The rest is still unwritten.
Yes, the San Francisco 49ers have their franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo and yes they finished the year 6-10 after a dismal 1-9 start, but at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have made it clear that this team has work to do before it achieves true success.
6-10. Great. Let’s Not Do That Again.
Shanahan said it best when he told the media, “I learned the way to get people to feel good about 6-10 is just to start 0-9.”
Truth, and no one in Santa Clara is going to be happy if that happens again, so, it’s go time. Obviously having a quarterback, and a good one at that, helps move things along.
“It will be nice in free agency when anybody we’re going for doesn’t ask me who our quarterback is going to be,” said Shanahan. “They know. That’s nice. I don’t have to always say, ‘We’ll have one, I promise. Just can’t tell you. Just wait, we’ll see.’ That makes it easier. I think it makes it more attractive a little bit. There’s some people who can see where we’re going and what our situation is. Now you can just focus on getting better at the position. But I think it eases everyone because everyone wants to know who your quarterback is and I think that’s pretty obvious on our team.”
Great Job Jimmy! Now What?
Garoppolo certainly showcased his QB and leadership skills, but 6-10 is not a playoff team, and the 49ers are looking to be a playoff team.
“The story is not yet written,” Lynch said. “And Jimmy knows that. That’s one thing that he’s very cognizant of, that we’ve got a lot of work to do. And we’ve got a lot of work to do as a team. I think Bill Parcells said it best, you are what your record says you are. We were a 6-10 team, we were 1-5 in our division. Did we finish strong? Absolutely. I can tell you that in Tampa when we were trying to turn it around, there were years we finished strong. That doesn’t guarantee success the next year. So, it’s back to try and improve our franchise in every way we can and it’s back to good old fashioned hard work to make sure that we do carry the momentum that we had forward into next year.”
With that being said, Lynch and company have a lot of college football players to evaluate over the next few days.
Let’s Get It Started in Here
It begins with 15 minute player interviews and continues with on-and-off-the-field evaluation. 15 minutes isn’t a ton of time to get to know someone.
“That’s the challenge. It’s 15 minutes, so how can you be most effective,” Lynch said. “…[R]eally the ones that come off the best are the ones that are really authentic and are their true selves and honest. I think one thing you could do is try to break the ice with some personal stories, some humor, to try to get them to be themselves. But, a variety of techniques like other people use, just good old conversation on what’s important to them, on why they love the game of football and things that are important to us that you try to glean from them. We throw film on sometimes. That’s a great avenue to have them explain what they were doing. You can tell a lot. Some players have instant recall and can tell you not only what their job was, but everybody else on that field what other guys struggled to communicate that. Does that really vault up a player or kill a player? No, you don’t want to make your evaluation solely on that. But like everything, it’s part of the process.”
Improvement. Improvement. Improvement.
The 49ers need to address a number of areas to get better, but nowhere is that need greater than at cornerback, which is an area they can most likely address in free agency. Although they are in a good position at safety, arguably the most talented defensive player in the draft, is Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, and if you can get him, he’s not the kind of player you overlook, like ever.
“The game is much more spread out,” said Lynch, a former safety. “They throw the football much more. It’s played much more in space. And so, you better have players who can operate in space and who can do a number of different things. Minkah Fitzpatrick is a guy that is highly thought of, and we feel the same about him, but that versatility that he brings is something special. We drafted a kid, [DB] Adrian Colbert, last year one of the things that drew us to him is that we knew he could play corner and we knew he could play safety. That kind of flexibility gives you a lot of options. We also knew at the least he was going to be a very effective special teams player. So yes, those things, versatility, is always a good thing and it’s something I think everyone’s looking for.”
Another hot topic position for SF is running back. Will he stay or will be go is the question surrounding Carlos Hyde. It will depend on a variety of factors.
“We’ve had discussions with Carlos all the way through the season,” said Lynch. “We haven’t been able to come to an agreement, but those discussions are ongoing. This is a great opportunity. His representatives are down here, we’ll continue to talk.”
This draft has talented running backs, see Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, but so does the free agent market.
“Everyone says you can get running backs later in the Draft, which you can, said Shanahan. “You can also get them early in the Draft. I think if [Pittsburgh Steelers RB] Le’Veon Bell came out this year, I’m sure he’d be a top-five pick…People always want to find those top running backs. People have found a lot of running backs later in rounds like what [Kansas City Chiefs RB] Kareem Hunt did this year. You always go back to [former NFL RB]Terrell Davis and those people. You don’t have to get them in the first round, more like you do a tackle or an elite pass rusher. But still, if there’s a running back there that you think is going to be like some of those guys I mentioned, then that guy is worth the first pick in the draft just like anybody else would be.”
In reality, the 49ers have a lot of potential at running back already on the roster, and none of them were first-round draft picks.
“I really hope Joe [Williams] can be like that,” said Shanahan. “I hope [Matt] Breida can be like that. I hope Raheem Mostert can be like that. I think we’ve got a lot of guys with some talent on our roster that not many people know about…But it’s how they respond to the NFL and the pressures of it and running back is a different deal in the league. Those guys hit hard and you’ve got to do it week in and week out and not just one game and 16 games is tough to get through.”
It should be an interesting weekend in Indy, a productive free agency period in March, and a hell of a draft. Go Niners!