SAN FRANCISCO: Patience pays off for 49ers in draft with deal for Williams
The defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers went into the draft with obvious holes at defensive tackle and receiver, and a hidden one at left tackle where Joe Staley had told them he planned to retire.
After filling the first two spots on day one of the draft with Jevon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk, the 49ers managed to fill the other on Saturday when they acquired seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams from Washington for two draft picks.
The ability to pull off that trade made the decision by coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch to bypass tackle Tristan Wirfs to take Kinlaw pay off despite a couple of days of nervous waiting.
“We had a plan for a while going into this,” Shanahan said Saturday. “You try your hardest not to panic and adjust that plan. But when you lose a guy like Joe there could be panic there. We couldn’t guarantee it would work out with Washington but John was as persistent as he could be with it and we took that risk. That’s why we were very excited this morning when it came through because were able to add those other guys. ... It was a good gamble that worked out well.”
Now most of the offseason work for the Niners is done. They traded star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to Indianapolis for a first-round pick that got them Kinlaw, lost receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency to New Orleans and replaced him with Aiyuk and then found the perfect left tackle to take Staley’s spot on the line.
They hope these moves are enough to get them over the hump after falling one quarter short in a Super Bowl loss to Kansas City last season.
“We think we come out of this week a better football team,” Lynch said. “That’s really exciting because we were happy with where we were. We knew it would be a challenge to do that. But I think we believe we have an opportunity to be a better football team.”
DAY THREE PICKS
After sitting out the second day of the draft, the Niners drafted West Virginia offensive lineman Colton McKivitz 153rd overall. McKivitz can play both guard and tackle and provides depth on the line. He was a player Shanahan thought could compete at left tackle if the deal for Williams had fallen through.
San Francisco also took Georgia blocking tight end Charlie Woerner with the 190th pick and Tennessee receiver Jauan Jennings with the 217th pick.
The 49ers made two more trades Saturday, giving away veterans whom they didn’t need anymore. San Francisco dealt running back Matt Breida to Miami for the 153rd pick used on McKivitz. The Niners then traded receiver Marquise Goodwin to Philadelphia to move up from No. 210 to 190, where they took Woerner.
Breida was available because of a logjam at running back with Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson Jr. all under contract.
San Francisco had been looking to unload the speedy Goodwin all offseason. He had 35 catches in 20 games the past two seasons.
Staley was a fixture for San Francisco after being drafted in the first round in 2007. He started 181 games, made six Pro Bowls and helped the team reach two Super Bowls in his career that spanned six coaching regimes.
“He’s as good as a player and warrior and person as any player I’ve ever been around,” Shanahan said. “I love the guy. It was really hard on us when we realized he wasn’t going to play this year.”
NO DEFENSIVE BACKS
The one surprise in the draft was the fact that the Niners didn’t take a single defensive back. With cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherpsoon, Emmanuel Moseley and K’Waun Williams, along with starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt, all in the final year of their contracts, finding potential replacements figured to be a priority.
The Niners went 127 picks without making a selection between taking Aiyuk 25th in the first round and McKivits with the 153rd pick. That’s because they traded their second-rounder last year to Kansas City for Dee Ford and their third and fourth-round picks to Denver for Sanders.
San Francisco ended up not using any of its own selections in the draft, marking the ninth time that has happened since the draft went to seven rounds in 1994, according to ESPN.
-- By Josh Dubow, AP
SEATTLE: Seahawks opt for experience over projects in draft class
SEATTLE — The Seattle Seahawks were not in search of projects in this year's NFL draft. That might have to do with the changes to this offseason made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic.
Known for gambling on players with potential to develop, the Seahawks appeared to seek a bit more certainty this time around, focusing less on the quantity of selections and more on players who can be successful contributors without major makeovers.
They believe first-rounder Jordyn Brooks can contribute at linebacker right away. They think pass-rushder Darrell Taylor can address their biggest weakness from last season. They believe Damien Lewis is the right guard of the future and could start this year.
Even some of the five players taken in Saturday's later rounds have a chance to be contributors as rookies.
“Absolutely. I mean, not necessarily an emphasis from a conference standpoint, but an emphasis to try to find people that we’re going to be able to click with our coaches and vibe with our locker room and be able to do that in a very very quick manner,” Seattle general manager John Schneider said.
Seattle made eight selections, tied for the fewest by Schneider and coach Pete Carroll during their tenures. Getting to that number required a late trade, sending a 2021 sixth-round pick to Miami to move back into the seventh round.
All eight of Seattle’s picks came from Power Five programs, and none appears to be a major developmental project.
“We’re really in the mode of adaptation, through everything,” Carroll said. “Look at what we just did. Everything is kind of fluid, and on the move and you've got to be flexible.”
