49ers Mailbag: Who joins QBs Hoyer and Barkley, and when?

49ers Mailbag: Who joins QBs Hoyer and Barkley, and when?

On the first two days of the new league year, the 49ers last week went from experiencing the “liberating” feeling of no quarterbacks on the roster to signing Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley.

With all due respect to Hoyer, whom the 49ers had targeted as their top quarterback on the free-agent market, he is not expected to be the long-term answer.

“I’m sitting here going into my ninth year with a great chance to be the quarterback for this team and that’s all I’m looking for,” said Hoyer, who signed a two-year, $12 million contract. “I think you go out and prove it every day. And that’s not just on Sundays. It’s coming in here and being a leader in the locker room.”

So as we kick off this edition of 49ers Mailbag, we look at the two-most likely options for the organization to add a potential franchise quarterback to eventually usurp Hoyer.

Who do you think we draft at #2 right now?‬ (Tiny Martinez)

What are the chances Cousins plays for the Niners next year?‬ (Jon Sekulic)

These questions are related, but not necessarily mutually exclusive.

There is nothing preventing the 49ers from, say, drafting Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick and, then, acquiring Kirk Cousins for the 2018 season.

But that’s a large investment of a top draft pick for a player whose ceiling is being a backup (unless forced into action due to injury).

Ultimately, it comes down to what Kyle Shanahan thinks of Trubisky or any of the other quarterbacks available in this draft. Trubisky appears to be the quarterback whose skills and ability to stand in the pocket mesh best with Shanahan’s vision for the position.

Do not dismiss Trubisky as a legitimate option at No. 2. Heck, do not dismiss Trubisky as a legitimate option at No. 1 for the Cleveland Browns, either.

If the Browns make the surprising play to go with Trubisky at No. 1, the 49ers’ move is easy. They need a pass-rusher, and Myles Garrett would be the clear choice.

But if the Browns go with Garrett, as expected, at No. 1, then the 49ers have no clear route to follow. If Shanahan falls in love with Trubisky, Deshaun Watson or DeShone Kizer, then it’s easy. If he does not see the value, the 49ers’ next-best option would be to find a partner with which to trade.

But in order to make a trade, there has to be a team that identifies a player they need and are willing to pay the price to move up to No. 2. ‬

Could we see Brock get released, and do you think Brooks has another season of decent productivity in him? (Emerson Senden)

I think there’s a better chance of the 49ers trying to sign Tramaine Brock to a multi-year extension than the possibility of them releasing him. Right now, I’d envision Brock and Rashard Robinson as the 49ers’ starting cornerbacks.

Of course, this is before the draft. It remains a possibility the 49ers select a cornerback with one of their top two picks, which would create more depth and competition for roster spots and playing time.

The cornerback group of Brock, Robinson, Keith Reaser, Will Redmond, Dontae Johnson, K’Waun Williams and others gives new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh some options. The cupboard is not bare.

Meanwhile, if the 49ers had no plans for Ahmad Brooks, he would already be gone – like Torrey Smith, Antoine Bethea and Marcus Martin. The problem is the 49ers do not have many better options.

The 49ers must improve their pass rush. Brooks and Aaron Lynch remain as their two-best options. There should be some opportunities in the draft to add some talent who can help out the aforementioned cornerbacks.

What are we going to do about the O-line?‬ (Theodore Tee Jay Carter)

Not a whole lot, it seems.


“I think one of the encouraging things, I think offensive lines are tough to build in this league, and you turn on the film and there’s a lot of exciting things to see with an offensive line,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said.

Shanahan might not have shared the same opinion about the 49ers’ offensive line at the beginning of his film study of the team he inherited. But there are indications the more Shanahan watched that unit from last season, the more he liked what he saw.

Carlos Hyde averaged 4.6 yards per rushing attempt. There probably was not another NFL-caliber running back on the roster. And Colin Kaepernick was sacked 36 times (with 331 pass attempts). The 49ers’ decision-makers pinned at least in part of the high sack total on Kaepernick's reluctance to get rid of the ball quick enough -- whether through indecisiveness or the receivers' inability to get open in a timely fashion.

Right now, the 49ers feel good about an offensive line that features tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown, guards Zane Beadles and Joshua Garnett, and center Daniel Kilgore.

While the organization would seem to remain interested in adding at this position, it did not appear Lynch felt a sense of urgency to go strong after any free agents who might break into the starting lineup.

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.”