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49ers Mailbag: When will Trey Lance be ready? And other post-draft questions

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images


Well, the 49ers got their quarterback. Is he the guy of the present or the future? Maybe both? What better time to try and figure out exactly where this franchise is and where it’s going than a couple weeks after the draft has concluded. There’s almost enough space for a wide-viewed perspective. With that in mind, I took a look at answering some of your pressing questions about the draft and offseason.

Tom M. asks via Facebook: Do you see the 49ers asking Aaron Banks to slim down a bit to get more mobile?

Perhaps, but he’s pretty mobile as is. I think the concerns about his mobility are overblown a bit, but he’s definitely not in the mold the 49ers have traditionally gone for, in terms of guys with a slighter build, who have an easily team making pull and second-level blocks. But maybe they thought it was time to stop being cute about interior pass protection, and that, while there may be a learning curve for Banks, he played at the highest level of college football, and the Notre Dame offense did ask him to do some things that Shanahan’s offense does, so it might not be too steep.

Stewart asks via Twitter: Do you think the 49ers have enough pass rushers and do you believe Dee Ford plays another snap in red and gold?

Adam S. asks via Twitter: Seriously can we sign Kerrigan already now that we didn’t add an Edge in the draft?

I think they’re fine on the interior. I’m slightly concerned about their edge rushers, especially because I have no idea what to expect from Dee Ford this year. He could play all 16 games (that seems outrageous) or play none. We haven’t been able to actually see players moving in person for well over a year now and only have a few John Lynch quotes to go off, so we really have no idea where Ford is at in his rehab. It’s a back issue, and there were concerns when he had back surgery in Kansas City that he might not walk again. So, if I’m the 49ers, I think adding another edge rusher, like Ryan Kerrigan, would be prudent. They certainly have the cap space for it, and we’ve seen Arik Armstead consistently perform better as a three technique than as a five or nine technique.

If they take eight defensive linemen, you have Bosa, Armstead, Samson Ebukam and Jordan Willis as your edge rushers. Arden Key has a chance to make the roster, too, and Ford might have to start the season on the NFI list and ease his way back whenever/if ever he’s healthy. I’d still like to see them try and upgrade there, but it’s not a totally dire situation.

Chance A. asks via Twitter: Who will the Seahawks take off of the 49ers this year?

It’s usually a corner or defensive lineman with some upside, but either lacking in consistency, or with some other issue like age, injuries or something off the field. If we’re talking this year, I wouldn’t rule out a Richard Sherman return to Seattle, but if we’re talking next year, I’ll put my money on Jordan Willis.

Joseff T. asks via Instagram: Just wondering why corner wasn’t addressed earlier?

If you’re talking about free agency, they got their guys back except for Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon. They didn’t even expect to be able to retain them due to cap constraints, but lucked out do to a very poor market for veteran defensive backs. If you’re talking about the draft, which is what I suspect, this is the highest they’ve drafted a corner since Witherspoon, so you can make a very reasonable argument they did address corner early.

I think Kelvin Joseph out of Kentucky, who went 44th, one slot after they traded down, would have been an excellent option, but there are some legitimate non-football concerns. Asante Samuel Jr. was also nabbed at 47, a pick before them after the trade down, who had great tape and pedigree, but some unappealing measurables. The player I really had them pegged for, who I think would have been a great fit, and who general manager John Lynch said they were interested in, was Stanford’s Paulson Adebo, who was taken 77th overall by the Saints. I had proposed a trade down to that Raiders spot at 48, but packaging a fourth-round pick to get back the Raiders’ 80th. I think the move to give up a seventh and get back a fourth is much better value, though, and with Adebo off the board, I don’t mind them waiting until 102 for Thomas. The fact that they addressed corner again with Deommodore Lenoir and went after a safety/quasi-linebacker in the sixth with Talanoa Hufanga shows they are aware it was an issue.

Joey asks via Instagram: Do you think Jimmy Garoppolo is tired of hearing he’s going to be traded every five minutes?

I doubt he loves it, but he’s also a pretty low profile guy. I’m sure he knows about the buzz, but he’s not locked into it like we are. And the 49ers have been very open with him about their process, so he’s aware they’re moving on at some point, but for now, it’s still his job.

Gabriel C. asks via Instagram: 1. Who the hell is going to be our starting DBs? 2. Do you think the D-line will be healthy and as dominant as in 2019? 3. When do you think Trey is going to get his first start/Jimmy gets his first injury?

Taking the Matt Maiocco approach of sneaking in three questions. I give you credit for that.

