Kyle Shanahan

NFL Draft 2020: 49ers' John Lynch likely scouted Mekhi Becton from home

NFL Draft 2020: 49ers' John Lynch likely scouted Mekhi Becton from home

Are the 49ers open to the idea of selecting an offensive tackle in the first round?

General manager John Lynch apparently invested some amount of time last week toward studying one of the top offensive linemen in the draft.

Lynch posted a video from his home office to express appreciation for those on the “front lines” of the novel coronavirus pandemic – the doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, police, grocery workers and others.

Lynch also wanted to give 49ers fans a glimpse of how the 49ers are going about preparing for the draft. In the background on Lynch’s TV was a paused scene from Kentucky’s Nov. 30 game against Louisville.

In looking at photos from each of Kentucky’s eight home games, only Louisville wore white helmets, along with white jerseys and pants with a black stripe down the pants. The scene appears to show Kentucky on defense after making a stop.

So which prospect was Lynch watching?

Kentucky did not have any defensive players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. And the only player Louisville sent to the combine was offensive tackle Mekhi Becton.

Becton is generally considered a top-10 draft pick. At 6-foot-7, 364 pounds, Becton appears to be agile enough to thrive in all running schemes, including Kyle Shanahan’s offense that places a premium on athleticism from its offensive linemen.

Becton said at the NFL Scouting Combine that he likes blocking in zone schemes.

“I take a whole lot of pride in it,” Becton said. “I love outside zone and inside zone. It’s just fun running a man out of the play taking him where I want him to go.”

The 49ers have to consider a time when six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley is no longer with the team. Lynch said in February he was confident Staley would play at least one more season, but there has been no definitive word from Staley. He turns 36 in August, and has played 13 NFL seasons. Staley missed nine games last season due to injuries.

[RELATED49ers mailbag: Do 49ers approach draft as if Joe Staley won't return?]

Becton is regarded as one of the top three tackle prospects in the draft, along with Tristan Wirfs of Iowa and Andrew Thomas of Georgia. Each of those three could be selected within the top-12 selections – before the 49ers are scheduled to go on the clock at No. 13 overall.

The evidence is there that the 49ers are looking at offensive tackles, based on Lynch’s documented evaluation of Becton.

Or, perhaps, knowing it would not be too difficult to figure out which player Lynch was scouting at the time of the video, it might have been just a smokescreen.

NFL Draft 2020: Why Kentucky's Lynn Bowden could fit 49ers' offense

NFL Draft 2020: Why Kentucky's Lynn Bowden could fit 49ers' offense

When John Lynch assured 49ers fans that he and the rest of the front office still will be as prepared as ever for the 2020 NFL Draft despite the coronavirus pandemic, he did so in a video where he, of course, was grinding tape in the background. Lynch very might have been scouting the next offensive weapon for coach Kyle Shanahan.

It appears in the video that Lynch was watching tape of a University of Kentucky game. The Wildcats just so happened to have a do-it-all player who can be unleashed in Shanahan's offense. Lynn Bowden is the modern-day prospect every team is trying to get their hands on. 

The draft remains scheduled to begin on April 23, but the usual pre-draft meetings between teams and players have been wiped out due to the coronavirus. Well, kind of. 

Thanks to the power of technology, the 49ers still can meet with prospects and get to know them as more than just a player on film. The front office already had two FaceTime visits with Michigan State defensive lineman Kenny Willekes and TCU offensive lineman Cordel Iwuagwu, the prospects told Justin Melo of The Draft Wire. The Athletic's Matt Barrows reported Saturday that Bowden, who played quarterback and receiver at Kentucky, is on San Francisco's list of virtual interviews.

In Shanahan's first three seasons coaching the 49ers, he only has used two players other than quarterbacks to attempt a pass. Both came last season when Shanahan's complex offense truly began to take shape. Receiver Dante Pettis completed a 16-yard pass to running back Raheem Mostert in a Week 2 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and fellow receiver Emmanuel Sanders hit Mostert with a 35-yard touchdown pass in a wild 48-46 Week 14 win against the New Orleans Saints. 

Now, just imagine if Shanahan had someone like Bowden. 

While Clemson's Isaiah Simmons can be labeled simply as "defense" for his versatility, Bowden should have OW next to his name for "offensive weapon." He was a receiver his first two-and-a-half years at Kentucky and had 745 receiving yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore. Then last season as a junior, he was asked to be the team's quarterback in their final eight games and dominated as a dual-threat QB. 

Bowden earned the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most outstanding all-purpose player, as well as first-team Associated Press All-American all-purpose recognition. He rushed for 1,468 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, had 403 passing yards and three more scores and still led Kentucky in receiving yards with 348. To add the cherry on top, Bowden even helped returning punts and kickoffs. 

And with the ball in his hands, he's explosive.

At 5-foot-11 and 204 pounds, Bowden has speed, strength and great balance. He immediately can step in as the 49ers' version of a younger Taysom Hill. 

More importantly, Bowden fits in seamlessly to Shanahan's motion offense. Shanahan loves to use deception with play-action and multiple moving parts. This helped unleash Deebo Samuel as a ball-carrier throughout his rookie year. 

Shanahan can use Bowden on jet sweeps, reverses, play-action passes and even a wide receiver pass here and there. He's the perfect Swiss Army knife as football becomes more and more positionless. 

