Peter King is one of the most well-known and respected sports journalists in the country, now working on his own at Monday Morning Quarterback. He was given exclusive access for the San Francisco 49ers’ war room on the opening day of the draft, and had a first-hand account of how their first-round selections went down.
It was an interesting affair to say the least, particularly late in the day when they traded back into the first round at 31 with the Seahawks in order to draft Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, whom 49ers new Head coach Kyle Shanahan called “my favorite player in the draft”.
Not that he was the top player on their board. But he was the third. And they struck to get him at 31, causing a scene that King described as “eighty-three bro hugs in the front of the room”, not to mention “shrieks”.
The trade still might have happened, perhaps, had the Pittsburgh Steelers taken Foster one pick earlier, because he was not the only player they were interested in. King’s article features a decent amount of discussion about how high they also were on the player headed to the South Side, Wisconsin outside linebacker T.J. Watt.
“Wisconsin pass-rusher T.J. Watt was of particular interest”, King wrote regarding the team’s morning meeting in which they discussed candidates for their second-round pick, the 34th overall. He noted, as the 49ers did, that “there was a good chance he’d be gone by the end of round one”.
New General Manager John Lynch seemed to be a particularly big fan. “Let’s throw up T.J. real quick and start watching him”, he said at one point, according to King. “Let’s see how passionate we get. I know what I think. Contagious competitiveness. Football passion”.
“Lynch loved him”, King wrote. “It was clear he could be a candidate through a trade late in round one, or at 34”.
Not to say that the 49ers might have selected Watt over Foster in a trade situation if both were available to them. He was, after all, according to them, the third player on their board, and a consideration for the third-overall pick, which they used on Solomon Thomas, who oddly was a classmate of Lynch’s when he went back to Stanford to finish his degree in 2014.
It’s interesting to read, however, how things might have gone differently if the Steelers took Foster, and how the 49ers may very well have taken Watt with the next pick, though it’s possible they may have subsequently chosen to sit tight and see if he would come to them at 34.