SANTA CLARA — The 49ers didn’t try to deliberately lose at the end of the 2018 season, so they didn’t land the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
But after months of rumors and innuendo, confidence and concern, the football gods provided mercy — the Niners ended up taking the No. 1 player on their draft board with the No. 2 overall pick.
Selecting Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa was a no-brainer, no-hesitation selection Thursday.
But in making it, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have put themselves on the clock.
Lynch said Thursday that when he and Shanahan came to the Niners two years ago, they had two initial goals:
First, go out find a franchise quarterback. Then, find guys to sack other teams’ quarterbacks.
It’s a tried-and-true plan, just look around the league. Just look at how bad these Niners were last year, when they had neither.
Of course, the duo was able to trade for and then sign quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in their first season together. The jury is still out on Garoppolo, as he has only started eight games for the Niners after last season’s ACL tear in Week 3, but he’s their guy at the most important position in football.
And this offseason, in trading for and signing Dee Ford and drafting Bosa, they’ve added two pass rushers that they believe can make one of the worst defensive lines in football one of the best in 2019.
But now, after three off-seasons, three top-10 overall picks, and now that the positions of top priority on both sides of the ball have been addressed, the honeymoon is over for the forward facing Niners’ braintrust.
Yes, this duo entered a terrible situation and fate was not kind to them last year, but their team needs to compete in the NFC West in 2019.
I’d venture to say that Lynch and Shanahan know it, too.
Bosa was arguably the prospect in this draft with the highest talent floor. That’s nothing to scoff at — he’s league-ready — but at No. 2, you are typically looking for someone with superstar potential, an incredible ceiling.
Bosa doesn’t seem to carry that kind of cache. He lacks the eye-popping burst, strength, and size that so many top picks have.
This isn’t to say that he’s a bad player. Far from it.
No, his game is all about steady, all-around exceptionalism. He’s a fifth-year veteran about to enter his rookie season — a master of technique. That’s no doubt a byproduct of growing up with a dad and uncle who played in the NFL and a brother, Joey, who beat him to the league by a few years.
“It looks like he’s been, since three years old, been doing pass rush moves with his family, and he’s so proficient with it,” Lynch said.
Former Ohio State defensive coordinator told Lynch that in all of his years of coaching, “he’s never had a player whose hand and feet are married together better than Nick Bosa.”
That’s the kind of player that the Niners needed to put on the other side of Ford, the speed rusher who will be playing the team’s new wide-nine position. That’s the kind of player that Solomon Thomas — the No. 3 overall pick two drafts ago — was supposed to be for this team. The addition of Bosa will slide Thomas (if he remains with the team) to the middle of the line, next to Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner. It’s a place that one could argue he always should have been.
San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch smiles while speaking to the media ahead of the NFL Draft at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Monday, April 22, 2019. (Randy Vazquez/Bay Area News Group)
Last year, the Niners had a solid run defense, but arguably the worst pass-rush in the NFC. And if it wasn’t the worst, it was only because Buckner was one of the best players in the league.
But a four-man unit of Ford, Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Bosa could — no, should — stack up favorably with any starting defensive line in the NFL this year. And if Lynch’s Thursday statement that Thomas will be a Niner in 2019 is to be believed, that adds to some already intriguing depth for a line rotation.
“Now we’ve got two guys in particular who excel in rushing from the edge, and that’s Dee Ford and it’s Bosa,” Shanahan said. “It allows you to use the versatility a little bit better and put guys truly where they’re at their best.”
You read that right, Bosa is expected to unlock the best in this Niners’ defense. No pressure.
Of course, the Niners’ success won’t singlehandedly hinge on Bosa’s first season, but his selection will no doubt serve as a litmus test for this administration.
Shanahan and Lynch need to hit on this pick, and those results need to be near immediate.
Because if it isn’t, and this team is drafting in the top-10 again next year, it could well be others making that pick.