San Francisco 49eers head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch spoke to the media Thursday night after the first round to discuss the two draft picks, the strategy behind each, and much more.
Just curious how much action you got on the pick at 13 and what led you to make the decision to just do the one thing there and with DT Javon Kinlaw being the guy, how much, was he one of your six guys, that you mentioned the other day, John?
General Manager John Lynch: “The answer to the latter part of that is yes. Kinlaw was one of those guys. He was actually the first guy on our list that we would’ve taken at 13. In response to how much action, you know, I think we did a lot more and I think the entire league did before the draft because of the potential hitches that could go on with the virtual drafting. And so there was a lot of calling before the draft and the last, in the days leading up and then during that. So, we had a lot of different things going. I think the Tampa thing came about while we were in that pick and we felt like there was a good chance that Kinlaw would be there. If not, you know, a couple of the other players that we really liked at kind of that 13 slot would be there. So, we felt comfortable getting back one spot, gaining a fourth round pick and had a good idea that Javon would still be there and he’s a guy that we had zeroed in on for a while. You know, you go back to when we first built this thing, Kyle and I came together, one of the things that we really believed in is that that’s an equalizer in a football league where everything’s set up for offenses to be successful. One of the ways you can equalize the equation is by to get after and knock down the passer. We built a pretty good unit there and we wanted to keep that strong. We thought he was a great fit for that.”
Just curious about your thoughts on WR Brandon Aiyuk. Given that he didn’t have, you know, he was only a one-year starter, so pretty limited sample, but assuming with him it’s about the physical traits that you covet and could you explain what those traits are that you saw in him?
Head Coach Kyle Shanahan: “Yeah. You know, I mean when I start with receivers, I really don’t know much of their history. I don’t know much of their stats. I just get a list from our scouts and John’s whole team of guys they’ve been studying for a few years. They give you all the guys they think are going to be eligible towards the top and Aiyuk was up there in those top six guys. I think five went today if I’m not mistaken. And there’s going to be a couple more that’ll probably go tomorrow in the first ten. So, there was a good group, but just watching them all and not knowing where they’re going to go, you know, I loved Aiyuk and the first thing you know, not knowing anything about him, I don’t know a lot about college football until I get into these guys, to see him just, you know, they didn’t do everything in their office, but he has on tape that he can run every single route and he can do it outside the numbers and he can do it inside the numbers. He has a certain skillset where I think is similar to [WR] Dante’s [Pettis] in terms of you wouldn’t just peg him at one position. You know, he can do all three. He can play the X, he can play the Z, he can play the F. He’s got the speed to get on top. He’s got the quickness, to play in the slot. He’s got the toughness to go over in the middle. And the guy is just completely committed to me in to being as good as God ever intended him to be. And I know he only has real stats on one year. He was, he went to junior college, he had [New England Patriots WR] N’Keal Harry there last year. So, there’s a lot of things that go into that. That is why he probably wasn’t considered to go before 13 for most people, but just watching him, the guy, what he’s put on tape this year at Arizona state and getting to meet the person, everything he did there, he was more than a viable option there at 13. And the fact that we were able to get him late, I can’t, I feel very fortunate and I’m very happy for the Niners today.”
You currently don’t have any second-day picks. Are you optimistic that you could end up with some and where do things stand on trades, specifically WR Marquise Goodwin?
JL: “Yeah, in response to Marquise, we’re talking with a few teams and we’ll see where that goes tomorrow. Kyle just spoke to the strength of this receiver class and I think that’s, you know, you talk about the many variables holding things up and I think that’s giving people pause, but people see the value in what Marquise brings. He’s an extremely talented player who is a game changer in terms of what he does to defenses. So, there is interest out there, we’ll see where that goes. We’re trying to find a good home for him. As for getting into the second round, we’ve emptied the tank a little there today, but Kyle just alluded to the fact that why we did. I think we never thought there would be a scenario where we could grab Kinlaw, you know, eventually at 14 and then still have an opportunity to get one of those six guys I talked about the other day. You know, for us at 13 he was probably the third guy on our list. And so when he kept coming back there, we said, we ought to start looking to get up and fortunately [Minnesota Vikings general manager] Rick Spielman answered the call and we were able to work something out.”
At what point, John, did you realize that you couldn’t sit at 31 and get the guy you wanted? Was it during that run of wide receivers or was the plan to go up all along?
