49ers' final two are contrasting GM candidates

49ers' final two are contrasting GM candidates

The 49ers’ general manager search has narrowed to two known candidates who spent the week leading up to their second interviews with the organization in entirely different ways.

Arizona vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough was scouting for the upcoming NFL Draft at the Senior Bowl. Minnesota assistant general manager George Paton remained in the office and was not in Mobile, Alabama, according to multiple NFL sources.

CEO Jed York and 49ers chief strategy officer Paraag Marathe had an informal dinner on Friday night with presumptive 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and Paton in the Atlanta area. After an evening of getting more acquainted, the conversation was expected to turn to business on Saturday morning.

After the 49ers and Shanahan wrap up with Paton, the men are scheduled to meet with McDonough.

A source said this week that there is a "good chance" the 49ers' next general manager will be chosen from two known finalists but "it's not a lock."

There is plenty for all sides to discuss on Saturday. A league source told CSNBayArea.com that Shanahan has not insisted on complete control over the 49ers’ roster but he wants to ensure a relationship with the general manager in which both men are collaborating on all personnel decisions.

Paton is well-regarded around the league and has turned down opportunities in the past to interview for GM positions with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. He is also one of six individuals to interview for the Indianapolis Colts job after owner Jim Irsay fired general manager Ryan Grigson last week.

Paton is rarely seen on the scouting circuit, according to league sources. His primary responsibilities while working under Vikings general manager Rick Spielman – they have also worked together previously with Chicago and Miami – has been in the office working on the pro personnel side.

League sources who have spoken with CSNBayArea.com since the beginning of the general manager search are not certain Paton will accept the 49ers’ job, if he is offered that opportunity.

League sources have described McDonough as “fiery,” “opinionated,” and “passionate.”

A Cardinals source on Saturday told CSNBayArea.com that general manager Steve Keim has relied heavily on McDonough for his opinions in free agency and the draft over the four years they have worked together in Arizona.

The source said McDonough is fearless in his evaluations and helped uncover such small-school prospects as running back David Johnson (2015, third round, Northern Iowa), wide receiver John Brown (2014, third round, Pittsburg State) and defensive lineman Rodney Gunter (2015, fourth round, Delaware State).

McDonough has not been involved in contract negotiations, which has been Marathe's responsibility for most of his 16 years with the organization. During the season, McDonough typically hits the road Tuesday through Thursday to evaluate the nation's top college prospects.

“That’s his No. 1 asset,” the source said.

The 49ers currently own 10 draft picks, in addition to one expected compensatory selection. The 49ers, coming off a 2-14 season, own the No. 2 selection in each round. York announced the firings of coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke hours after the final game of the season.

Wednesday, Jan. 4

Buffalo interim head coach Anthony Lynn (hired, L.A. Chargers)

Thursday, Jan. 5
Green Bay director of football operations Eliot Wolf (withdrew)
Green Bay director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst (withdrew)

Friday, Jan. 6
Minnesota assistant general manager George Paton (finalist)
Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (presumptive coach)

Saturday, Jan. 7
New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (withdrew)

Sunday, Jan. 8
Indianapolis vice president of football operations Jimmy Raye III (eliminated after first round)

Monday, Jan. 9
Washington offensive coordinator Sean McVay (hired, L.A. Rams)
Carolina assistant general manager Brandon Beane (eliminated after first round)

Tuesday, Jan. 10
Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott (hired, Buffalo)
ESPN analyst Louis Riddick (eliminated after first round)

Friday, Jan. 13
Arizona vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough (finalist)

Sunday, Jan. 15
Seattle offensive line/assistant head coach Tom Cable (withdrew)

Monday, Jan. 16
Seattle co-director of player personnel Scott Fitterer (eliminated after first round)
Seattle co-director of player personnel Trent Kirchner (withdrew)

Friday, Jan. 27


Saturday, Jan. 28

Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in


Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in

The 49ers concluded the first wave of the free-agent signing period with the signings of players to fill the team’s biggest offseason needs.

--Cornerback. Aqib Talib would have been the answer in a trade with the Denver Broncos, but he wanted to play elsewhere. Instead, the 49ers signed veteran Richard Sherman, whom the Seattle Seahawks cut a day earlier.

--Interior offensive line. Center Weston Richburg was the player the team had rated as their top target in free agency, and they signed him to a lucrative five-year deal.

--Running back. The team decided Jerick McKinnon was a better fit than Carlos Hyde. They wrapped him up with a four-year contract.

--Edge rusher. Lacking many options in free agency, the 49ers signed Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year contract in hopes he will earn a spot on the team and make a contribution at the “Leo” position.

The 49ers can still use more help at a number of different positions, including cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and edge rusher. While the 49ers might add some role players in the second wave of free agency, most of the major acquisitions at this point are likely to come in the draft.