  1. Verrett-Moseley-Williams-Tartt-Ward, though I think you’ll occasionally see some big nickel sets with an extra safety and one linebacker. That’s probably Tarvarius Moore’s job.
  2. I don’t know about as dominant, because DeForest Buckner is a top-five defensive tackle and he’s on the Colts. But Javon Kinlaw’s going to take a leap, they’ll have Nick Bosa back, and Samson Ebukam is reliable. So I’d expect they’ll be much healthier, but not as dominant; that still means a top-10 line, and probably closer to top five.
  3. I’m not going to speculate on when/if Garoppolo gets hurt, but obviously Lance would start if he does. If Garoppolo plays like he does for most of the 2019 season and is healthy, it’s going to be difficult for Lance to win the job from him. He’s just got much more time in the offense. But they’re going to find him reps even if that’s the case. If Garoppolo struggles, it might not take that long to see Lance. Without a schedule (comes out on Wednesday) it’s still a little tough to make predictions. But I think Lance is more pro-ready than he’s generally perceived to be and I think he starts at some point this year.

Kingman G. asks via Instagram: If there’s one area of weakness that you’re concerned about, what is it?

Depth at corner and wide receiver. The other would be tight end, but I really feel like a Zach Ertz trade could still be in the cards there. If that doesn’t happen, they’d be making a mistake to not bring another tight end in.

If Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are healthy, there’s no real concern at wide receiver. Richie James Jr. can replace some of Kendrick Bourne’s production, and maybe Jalen Hurd can play an NFL regular season down. There are too many question marks in that group, though, and Samuel has been unable to stay healthy through his first two seasons.

As far as corner goes, Jason Verrett will be 30 and just had his first healthy season since 2015. Outside of him and Moseley, you have a couple rookies, one of whom is a better fit as a slot corner, and guys like Tim Harris and Dontae Johnson. With all this stuff, maybe it’s something that the 49ers know that we don’t, but those positions leave me a little uneasy.

Jagga asks via Instagram: Chances Mohammed Sanu makes the team?

If he’s healthy, and looks like what he used to, then high. But currently, I think it’s more likely he gets retained on the practice squad.

Brian D. asks via Instagram: Why are the Niners so bad at finding value in the early rounds of the draft?

This idea has lingered around, and is largely founded in the way the 49ers drafted their first two seasons, taking Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster and Dante Pettis. One useful tool to measure draft execution is Football Outsiders’ drafting efficiency table. What it assesses is the return a team should get given its draft capital, versus what return they actually got. The measurement they use is Career Average Value from Football Reference.

If you have a return of 100 percent, that’s expected. Below that is a negative return. Above that is a positive return. In 2017, they had a 92 percent return, which is not good, but not damning. In 2018, it was 101 percent. In 2019, it was 140 percent.

What that indicates is what we’ve seen from the eye test. Whether it’s leaning more on Adam Peters, having a more open process in evaluating prospects, the 49ers have improved substantially at drafting.

2017

Round 1: Solomon Thomas (trade down), Reuben Foster (trade up)

Round 3: Ahkello Witherspoon, C.J. Beathard (trade up)

  • Thomas was viewed as a reasonable pick at the time, and while he was never the player he was supposed to be, he was serviceable. It’s still a huge misuse of that pick, obviously, but he had utility.
  • Foster, though injury-prone, was stellar in his limited time during his rookie year. Then he was charged with domestic violence, cut, signed with Washington and tore his ACL. Not a good pick.
  • Witherspoon was frustrating but not a bad pick. He had moments when he seemed like an All-Pro corner, but couldn’t find any consistency or confidence, in part due to injuries.
  • Beathard… yikes.

2018

Round 1: Mike McGlinchey

Round 2: Dante Pettis (trade up)

Round 3: Fred Warner, Tarvarius Moore

  • McGlinchey was not a bad pick. He had a pretty horrific pass blocking year last year, but is a dominant run blocker and if he puts on weight, there’s reason to believe he can get back to being a solid pass blocker, as he showed he was capable of the two years prior.
  • Pettis. No.
  • Fred Warner. All Pro.
  • Moore doesn’t seem to have been worth the third round selection and has some coverage deficiencies, but he’s been a rotational safety, which is not valueless. The bet on his absurd athletic upside was reasonable.

2019

Round 1: Nick Bosa

Round 2: Deebo Samuel

Round 3: Jalen Hurd

  • Bosa was impossible to mess up. You get no credit.
  • Samuel was a great selection with some injury issues, but is clearly worth it.
  • Hurd is brutal. It’s suspect that they weren’t aware of his back issue, but because it was deemed a “stress reaction,” it’s plausible to think it never showed up on imaging. Then, for him to tear his ACL in training camp, that’s just a freak accident. It’s tough to say how much you can fault teams when a player is dealt freak injuries, but the early returns on Hurd are not encouraging.