For all the success Seattle has enjoyed on the final day of the draft, the fourth round has brought some busts, particularly with wide receivers. This year, the Seahawks went with a tight end and a pass-catching running back in Round 4: Colby Parkinson of Stanford and DeeJay Dallas of Miami, respectively.
Parkinson may struggle as a blocker early in his career but at 6-foot-7 is a huge target for Russell Wilson. Parkinson had 48 catches last season and in 2018 had seven touchdowns on 29 catches.
Dallas may be the more intriguing option. He was recruited to Miami as a wide receiver before moving to running back and leading the Hurricanes in rushing last season. He’s also considered an exceptional pass blocker and would appear to be an ideal option for the Seahawks on third downs.
“My favorite part of third-down situations is protecting the quarterback,” Dallas said.
THE SEATTLE WAY
Syracuse defensive end Alton Robinson already has a feel for what Seattle expects from its pass rushers. Robinson did his pre-combine training in Bellevue, Washington, at the same gym where Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and several other players work out in the offseason.
One of the people Robinson got to know was former Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril.
“When I got work with Cliff it was one or two days out of the week, and it was very position-specific,” Robinson said. “Like body mechanics and things like that, which will be the difference between getting to the quarterback and getting the sack, and getting close to the quarterback.”
Robinson also addressed his arrest in high school on a burglary charge that cost him a scholarship to Texas A&M.
“The situation, I’m sure you can find it, it was very embarrassing,” Robinson said. “I embarrassed myself, and my high school, my family and everything like that. I definitely learned from it.”
Seattle used its final two picks on pass catchers with unique traits. Florida wide receiver Freddie Swain's ability to make the roster may largely depend on how much he can help in the return game. Swain had 38 catches and seven touchdowns last season for the Gators, but averaged 10.2 yards per return on punts in 2018, including one touchdown.
The trade with Miami allowed the Seahawks to take another big target for Wilson, LSU's Stephen Sullivan. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder played mostly wide receiver but moved to tight end for part of his senior season. Stephen would be the one project Seattle drafted with the uncertainty of how best to use him between tight end or wide receiver.
“This is one of my favorites because this is a guy that you to look at and really have to project what he's going to be like and we were willing to do that,” Carroll said.
-- By Tim Booth, AP
LOS ANGELES: Rams get energy boost from LB Clay Johnston to wrap up draft
LOS ANGELES — If Clay Johnston's performance on the field is even close to his performance over the phone, the Los Angeles Rams just got a game changer in the seventh round of the NFL draft.
Johnston didn't even try to contain his euphoria after the Rams drafted the Baylor linebacker Saturday, whooping and hollering in excitement with an enthusiasm that even stunned famously fired-up coach Sean McVay.
“I have never experienced a call like that in my life,” McVay said with a grin. "I was starting to fade in the seventh round, and this guy gave me a shot of adrenaline. I was about ready to put my head in a wall.”
After letting loose with McVay and general manager Les Snead, Johnston hadn't cooled off a bit when he spoke to the media on a video call.
“I'm hyperventilating,” Johnston shouted. “I wanted to get under the squat rack. I wanted to get some pads on. I'm freakin' stoked. Let's go, man! Gosh dang it, bro! I'm freakin' pumped! I'm about to run through this door right in front of me!”
Johnston struggled to remember the details of his call with the Rams' front office, admitting: “I've still got to get the names down.”
“When I got a call and they said, ‘Do you want to be a Ram?’ I said, ‘By God, I want to be a Ram, let’s freakin' go,'” Johnston said. "I screamed, and everyone was screaming, going nuts in here. Instantly put some pads on, ran through our front door, broke the windshield, it was awesome.”
Johnston was only joking about the windshield, but the son of longtime NFL strength coach Kent Johnston gave an enormous boost to the final day of a draft in which the Rams addressed several needs on their depleted roster.
DEEP GETS DEEPER
The Rams made a surprising choice with their highest pick of the final day, grabbing Purdue tight end Brycen Hopkins in the fourth round.
The Rams already have three tight ends who have played extensively in an offense that hasn't always used a tight end as a major target. Tyler Higbee had a spectacular second half of the season as a pass catcher last fall, while Gerald Everett remains a favorite target of Jared Goff, even if his numbers haven’t lived up to his second-round expectations.
McVay clearly has big plans for tight ends in the fall after having so much success with Higbee last season, and Hopkins' size and ability were too enticing to pass up. The Rams are also thinking beyond the end of the upcoming season, when Everett's rookie contract will be up.
“We really like our tight end room right now, but we had him highly rated,” Snead said of Hopkins. “We felt like he could come in and carve out a role early, but also later. We didn't have to make that pick, but sometimes when you make those types of picks, there's an element of drafting in a microscope, but also with a telescope.”
