SANTA CLARA – JaCorey Shepherd, a sixth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago, was on pace to be the team’s main nickel back as a rookie.
After tearing his ACL in training camp, he never suited up for the Eagles. However, Shepherd is now playing for the man who drafted him.
After 49ers nickel back Chris Davis sustained a torn ACL in Week 4, Chip Kelly made the call to Shepherd, whom the Eagles had released from their practice squad two weeks earlier.
“It was probably one of the most-happy days of my life when he called,” Shepherd said.
Said Kelly, “He was on track to become a starter for us and we thought very, very highly of him when we were there and then all of a sudden when we lost Chris Davis and they’re talking about nickels available out there. When that name, one of the first names that came up and said I had experience with him. I think we jumped at the chance.”
Shepherd said it meant a lot to him for Kelly to want to bring him to the 49ers.
“It showed, for one, he was paying attention and keeping an eye on me, even though he wasn’t there,” Shepherd said. “It was a lot of loyalty to me. Bringing me in, drafting me, tearing my ACL, I was still around. He made sure I stayed in-tune.”
Shepherd returned kicks his final two years at Kansas. He began his college career as a wide receiver, catching 15 passes 252 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman before being converted to defensive back.
“I played offense pretty much my whole life until I moved to corner in college,” Shepherd said. “Getting the ball in my hands and what I do when I get the ball in my hands is not surprising to me. I was doing it before I switched positions.”
Shepherd made his first impact with the 49ers on Sunday as a kick returner. He averaged 34.7 yards on three kickoff returns in the 49ers’ 41-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
“I thought he’d be a great fit,” Kelly said. “You love his makeup, you love his approach to the game. Very smart, very intelligent football player. We felt like we got a really good player and I think he’s starting to show that from a special-teams standpoint and as we get him integrated in the secondary.
“The kick-return stuff, we knew he did in college, but we had Darren Sproles and a couple other guys. So we weren’t really using him as a kick returner in Philly. That’s kind of a bonus I think. But it certainly was very productive for us this past Sunday.”