JL: “Well, you know, in both these situations I want to give a lot of credit, you know, I think this year probably more than ever you’ve got to trust a couple of things. That’s your film, your scouts, your coaches. Kyle will talk about how prepared our coaches were this year. Our Scouts were unbelievable, but [South Carolina head coach] Will Muschamp is a guy that I really grew to know last year and the process with [WR] Deebo Samuel and one thing Kyle and I talked to him, I think we talked to him a couple of days before the draft. We both were just struck I think a couple months later how accurately he just depicted exactly who Deebo was both in his strengths and the limited weaknesses that he had. He was extremely honest, so Will was tremendous. I talked to his junior college coach, with Javon and then [South Carolina defensive line coach] John Scott, their defensive line coach is a guy some of our guys had relationships, so all those guys were huge. With Aiyuk, [Arizona State head coach] Herm Edwards is one of my best friends in life. He was one of my coaches. And so Herm was a tremendous guy to lean on. There was talk throughout the league that Aiyuk was one of the guys getting hot. And I think that’s just because people started just watching the film. And, albeit the one-year starter, what he put on film was extremely impressive and we decided to pounce and we gave up a lot for it and we sure hope it’s worth it, but he’s a guy that we value tremendously.”
KS: “And just for everyone, because this draft was so hard. I mean, no one will ever want to be in a situation where they don’t have a second, third or fourth-round pick. So, why are we in that situation? And we decided last year going into the draft we thought we could get [DL Nick] Bosa and we were like, ‘Man, how nice would it be to have someone else on the other side of Bosa and we spent a second-round pick to get [DL] Dee Ford with that. And that’s what it is this year. And if we feel like we didn’t have Dee Ford, we wouldn’t have been in the Super Bowl. So, we’re happy with that. And then halfway through the year we had some injuries, some things weren’t going exactly as planned at wide out and we were 8-0 or 7-0 or whatever it was. And we realized, man, we do have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. What are we going to need to do that? And we thought at the time it was we need to add a receiver. And that was [WR] Emmanuel Sanders and in order to get that done at that time, which we didn’t plan on it at that time, but we were 8-0 or 7-0 and so we realized it was Emmanuel. In order to do that, we got rid of a three and we swapped a four and five. So that left us without a two, three and four. And that’s not something you ever want to do. But, I do believe those two things are what got us to the Super Bowl. Well I think it would have been, we were close, but it would have been very hard to get over the hump without those two guys. And that’s what has us in this situation this year. And it was real tough to lose [Indianapolis Colts DL DeForest Buckner] DeFo, like as hard as anything, not only with the player but the guy. But DeFo got us and gave us a chance to fix a little bit and to be able to regain some of that. And we had that, we got the 13th pick and it would have been great, John and I talked for the last few months because of how little we have in the second, third and fourth. You know, if we could trade back a little bit and stuff and maybe pick up a third player in the third or fourth round, that would be our goal. But, there’s a few guys who you can’t pass at 13 and Kinlaw was one of those guys. And for Kinlaw to be there at 13 and us to go to 14 and still get him and pick up a fourth rounder, we thought it was unbelievable. But, Aiyuk was one of the guys we were going to do that for if Kinlaw wasn’t there and then to still be there sitting there at 31 and a guy that we would have done it if we had to at 13 is sitting there when we’re at 31 available at 25 and we feel very strongly from our Intel over the last few months there’s no way Aiyuk is getting to 31 and so if we could take our fourth- round pick, which a fourth-round pick on our team is going to be hard to find a fourth-round pick to beat out any of our guys to start. So, to risk that to go up and get a starting receiver with a starting three technique that we already got, it was something we didn’t think was going to be there and we just feel real happy it was. We get what we don’t have this year and that’s something John and I are going to work to never not be in again. But, you know what, if those decisions that put us here helped us last year. We’ll do that every time and that’s what we’re happy about. But, that’s what we’re trying to get out of too. And we added two guys here today that without a doubt are starting caliber players who will make our team better, who are going to be contributors on their first contracts for a long time. And that’ll really help us in free agency next year. That’ll really help us in the draft next year and it’ll really help the 2021 49ers. So, that’s what we’re just pumped about because it was tough, but that’s what we had to do to get to the Super Bowl last year and we feel we did as good as we could right now to redeem that. We’re excited.”
Two quick questions. One about Kinlaw. He reportedly didn’t work at the combine because of knee tendinitis. Can you speak to if there’s any concern there? I’m sure he got checked out at the combine, but the way this offseason is structured was it any different as far as getting medical on him and then with Aiyuk to what you’re saying might he have been your top rated wide receiver in this draft?
JL: “The first question with Javon and his injury at the Senior Bowl, first of all I was down there at the Senior Bowl. He went and absolutely decimated folks down there and then got out after a couple of days. And apparently the knee did flare up. Our guys did, as extensive of a medical check as they could have. We got to the point where we were comfortable there. And we liked the player so much. It’s a guy who missed one game in college and played at an incredibly high level. We just think he’s a tremendous fit. The second part of your question I’m forgetting already.”