[RELATED: Should 49ers approach NFL draft as if Staley will not return?]

After their two first-round picks, the 49ers are back on the board twice in the fifth round, twice in the sixth and once in the seventh. Bowden likely will be available in the later rounds and easily can turn into a steal.

Whether it be as a receiver, ball-carrier, Wildcat QB or returner, the possibilities are endless with Bowden as a 49er in Shanahan's offense.

49ers mailbag: Do 49ers approach draft as if Joe Staley won't return?

49ers mailbag: Do 49ers approach draft as if Joe Staley won't return?

The NFL offseason continues on ... sort of.

And the questions continue, too.

Thanks to all the folks who submitted their questions via Twitter for this edition of 49ers Mailbag.

General manager John Lynch seemed confident Joe Staley would be back for at least another season when he was asked last month about the six-time Pro Bowl left tackle.

I don’t know that Staley has told the team, definitively, he plans to return. Staley, who turns 36 in August, dealt with more physical issues last season than at any point in his 13-year career. Perhaps he just wants to take some time to see how his body feels later in the offseason.

The 49ers certainly would want clarity on Staley’s status before the draft. And it’s also likely they would not want word to get out before the draft because they would love for other teams to be in the dark whether left tackle is or is not a high draft priority for them.

Mike McGlinchey appears locked into right tackle, and there does not seem to be a plan to move him to the other side to ultimately replace Staley.

On the depth chart, the 49ers re-signed Shon Coleman. Justin Skule also returns after starting eight games with mixed results.

If the top available player on the 49ers’ board at any point is an offensive tackle, I think that’s the way they would go.

Weston Richburg is clearly the team’s top option at center. But after he underwent surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon in December, Ben Garland stepped in and played well enough to keep the offense rolling.

If Richburg is healthy, it’s his job. Until then, the 49ers have to feel confident Garland can keep things afloat.

Like most positions, it’s personal preference.

The Raiders also figure to be in the market for a wide receiver with the No. 12 pick. If the 49ers have one receiver ranked far above the rest, and Las Vegas takes that player, then the 49ers could look to trade back or go with a different position.

For a breakdown of the top three wide receivers, see above video.

If everyone comes back healthy, the 49ers have quite a few options at wide receiver. Of course, none of them really are proven.

I agree the 49ers must look to strengthen their cornerback position. And looking a year in advance, there is no guarantee Richard Sherman will be back in 2021. And, even for the 2020 season, Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon are the only other corners with starting experience on the roster.

Cornerback is a priority, especially because the trade of DeForest Buckner likely means the pass rush will not be as dominant.

I doubt the 49ers will sign a starting-caliber defensive tackle at this stage of free agency. Maybe they bring in a player who has a chance to compete for a spot in the D-line rotation, but I doubt it.

I believe the trade of Buckner was all about the contract they were going to have to give him to keep him, as well as the draft pick there were able to pick up in a trade.

Solomon Thomas is under contract for just one more season. They certainly will not pick up the fifth-year option on Thomas, but that does not mean he is gone after this season. The 49ers could look to sign Thomas to a minimum-type contract next year, and he might be willing to accept such a deal.

Buckner rarely came off the field during his four seasons with the club. Now, the 49ers must incorporate more of a rotation to take strain off Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa. That rotation should include Thomas, Dee Ford, D.J. Jones, Ronald Blair, Jullian Taylor, Kentavius Street and, perhaps, a draft pick.

Dang, you’re making me think with this question. How dare you!

I don’t believe it signals a shift, per se. The 49ers’ stated goal is to be a contender every season. The trade was not done for the benefit it provides the team this season as much as what it will do two, three, four years down the road.

That said, Kyle Shanahan never felt like the 49ers’ offense last season was an unstoppable force – at least, not like he felt with Atlanta during the 2016 season. Still, the 49ers were fourth in the NFL in total yards and No. 2 in scoring.

So maybe the 49ers’ offensive production last season proved to Shanahan that it can become a dominant force in 2020 with some specific upgrades, such as a wider variety of third-down options.

[RELATEDThree key 49ers' position battles to watch when training camp begins]

I was shocked last month when Shanahan said, definitively, the 49ers would not release Marquise Goodwin. Of course, I can understand why he would say that. The 49ers want to see if they can trade him.

But with this draft class, I have a difficult time believing any team would surrender a draft pick and pay Goodwin $4.5 million for the upcoming season in salary and bonuses.

Let’s put it this way: I’d be surprised if Goodwin is on the field the next time the 49ers are able to get together on the field.

The NFL has put together guidelines leading up to the draft to level the playing field. General manager John Lynch said on Friday that there will be “no excuses.” I don’t know if the 49ers have an advantage over the other teams in the league, but they certainly have no disadvantage when it comes to technology.

Where the 49ers could have an advantage over some teams is that Lynch and Shanahan work well together, so the communication between the personnel department and coaching staff is very good. Not all teams are like that.

The NFL has to be planning for everything at this stage. Is it possible, under the right circumstances, that games could be played without crowds? TV ratings would be astronomical. But I’m just spit-balling. I have no idea.

What I wonder about is when it will be safe to gather in large crowds. Hopefully, the actions taken by mayors and governors will slow the spread of COVID-19. And, hopefully, we start to see a flattening of the curve within a month.

But if a vaccine is still a year or more away, does that mean we risk outbreaks that compromise our healthcare system until that point? I have no idea.