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Why Aaron Lynch is the 49ers’ breakout player this season

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Yeah, I know he showed up allegedly between 20 and 30 pounds overweight at the start of this offseason.

Yes, I know about the four-game suspension last year.

I am also aware of the high ankle sprain he sustained after he came back from that suspension that cost him five more games.

What I'm trying to tell you is that all of those things actually helped me make the decision to select Aaron Lynch to be the 49ers’ breakout player this year.

But let's back up for a second so we can agree that Lynch is talented as hell and richly blessed when it comes to his rare combination of stature and athleticism. The dude is 6'6 and, currently at least, back down to his normal playing weight of around 270 pounds. For a man that size he moves like a damn cheetah. He's quick off the ball and sudden with his lateral quickness. He is also a natural pass rusher. He flips his hips and slides off of blocks so effortlessly that sometimes it looks like he isn't even going hard, then blam!, he's knocking your quarterback on his ass.

Whenever Lynch's name comes up, however, I am reminded of his college strength coach taking a big fat dump on him after he was drafted, basically calling him out for not going hard. Not gonna lie, it did make me wonder if Lynch would have effort issues on the next level.

In spite of the uproar after the strength coach's comments and subsequent firing, Lynch was just able to notch six sacks in his rookie season in only three starts.

That's all.

Then after he was elevated to starter in 2015, Lynch was able to come home with 6.5 more sacks. Truth be told, after his production his first two seasons, he was due to breakout last season.

But then came the suspension. And then came the high ankle sprain.

And so instead of breaking out, Lynch ended up having his worst season statistically by far. He evidently followed his disappointing season up by trying to eat his feelings this offseason.

But — this is what is most important — Lynch was able to bounce back and lose that weight before training camp started. Now he looks damn good around his normal playing weight. Fortunately for Lynch, with the change in coaching staff, the team is moving him to defensive end in a 4-3 where he can focus more on getting to the passer rather than dropping as he had to do from time to time as a 3-4 outside linebacker.

I know you have to take preseason games with a grain of salt, but judging by his performance against the Chiefs, this change will suit Lynch just fine. And I'm talking about how he played more than just his impressive stat line.

Yes, Lynch getting the quarterback on the ground twice was great, but he did it so efficiently. That's what was so impressive to me. Lynch was just dripping in confidence out there and I could tell he expected to beat those offensive linemen. He knew they were't good enough to block him and he treated them as such.

That level of confidence matched up with a guy with that much talent can be a beautiful thing. I know most of the focus will be on the young guns on the defensive front, first-round picks like Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, and Solomon Thomas. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Lynch ends up being the one who leads the team in sacks this season.

I kind of expect it.

It might be a year late, but Lynch is going to have his jump in production this season. He's in shape, his technique is sharp, and his athletic ability is still very obvious. That should equal to one hell of a year. That's why I picked Aaron Lynch as the 49ers’ breakout player.