As far as the injury? Yeah. Did it make it more difficult just the way this offseason is as far as getting more medical information did you have what you needed?
JL: “No, that was tough. So, typically what happens, they do what they call a recheck for guys who had things at the combine. You’re not able to do those rechecks, but what a lot of agents did was send their guys to independent doctors. Those doctors then distributed letters and their opinions. And so then you leverage your medical staff and your doctors’ relationships with those doctors. And we got to the point where we were comfortable. And that’s where we’re at. As I think the second part of the question, what was the second part of the question?”
Based off what you were saying, was Aiyuk your highest rated wide receiver and if he was in a foundational big six?
JL: “Yeah, he was, he was. Six was from the press conference the other week. I wanted to keep them guessing. He was one of the six though.”
Kyle, you’re obviously an offensive minded guy. You’ve coached offense and yet in three of your first four drafts here, you’ve taken a defensive lineman with your first pick. Is that you look back on that as surprising to you or is that when you were, and John, were first talking about this with a team that’s already invested a lot in a defensive line. Were you thinking, okay, we’re just going to keep going with defensive line, defensive line, defensive line and how important is that to you when you build a team?
KS: “I’m always going, I’m always down to go defensive lineman if the right guy is there. And that’s, I was surprised Kinlaw was there. But, I can promise you, ask my high school friends when we did Madden and we drafted our own guys, like this is back in ‘97 or whatever, my first pick was always [former NFL DL Michael] Strahan and there’s was always like [former NFL WR] Randy Moss. I always built it. I always wanted to do D-Line and I think that’s what we’ve done here. And I think John feels the same way. You ask John why was why he was on one of the best defenses in the history of the NFL? Yeah, they had a hall of fame safety, a hall of fame corner in [former NFL CB] Tiki [Barber] and a linebacker in [former NFL LB] Derrick Brooks, but it was because of the D-Line and I think we both firmly believed that. And I was on a team in Atlanta with I think possibly the best offense in the history of the NFL or at least up there with a few of them and still really tough to win if you don’t have that D-Line and you don’t have that defense. And that’s what we’ve been able, that’s what our goal was to do here since before we came here and I think last year that really showed, and I can’t tell you what it was like for an offensive coach that yeah, I love calling plays and running an offense for a team that’s more talented than everyone offensively. I mean, that’s really fun and I felt like that’s where we were at in Atlanta. You know, it’s a lot easier to call offensive plays for what we had in Weeks 1-8 last year where our defense was 100-percent healthy and dominated everyone and I felt like that was the easiest I’ve ever had to call a game offensively. And if we can keep our defense that way and still gradually build our offense, that was the goal of John and I talking before we got here. Now you’ve got to make sure those guys are there because it’s always bittersweet. I mean, you’re right. I am an offensive coach and all I want are, I mean it’s more fun for me in an offense with offensive playmakers, but nothing’s more fun than having a defense like we had last year. And I think that gives you the best chance to go to the Super Bowl. And I think that’s why John has a Super Bowl ring. I think that’s why a lot of people have been on the top defenses too. And if we have that top defense, I think it’s easier to manufacture it on offense where not many people manufacture a defense. That defense better be more talented than almost everyone they’re going against.”
Is it safe to say Brandon was your top receiver on the board and what, what hole I guess, or what need do you see him filling in your offense among your receiver corps?
KS: “I just, I think when we reached out for Emmanuel and made that trade, we just needed a consistent receiver who could do a little bit of everything, who we didn’t have to only put in on this play or that play who was just a down in a down out receiver. It didn’t matter where you put him and it didn’t matter what the play was and that’s what we got a little bit with Emmanuel when we traded for him and that’s what I think we’re getting with Brandon. There’s not something like, all right, if you use him this way he’ll be really good. I think Brandon would have been great whatever team he went to. And I’m so excited to have a guy like that because I think we can use him anyway we want. And I think he’s capable of doing everything from an athletic standpoint. And I think he has the mentality from a toughest standpoint in terms of the contact of the game and also in terms of this guy is just not happy with today. This guy wants to be great. I want someone like that. And I think he has the tools to be great. I think he has the mindset to be great and I promise you schematically we’re going to give him every chance to do that. And when that’s the case and you have a guy wired that way and you have a system that way, I mean what can hold him back. And I mean there’s always injuries that, you know, you can’t hold into it, but Brandon is being asked if he’s the top guy, he was my favorite receiver I evaluated. There is no doubt on that. [Dallas Cowboys WR] CeeDee Lamb was hell of a player who can make a lot of plays. I mean, I always keep it pretty real with you guys. And so, that was the guy who was competition with him. But in terms of the receiver and just all the positions and developed, this guy was there from the first time we watched him.”