with non-profit to produce ventilators

A year ago, safety Jake Thieneman placed himself on the radars of prospective NFL teams with a strong showing during his pro day at Purdue.

Now, as a member of the 49ers, he is sheltering-in-place and working out in the basement of his parents’ home in Carmel, Indiana. He is also trying to do his part to lend assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shut down the sporting world – not to mention normal life.

Thieneman teamed up with Boston-based The Ventilator Project, a quickly organized non-profit that plans to produce up to 60,000 low-cost ventilators a month while fears continue that there are not enough of the devices to meet the demands.

“There will always be a need for ventilators,” Thieneman told NBC Sports Bay Area. “There’s constantly a need. Globally, there’s an even a bigger need.

“Ventilator shortages are not just a unique problem during this time, during COVID-19. Globally, there’s a need for ventilators in developing countries.”

Thieneman entered the NFL last year as an undrafted rookie. He initially signed with the New York Giants, then spent time with the Indianapolis Colts during training camp. The 49ers signed him to their practice squad in mid-December.

Thieneman remained with the 49ers through their run to the Super Bowl. Then, the club signed him to their 90-man offseason roster immediately following the season.

Thieneman, a mechanical engineering major, is splitting his time between preparing himself for whenever the NFL opens its doors and doing his part to lend assistance during the pandemic.

Alex Frost, founder of FloraBot, and Tyler Mantel, founder of Watertower Robotics, co-founded The Ventilator Project on March 20. Thieneman got involved through Mantel’s brother, a close friend from his time at Purdue.

Thieneman’s role is to provide publicity and help in the fund-raising for the project. Three days after the plan was hatched, the project had 15 engineers helping with the design of the ventilators, he said. Now, there are approximately 200 individuals working on the task.

The goal is for the non-profit organization to deliver ventilators as quickly as possible to meet the needs of COVID-19 patients in the United States and around the world.

A hospital-grade ventilator can cost up to $50,000. The Ventilator Project aims to provide the essentials without the unnecessary accessories and for just a fraction of the cost. The expectation is to provide ventilators that cost no more than $2,000 apiece.

“From the start, it was designed to be entirely sourced with parts that are not currently in the medical supply industry so that we’re not taking away medical supplies that hospitals and other networks need,” Thieneman said.

The Ventilator Project will use materials that are readily available and can go to manufacturing quickly, he said.

“Currently, we have a working prototype that is fully functional,” Thieneman said. “We’re going through the FDA approval process right now.

“We expect, after FDA approval, to be able to produce 1,000 units in the first month, then hopefully scale up to 60,000 a month after that.”

[RELATED: 49ers, Sharks games not expected before November, health official says]

The initial fundraising goal is $100,000, Thieneman said, which would get the project through FDA approval and the first 1,000 units. Then, as the production increases so will the costs.

“We’ll need additional funds so we can scale up our manufacturing to full scale,” Thieneman said.

For more information on the non-profit organization and to make a donation, visit their website: TheVentilatorProject.org.

NFL Draft 2020: DeForest Buckner trade could have 49ers add D-lineman

NFL Draft 2020: DeForest Buckner trade could have 49ers add D-lineman

NBC Sports Bay Area will preview the NFL Draft with a look at the 49ers’ top needs, profiles of prospects that might fit their needs, along with some hidden gems. In this installment we examine why the 49ers have a need at defensive line.

General manager John Lynch highlighted his plan a year ago to build a dominant defensive line.

The 49ers accomplished that goal with the additions of Nick Bosa and Dee Ford to go along with DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead as the headliners.

The defensive line still is one of the strengths of the 49ers, but it might not be as dominant without Buckner, the team MVP who was shipped to the Indianapolis Colts in a trade for the No. 13 overall draft pick.

The 49ers still have good depth on the defensive line, but they found out a year ago that a team can never have too many big-bodied players across the front line. Injuries took a toll on the 49ers, with Ronald Blair, D.J. Jones, Jullian Taylor, Kentavius Street and Damontre Moore going on injured reserve.

Armstead, Bosa and Jones figure to be on the field for most base downs. Ford will play some early downs, but he is best saved for pass-rush situations.

Solomon Thomas and Blair, who is coming off a torn ACL, should have significant roles, too. Taylor, Street, Kerry Hyder and Kevin Givens will compete for roles in the rotation.

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The 49ers are scheduled to have first-round picks at Nos. 13 and 31 overall. Then, they do not have another selection until the fifth round. The 49ers’ two picks on Day 1 gives Lynch some opportunities to move around.

While most of the attention for the 49ers’ first pick has been on the wide receivers, it is entirely possible a defensive lineman could factor into the 49ers’ thinking on Day 1.

Will Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown still be available at No. 13? That’s probably unlikely. But if he’s there, would he be at the top of the 49ers’ list ahead of the best-available wide receiver?

[RELATED49ers could target these three wide receivers on Day 3]

Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina) is projected to be selected in the middle of the first round. Or, perhaps, later in the round, the 49ers could go after Ross Blacklock (TCU), K'Lavon Chaisson (LSU) or A.J. Epenesa (Iowa).

The 49ers do not necessarily need a player to step in and replace Buckner, who played more snaps than any other lineman during his four seasons with the club. But the 49ers can use a player who can play a specified role early in his career to enable the club to better move on without Buckner.