The San Francisco 49ers were one of the worst teams in the league during the 2018 season, which ended with the team landing the No. 2 overall pick and a trip to Mobile, Alabama to coach the Senior Bowl. Fast forward a year and the team is preparing for Super Bowl LIV, which is their first appearance since 2012. How did the change occur so quickly? The franchise empowered a brilliant young coach and built their roster through the NFL Draft.
Of the 53 players on the roster, 39.6 percent (21) were added via the NFL Draft. An additional 15.1 percent (8) were added as undrafted free agents. More than half of their roster was constructed through the evaluation work of the front office and scouting department. The remaining 45.3 percent was addressed between free agency and trades.
Offensive tackle Joe Staley, tight end George Kittle, and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner are some of the team's notable draft choices. While their contributions have been invaluable, the production provided by the current rookie class has made all the difference.
Defensive end Nick Bosa was added with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. His stats (9 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, and an interception) are actually less impressive than his play. He forced teams to game plan against him, which created opportunities for his teammates. The defensive line pulled their chairs up to an all-you-can-eat buffet and feasted en route to 48 sacks during the regular season, which was fifth-most across the league.
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel, a second-round pick, had 57 receptions for 802 yards and three touchdowns in addition to 159 rushing yards this season. His hustle to block on the edge for running back Raheem Mostert in the NFC Championship was unselfish and important. With nine minutes remaining in the first half, 49ers up 10-0, Mostert scored a touchdown from the 9-yard line to make a statement.
San Francisco is a predominantly run-based team but three of their four leading receivers were added through the draft or as an undrafted free agent. The 49ers were receiving big contributions from rookies taken on Day 3 as well. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw, a fifth-round pick, was the team's second-leading tackler.
Offensive tackle Justin Skule, a sixth-round pick, stepped in when Staley and Mike McGlinchey were battling injuries. Mitch Wishnowsky, a fourth-round pick, was the team's starting punter. According to The Riot Report, first-round picks have only a 53-percent success rate. Odds diminish drastically as each round passes. For Lynch to find three contributors at that stage in the draft is impressive. The list of draft hits goes on and on: defensive end Arik Armstead, linebacker Fred Warner, safety Jimmie Ward, etc..
The NFC club would not be where they are without key additions such as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, defensive end Dee Ford, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, cornerback Richard Sherman, Mostert and others as well.
If defense really does win championships, then San Francisco is in good shape. They spent the ninth most on that side of the ball in 2019, according to OverTheCap.com. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars spent more on their defensive line.
There is no foolproof plan for a team to reach the Super Bowl. The Philadelphia Eagles were able to ride a backup quarterback to victory. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger have certainly had their share of Super Bowl wins as well.
There are some similarities between the Kansas City Chiefs and 49ers but also some stark differences. Both teams have invested in their defensive lines. Kansas City has invested more into their offense and should widen the gap soon with a new contract for quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Comparatively, San Francisco spent more on their defense.
If San Francisco is able to pull off the victory, they will need help from their rookie draft choices yet again.