The Rams grabbed Miami of Ohio kicker Sam Sloman in the seventh round, adding a third name to the competition to replace longtime incumbent Greg Zuerlein.
The 5-foot-8, 205-pound Sloman excelled at McVay's alma mater, and he was grateful to land with a team that will have a real competition for the job.
“It just meant the world,” Sloman said. “I’m excited for the opportunity to come in and compete for a wide-open job.”
The Rams didn’t draft an offensive lineman until the back of the seventh round, choosing Clemson guard Tremayne Anchrum. While Anchrum has a shot to contribute, Los Angeles is confident in roughly eight linemen already in the building, even after last year’s injury-plagued struggles.
“We’ve been adding young players for two or three years” on the line, Snead said. “Fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of them got to play last year. They came and performed well, and then the guys they replaced are getting healthier. We felt confident that if we continue grooming and developing these young players, they’ll have a chance to become a very solid offensive line.”
Los Angeles selected Ohio State safety Jordan Fuller in the sixth round after being surprised to see the former Buckeyes captain still available. Fuller, who led the Buckeyes in tackles last year, has connections to the Los Angeles area through his uncle, comedian Sinbad, who lives in Chatsworth. His brother, Devin Fuller, starred at UCLA.
Fuller is up for any role with the Rams, even on special teams.
“What I’ve been asked to do is play more in the back end, but I do enjoy being a run stopper as well,” he said. “I consider myself very versatile, so really plug me in anywhere and I’ll get the job done.”
-- By Greg Beacham, AP
ARIZONA: Cardinals beef up defense, add protection for Murray
The Arizona Cardinals focused on two major needs in the NFL draft: Improving a defense that was among the league's worst last season and protecting young franchise quarterback Kyler Murray.
On Saturday, the Cardinals selected two defensive linemen in the fourth round — Utah's Leki Fotu and LSU's Rashard Lawrence — and California linebacker Evan Weaver in the sixth round. In the seventh round with their final pick, they added Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin.
The four players join Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, the No. 8 overall selection, and Houston offensive tackle Josh Jones, who was picked in the third round. Both players slid to the Cardinals after being projected to go earlier.
“In the time I've been doing this, I really do feel the board fell to us this year as good as it's ever fallen," Arizona GM Steve Keim said. "In terms of guys that we really, really liked and valued for what we do and for our organizational needs.”
The one player expected to make an immediate impact is Simmons, who many consider the ideal defender in today's NFL. The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder is listed as a linebacker but lined up just about everywhere during his college days, including edge rusher and in the secondary. He could have a similar role with the Cardinals.
“I’m not really opposed to honing in on one position and mastering that, but I’m also very, very open to being able to move around and play a similar role I did at Clemson,” Simmons said.
Many mock drafts had Simmons being picked in the top five, and Keim had him high on his board.
“I’m not going to give you the number but he was top five,” Keim said. “I truly feel like he is one of the best players in this draft and a guy who is going to have a tremendous pro career.”
The Cardinals also felt like they got a steal by adding Jones with the No. 72 overall pick. Keim mentioned he had the lineman ranked in his top 30 and was “shocked” he was still available so late.
Benjamin was rated higher than a seventh-round selection by most draft prognosticators. He ran for at least 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons for the Sun Devils.
The Cardinals didn't have a second-round pick after dealing the selection to the Houston Texans in March. Arizona is pretty happy about what it got in return, though: The pick was part of the deal that brought three-time All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the desert.
Hopkins has been one of the most productive and durable receivers in the NFL over the past seven years and has at least 1,000 yards receiving in five of the past six years.
Arizona also didn't have a fifth-round pick but got a good return for sending it to the Miami Dolphins last fall. That deal brought running back Kenyan Drake to the Cardinals.
Arizona felt comfortable selecting Jones to help their offensive line because of some good connections. Kingsbury recruited Jones when he was the coach at Texas Tech and Jones played in college at Houston for Dana Holgorsen, who is one of Kingsbury's mentors.
There was also a close connection to Lawrence. LSU's receivers coach Mickey Joseph is the brother of Cardinals' defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, so the Cardinals felt confident about the information they received.
RUGBY TO FOOTBALL
Fotu has imposing size at 6-foot-5 and 330 pounds and gives the Cardinals an interior defensive lineman to groom as an eventual replacement for veteran Corey Peters. Fotu has the reputation as an elite run stopper who is still developing a pass rush.
Fotu was a standout rugby player and was good enough to play for the U.S. junior national team before switching to football full-time.
Lawrence already has some good memories in the desert. He had the self-described best game of his career as a junior in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl, a two-sack performance that earned him MVP honors.
Lawrence was a three-time captain at LSU and returned for his senior season, helping the Tigers win the national championship in January.
-- By David Brandt, AP