NFL draft: 49ers GM John Lynch on how he's learned from past mistakes

NFL draft: 49ers GM John Lynch on how he's learned from past mistakes

As 49ers GM John Lynch and his staff head into their third draft, Lynch admits that they are using lessons learned from Reuben Foster and Joe Williams to help prevent the same draft mishaps from happening again. 

Lynch has spoken about needing to be aggressive in taking players that will improve the franchise while taking into account a solid locker room environment. A few of Lynch's picks have backfired, but he says the team has learned from their mistakes. He spoke about how his past two seasons have been a learning process, while also admitting that sometimes you still have to take risks. 

“I think a combination of both,” Lynch said. “If you aren’t always learning, shame on you, shame on us. I think with Reuben, I think we somewhat accounted for it by where we drafted him. I think we had him at a certain value. We didn’t draft him there. That doesn’t excuse us. It’s a shame. 

“We’re very happy to have Kwon Alexander, but that came at a heavy price. We would’ve much preferred to have Reuben still playing here. So, of course, you learn a lesson.” 

The heavy price for the 49ers was Alexander’s five-year $54 million contract. Foster would have cost much less under his four-year rookie contract that was worth just over $9 million. 

Foster had a few red flags prior to the draft, including being sent home from the NFL Scouting Combine after a confrontation with a hospital worker and a diluted urine test. His troubles continued with assault allegations and other off-the-field issues. 

Lynch detailed the slight variations to their pre-draft vetting process that was made, in part, because of what they learned from Foster. 

“There are certain tweaks we’ve made,” Lynch said. “Our 30 visits this year, we brought people more in a group setting. We want to see how they interact with other people. So, those are subtle things that we do.”

Meanwhile, Williams spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve and then was released prior to the 2018 season. He was a player who had great game film, especially just before the draft when he ran for a record-setting 332 yards in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium. 

As with Foster, Williams had his share of red flags as well. He quit football after being at Utah for a season to deal with issues regarding family matters. He rejoined the team when they were in desperate need at running back. 

Since drafting Williams, Lynch has been very vocal about acquiring players who love the game of football, almost reminding himself to not forget the miss in his first draft. The positive side is that the team released Williams after his second offseason instead of holding out hope that he would develop and pan out.   

“As to Joe, I think that was a pick, it didn’t work out,” Lynch said. “But, in every scenario, whether something worked or didn’t work, you take note. We try to do that in each individual case.”
“There’s so much that just goes into the research of these players. You learn something every year. I think the most important thing, you impart upon your scouts, upon your staff is, ‘We have to be as thorough as humanly possible.’”

[RELATED: Final first-round NFL mock draft]

For a GM without front office experience, Lynch surrounded himself with experienced people. The past two 49ers draft classes have been far from perfect -- but that can be said about every draft class. Lynch just hopes to improve each season by learning from his past. 

“Anything we can learn about these guys is valuable information,” Lynch said. “I’m real proud of the work we’ve done with our staff to get as much information to be equipped to make as good a decision as possible.”
“You work hard to try to identify what is the lesson that you learned. We know in-house what those lessons are.” 

49ers' Brandon Aiyuk's epic JUCO performance showed playmaking ability

49ers' Brandon Aiyuk's epic JUCO performance showed playmaking ability

The 49ers have high expectations for Brandon Aiyuk. They expect the 6-foot receiver with an 81-inch wingspan to stretch the field vertically, make people miss and change the tone of the game with one play.

Aiyuk showed off his game-breaking ability during his time at Arizona State, but the skills the made the 49ers gravitate toward him in the 2020 NFL Draft first took the stage at Sierra College in Rocklin, California. Aiyuk arrived at Sierra College as a defensive back, but coach Ben Noonan realized Aiyuk was lethal with the ball in his hands.

Aiyuk finally broke through late in his freshman year. He played both sides of the ball during the last game that season, catching six balls for 121 yards and two touchdowns while holding his man to one catch for 20 yards, Noonan told ESPN's Nick Wagoner.

That summer, Noonan says Aiyuk dedicated himself to football, spending most of his time either in the weight room or working with the quarterbacks.

"It gets up to a good 110 degrees, and then he's out there until the daylight is gone with the quarterbacks after a four-hour day," Noonan told Wagoner. "And demanding that the quarterbacks stay, you know, whether their arm was falling off or not. And then the other thing that gives you perspective on his personality and work-ethic type of kid he was: He insisted on being on special teams."

Then, in his sophomore season, Aiyuk flashed more of his game-changing skills while on special teams. During a game against Santa Rosa College, Aiyuk returned a kick 76 yards for a touchdown, had six catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns and had 110 punt return yards with two touchdowns called back due to penalties.

"It was the most dominant junior college game I'd ever seen by anybody," Noonan told Wagoner.

With Emmanuel Sanders now in New Orleans with the Saints, the 49ers will expect Aiyuk to slot in immediately and fill that void, forming a fearsome three-headed monster with tight end George Kittle and Deebo Samuel.

The 49ers had Aiyuk atop their draft board along with Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, and even debated taking Aiyuk at No. 13 overall. Instead, they waited, believing a sub-par 40 time caused by a core muscle injury might force the ASU star to slide. It did, and the 49ers traded up from No. 31 to No. 25, leapfrogging the Green Bay Packers, to get the guy head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted.

[RELATED: Kittle's potential extension could lead 49ers to trade Ford]

Aiyuk, Kittle and Samuel will give Shanahan three receivers who excel at making defenders miss, turning short games into game-altering plays. Aiyuk could struggle to see target early in the season, but the 49ers plan for him to play big role in their 2020 Revenge Tour back to the Super Bowl.

Aiyuk has the ability to change the momentum of the game in a matter of seconds. It's been apparent since his days at Sierra College. That's why Herm Edwards brought him to Arizona State, and that's why Shanahan and general manager John Lynch made him a 49er.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

How Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne enhanced 49ers' offense last season

How Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne enhanced 49ers' offense last season

No stat is perfect, and that includes passer rating. One thing needs to be clear: It's not just a quarterback stat. 

Instead, passer rating showcases the passing offense as a whole and heavily weighs big plays. Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne clearly strengthened the 49ers' passing offense. All you have to do is look at Jimmy Garoppolo's passer rating when targeting the two receivers. 

Pro Football Focus published an article Thursday that proved just how much the two enhanced San Francisco's passing offense. Garoppolo had a 121.1 passer rating when targeting Bourne, good for the ninth-best among receivers. Samuel was right behind as a rookie with a 120.2 passer rating.

Samuel's 74 percent catch rate also was the seventh-best among receivers in the entire NFL last season. 

Garoppolo targeted Samuel 81 times last season, according to Pro-Football Reference, and had a 70.4 completion percentage when throwing it the rookie's way, and a 109.2 QB rating. He targeted Bourne 46 times and had a 67.4 completion percentage with a 109.0 QB rating.

[RELATED: 49ers believe Aiyuk can fill void left by Sanders' departure]

Samuel is expected to be the 49ers' No. 1 receiver in his second professional season this year. He perfectly fits Kyle Shanahan's scheme of deception. Bourne, on the other hand, was relied upon in the red zone and led all 49ers receivers with five touchdowns in 2019. 

The 49ers might not have a superstar receiver yet, but it's clear this group is full of talent.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]