49ers' quarterback search heats up at NFL combine

49ers' quarterback search heats up at NFL combine

INDIANAPOLIS – The 49ers met Friday night with North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as part of the organization’s quest to eventually fill their depth chart.

The 49ers also had scheduled 15-minute formal interviews this week with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech.

The opinions of the quarterbacks appear to span all ranges, according to scouts and coaches at the NFL Scouting Combine. There was some buzz gaining momentum that Trubisky could be in serious consideration for the Cleveland Browns and 49ers with the top two picks in the draft.

One of the top concerns with Trubisky is his lack of experience. He was a starter for just one season. Yet, one NFC scout told CSNBayArea.com that he showed he can make all the throws and stand fearlessly in the pocket.

When it comes to throwing the ball, Trubisky had ample opportunity to show what he can do. Trubisky started 13 games – all in his final season – and completed 386 of 572 pass attempts for 4,762 yards with 41 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

In comparison, Tom Brady completed 395 of 638 passes for 4,773 yards with 30 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his four-year career at Michigan from 1996 to ’99.

“They’re not even really grilling me on that really, they’re just trying to get to know me and pick my brain and see how well that I know football, and what kind of system I ran at North Carolina,” Trubisky said. “I don’t think that’s a big concern from the teams that I’ve talked to so far. They could tell I know the game very well. They’re impressed with my tape and I’m just trying to show them what kind of person I am and just stay confident and get ready for the rest of this process.

“I've studied the game. I'm a student of the game and I've seen a lot of defenses, and I think that's going to help me. And just my abilities, I feel like I'm in a really good spot right now to take my game to the next level, and I feel really confident."

General manager John Lynch said Thursday that Kizer “blew the doors off” of his interview with the 49ers the previous night. But his final season did not go as planned, with the Fighting Irish staggering to a 4-8 record.

Kizer completed just 58.7 percent of his pass attempts with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

“I’m pretty comfortable in opening up and expressing who I am as a guy and how I plan on going about this process,” Kizer said. “They’ve had a lot of questions about last season and how a guy who has the size and has the arm strength goes and becomes 4-8. I responded in the way I thought was the honest truth. From what I understand, they (the 49ers) were pretty impressed with that.”

Watson is the most decorated of the quarterback prospects after playing on the big stage and leading Clemson to a win in the national championship game over Alabama.

Watson completed 67.4 percent of his passes throughout his three-year career. But while throwing 90 touchdown passes the past two season, Watson was also intercepted an alarming 30 times over that stretch.

“I understand that was going to come and it happens,” Watson said of interceptions. “It’s something that they obviously are going to poke holes. If I were in their shoes, I would poke holes, too.

“I take full responsibility in all of that. Sometimes you just have bad luck. Sometimes the defense makes a good play. Sometimes I make a bad throw. One, two or three, maybe it was a bad decision, but it’s a learning lesson. I’ve learned from those mistakes and I’ve corrected those and [I’m] going to move on from it.

“The biggest question that I’ve heard from different coaches was if I can change a protection, run the offense and recognize defensive coverages. Every team I went to asked me those questions. I handled it well, answered the questions and they were very impressed. They know that I’m not just some other quarterback that’s running a spread offense. That [I’m a] guy that can operate, make good decisions and recognize what the defense is doing and be successful doing it.”

After Colin Kaepernick officially opted out of his contract on Friday, the 49ers have no quarterback on the roster under contract for the upcoming season. While there's a lot of work that needs to be done, it's not completely a bad thing, Lynch said.

"That also is somewhat liberating in that you can create this thing in that position that is so critical in the way that you want it," Lynch said.

While the quarterbacks took center stage at the combine, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported of a potential three-way trade in which the 49ers could end up with Kirk Cousins. In such a scenario, Washington would acquire Tony Romo and Dallas would collect draft picks.

Pro Football Talk reported sources with direct knowledge of the situation “scoffed” at the idea, with one source describing the report as “conjecture.”

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.”