2020

Round 1: Javon Kinlaw (trade down), Brandon Aiyuk (trade up)

  • Both are studs. Kinlaw was always a project, and he improved drastically as the season went on. For the concerns about his health, he was one of the most available 49ers last year. And Aiyuk was absurd.

2021

Round 1: Trey Lance (biiiig trade up)

Round 2: Aaron Banks (trade down)

Round 3: Trey Sermon (used trade down to trade up), Ambry Thomas

  • We shall see, but they’ve improved recently.

Gregory asks via Instagram: When is Lance ready? Season 2 or 3? And Jimmy status? Gone next year?

Lots of questions about when Lance will be ready, understandably. We’ll get to see him for the first time on Friday, at 49ers rookie minicamp, and I suspect we’ll all overreact a little bit, because he’s going to be damn impressive, especially in comparison to Jimmy Garoppolo. But Kyle Shanahan is nitpicky, and much of what determines whether Lance is ready will be determined behind closed doors, in meetings. When he’s got proper knowledge of the system, has the timing down right, and has his footwork and arm angles at a place where Shanahan likes (and assuming Garoppolo’s not setting the world alight), he’ll start. That might be Week 6. It might be Week 12. Maybe it’s from the get-go or not until next year. But I suspect he’ll start at some point this year, and he will absolutely get some reps. This might be the first time Kyle Shanahan is happy to have a preseason.

Anthony S. asks via Instagram: If Lance had gone second, who would the Niners have drafted?

Zach Wilson.

Matt L. asks via Instagram: Does them not drafting a WR3 or a backup TE mean they’re still looking to address either?

They seem to be fairly content with their wide receiver situation, but that wouldn’t preclude a Danny Amendola-type signing. I still feel like there’s more to come as far as tight ends go.

Craig V. asks via Instagram: Don’t you feel like the 49ers had a mediocre draft?

This felt like a mediocre draft class in general. There is a great article here from Defector which explains that it is, from a numbers’ perspective, thanks to COVID-19, the thinnest draft class in a while. There are roughly 1,900-2,000 athletes who sign with an agent before the draft every year. This year, that number was 657. It’s just a much smaller pool of players, which means you might go fishing where you shouldn’t. John Lynch said the 49ers had about 160 draftable players on their board compared to 184 from 2019.

Clarence asks via Instagram: Why did we acquire 3 RBs in a week (Gallman +2 through the draft) and who is going to get cut?

As much as it seems like a luxury, and to some extent it is, Raheem Mostert is not reliable. Jeff Wilson Jr. got hurt last year, too. Running backs get hurt… a lot. And both of those players expire next offseason, so it was important for the 49ers to get a head start on replenishing depth there now. I’d suspect Gallman gets cut.

Pat H. asks via Instagram: Why give up so much? Those picks seem very valuable over the next few years.

That’s the price to get up to No. 3. The extra third was the one that the 49ers got from Robert Saleh’s hiring, so they felt like that was free money. If Lance hits, which I believe he will, it’s worth it. Expensive, but also damn cheap with a franchise quarterback on a rookie deal.

David L. asks via Instagram: How does keeping Jimmy G affect finances moving forward?

They have enough cap space to keep him and Lance and the rest of their rookies, and still have about $11-12 million in space. That’s why it’s not much of a concern this year. But next year, as some of these extensions start to kick in and Fred Warner will need one, it starts to become more of an issue paying Garoppolo $27 million. I’d suspect he’s traded next offseason.

T.J. R. asks via Instagram: What was the reaction to the Trey Lance pick?

I shouldn’t have to clarify this, but I want to preface this by saying, I’m not a “49ers fan.” That said, I was relieved.

From a personal level, I respect Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch and think the 49ers have one of the best front offices in football. As someone who grew up watching the Jets stumble around for years and finally get a couple adults in Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh, I know what a significant improvement and transition looks like.

So, if Shanahan had drafted Mac Jones, he’d have made a move that would have been pretty unforgivable. Unless Jones had become Tom Brady, which is almost impossible, or the 49ers quickly won a Super Bowl with him, which I don’t think would happen, it would have been a decision by Kyle that said, “I’m smarter than the rest of the league.” And thankfully, he made the right call. If Lance doesn’t work out, it’s a huge failure, but it’s not even close to as damning as if Jones had failed.

 

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