On the 49ers Insider Podcast, 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters addressed what positions he believes are strong in this year’s draft.

“I think running backs, absolutely. It’s a deep position,” Peters said. “Quarterbacks at the top is deeper than it was last year. Secondary, corners, it’s not deeper than it was last year, but it’s a strong class of corners. Those are the main ones. The offensive line class is a little better than last year, too.”

The 49ers got major contributions from their rookie class last season. Tight end George Kittle, receiver Trent Taylor, quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back Matt Breida, defensive lineman Solomom Thomas, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Adrian Colbert each played more than 300 snaps.

The 49ers feel good about Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, as a starter with Sherman on the other side. Peters said a lot of the team’s rookies played larger roles than expected in 2017, but Witherspoon might have been at the top of the list.

“I don’t think he was active for the first four games,” Peters said of Witherspoon. “And he ended up playing at a high level at the end. Really driven, conscientious player who wants to be great. 

"We were lucky we got a chance to play a lot of rookies because that’ll help us moving forward.”

Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense


Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense

The player Kyle Shanahan studied on video was a lot better than the player he saw on the stat sheet.

The 49ers coach said he places a lot more emphasis on how he projects a player in his offense than what the player did with his former team.

And that is why the 49ers placed a large priority on signing former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnonon the first day of the free-agent signing period. McKinnon comes to the 49ers on a four-year, $30 million contract with $11.7 million guaranteed.

McKinnon's stats might not suggest he is anywhere near a top running back in the NFL, but Shanahan sees it differently. And that is why the 49ers opted to pursue McKinnon instead of Carlos Hyde.

“I don’t know the numbers until I like the guy,” Shanahan said. “I always watch the guy first, and turn on the tape and get lost in it for a while. There were so many things I liked about him, visualizing how we would use him and stuff he would do. And even though there wasn’t a ton of it, you still got to see him do some stuff that we do a lot. Where he did it, he excelled a ton and was very good at it.

“Eventually, I look at the numbers and it did surprise me. Then you go back and you try to see why. I’m not going to get into all the whys, but I know all the stuff we liked about him, we cut up those numbers. I think they would’ve been good numbers.”

In four NFL seasons as a part-time player, McKinnon (5-9, 205), averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. The past two years, he gained 539 and 570 yards with rushing averages of just 3.4 and 3.8 yards.

Hyde (6-foot, 230) is a bigger back with more production in his career. He rushed for 988 and 938 yards in 2016 and ’17 with averages of 4.6 and 3.9 yards.

Shanahan said he looked at every player who was available, and McKinnon was the player he evaluated to be the best of all the free agents. Shanahan has long valued running backs who are versatile in the run and pass games with an ability to make defenders miss.

“A good run is when you get more yards than what it was blocked for,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes, runs are blocked for negative 1 (yard) and the best run in the game was a 1-yard carry.

“Sometimes the one that most people could do is a 60-yarder because it was a busted coverage or a busted front and nobody was there. Numbers do tell stuff, but it’s never an absolute."

The 49ers signed McKinnon to be the starting running back with Matt Breida likely mixing into the action. The 49ers could also be in the market to add to the competition and depth through the draft.

Shanahan is likely to deploy multiple players, just as he did successfully with Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. McKinnon is expected to take Freeman’s role. In each of Shanahan’s two seasons as Falcons offensive coordinator, Freeman accounted for more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 1,056 and 1,079 yards while catching 578 and 462 yards in passes.

“I’m just excited to be in the offense that I feel is a perfect fit for me,” McKinnon said on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

“Things that coach Shanahan has done with the backs like he did in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, I see myself doing those kinds of things. For me, I feel like the scheme is right. The fit was just perfect for me. I feel like I can’t be in a better situation as a player.”

Shanahan said he liked McKinnon as a draft prospect in 2014 out of Georgia Southern but it was more difficult to evaluate him because he mostly played quarterback in college.

But in studying McKinnon while with the Vikings, he saw a runner who has speed and elusiveness while also exhibiting the strength to break arm tackles. He set the record at the NFL Scouting Combine for running backs with 32 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press in 2014. But McKinnon's best asset might be his ability to be a factor in the passing game in blitz pickup, while also being a dependable receiver out of the backfield or in the slot.

“When it comes to separating and beating linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage, I definitely think he’s an issue for teams,” Shanahan said. “I think this league, when it comes to third downs and things like that, you move the chains based off of matchups, which allows you to get points in the long run. I think Jerick is very versatile and we can do a lot of things with him.

“He’s good enough to make it as a runner alone in this league. He’s good enough to make it in the pass game as just a third down threat alone, but when you can do both of those, it gives you a lot of freedom as a coach.”