John Lynch and Mike Shanahan shunned a conservative approach during their first NFL draft together as the new leadership of the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers never stopped trading all the way to the final day of the draft, adding three prospects on each side of the football Saturday to complete what new general manager Lynch and new coach Shanahan believe will be a major step in the rebuilding of the team.
San Francisco orchestrated six trades during the three-day draft, not only allowing the 49ers to select 10 new prospects but also collect second- and third-round picks for 2018 in the process.
“I had no idea I was going to trade that much,” Lynch said. “I thought I was a fairly conservative guy and we were just going to have a calm draft. But the opportunity came our way.”
The 49ers began dealing near the very start of the draft, trading with Chicago to move down one spot to No. 3 in the first round. The 49ers then selected Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas while adding extra picks in the third and fourth rounds this year and a 2018 third-rounder.
San Francisco didn’t wait long to package one of the extra picks from that deal with its own second-rounder in a trade with Seattle to grab Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster at No. 31 in the first round.
Two trades Friday and two more Saturday left the 49ers with the same number of picks with which they began the draft.
“The philosophy is, if you trade, you usually end up getting fewer players,” Shanahan said. “To still get our goal of 10 players and adding other picks for ammo next year, I don’t think that happens very much.”
San Francisco also added veteran running back Kapri Bibbs in a trade with Denver on Saturday that also netted the 49ers a draft pick they used to select Louisiana Tech wide receiver Trent Taylor in the fourth round. Taylor had a NCAA-best 1,803 yards receiving last season, when he was second in college football with 136 receptions.
FOCUSING ON DEFENSIVE FRONT: After getting Thomas at the top of the draft, the 49ers added defensive linemen D.J. Jones of Mississippi and Pita Taumoepenu of Utah four picks apart in the sixth round. All three will compete for roles up front as San Francisco converts to the 4-3 scheme of new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
SURE TO START: Foster fills one of the biggest voids on the San Francisco roster at middle linebacker, where the team did not re-sign Nick Bellore and Gerald Hodges and lost Michael Wilhoite as a free agent to Seattle. Four-time All-Pro NaVorro Bowman played only four games last season before suffering a torn Achilles, his second major injury in his past three seasons played.
WHERE DOES HE FIT: Taylor put up prolific numbers last year at Louisiana Tech, but at 5-foot-8 and 178 pounds he will come to San Francisco as one of the smallest players on the roster. He also needs to find his niche among a receiver group that re-signed Jeremy Kerley and added several other veterans via free agency. But Shanahan sees Taylor as a perfect candidate to play in the slot. “He really owned that spot in college,” Shanahan said.
BACK IN THE GAME: San Francisco traded a fourth and fifth-round pick to move up in the fourth round to take Utah’s Joe Williams with the 121st pick. Williams stepped away from the game briefly before the season began in 2016, saying his mental health was not where it should be due to issues he was dealing with because of the 10-year anniversary of the death of his sister Kylee. After seeking psychiatric help, Williams had a likeness of his sister tattooed on his left arm and finally came to peace with her death.
He then returned to the Utes to rush for 1,407 yards and 10 touchdowns in only nine games.
“I had to lay it out on the line that football is what I drink and breathe,” Williams said. “And when I came back, and you will see the tape, I’m a completely different man.”