The 49ers recently invited Peter King to spend draft day with them and eavesdrop on their conversations. I have no idea why. On Thursday, King published his article chronicling his day with the 49ers. This article contained an interesting exchange between G.M. John Lynch, Vice President of Player Personnel Adam Peters and head coach Kyle Shanahan.
A few hours before the draft, Peters asked Shanahan if he would consider drafting Washington cornerback Kevin King in the middle of Round 1. This was an important question, because the 49ers need a starting corner to replace Tramaine Brock, whom they recently released after a domestic-violence arrest.
Shanahan: “I wouldn’t (draft King) that early. I think he’s later.”
Lynch: “I think Kevin could possibly be a move up, based upon if we gather picks and move up into the first round and, you know, you get a guy with another fifth-year option.”
Shanahan: “Kevin is a goal if we had the 32nd pick.”
Peters: “Not in the twenties, even?”
Shanahan: “To me, if we gained a bunch of stuff then we need to debate whether to move up into the twenties. I personally … I know King’s the best, but when you talk about guys like [Colorado cornerback] Ahkello Witherspoon possibly in the third or even [West Virginia cornerback] Rasul Douglas—like, we all know King is the best. [But] not a huge difference in getting the other guys.”
Lynch: “King is a little different though.”
Shanahan: “If all we needed is one guy, it’s a huge difference. King is definitely better. We need as many guys as we can, so … I’m hoping we can get [Ohio pass-rusher Tarell] Basham also. Now it’s not life or death, I’d rather risk getting the lesser guy to have more guys.”
Let’s recap what happened in that conversation:
- Peters seemed open to the idea of drafting King in the teens, but Shanahan vetoed Peters.
- Lynch seemed open to trading up into the 20s to draft King, but Shanahan vetoed Lynch.
- Shanahan vetoed both the G.M. and the V.P. of Player Personnel. Shanahan had final say. He was the most powerful man in the room.
- Shanahan admitted that “King is definitely better” than the other cornerbacks the 49ers considered drafting.
- Shanahan decided he would “rather risk getting the lesser guy to have more guys.”
I take issue with Shanahan’s philosophy in No. 5.
“Risking getting the lesser guy to have more guys” only brings the team more guys with less talent. That’s the same as pouring the foundation of a building with lesser-quality concrete because you can get more of it at that price point. You still have a poor foundation for your building. Same with the foundation of a team.
What do you achieve by bringing in more guys with less talent? You still will need to upgrade the talent at those positions a year or two down the road because these “lesser guys” lack the ability to become premier starters or quality substitutes.
What if Bill Walsh had succumbed to Shanahan’s philosophy in the 1981 draft? That was when Walsh brought in three quality rookie starters — Ronnie Lott in Round 1, Eric Wright in Round 2 and Carlton Williamson in Round 3 — who formed the foundation of an excellent secondary for years. Would the 49ers have won the Super Bowl that season had Walsh taken lesser guys to have more guys?
The lesser guy Shanahan decided to draft this year was third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon, a corner the Niners hope can start as a rookie. But the odds are against him. Only one-of-eight DBs taken in Round 3 last year started at least eight games, and that was Daryl Worley, who did not play well for the Carolina Panthers.
Now look at the seven DBs who were drafted in Round 1 — Jalen Ramsey, Eli Apple, Vernon Hargreaves, Karl Joseph, Keanu Neal, William Jackson and Artie Burns. Six of them started at least nine games, and the one who didn’t (Jackson) missed the entire season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Lower-round DBs don’t become starters nearly as often as higher-round DBs. So, if a team likes a defensive back who has starting potential, and the team acknowledges it needs a starting DB, that team better draft the quality player, such as Kevin King, and not the lesser-quality player, such as Ahkello Witherspoon.