Kyle Shanahan

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.”

NFL coaches live the life of praise players in public, purge in private


NFL coaches live the life of praise players in public, purge in private

Jon Gruden’s arrival made Marshawn Lynch expendable.
Oh, sure this will be listed on Doug Martin’s legacy, as his new deal with the Oakland Raiders makes Lynch a likely early casualty in the Gruden Part Deux Era, but just as Jack Del Rio was hired by Mark Davis as a sop to the fan base he was planning to abandon, so too was Lynch, and finally Gruden.
And this just unchecks a thrice-checked box. Lynch as a face of the franchise was Mark Davis’ idea, he was one of the faces of a 6-10 team, and Gruden as the new face of the franchise has other ideas about whose face has the force of law.
At least that’s one superficial and probably misleading read from Martin’s signing, as the now-former Tampa Bay running back basically takes Lynch’s spot on Gruden’s first roster. It is a football decision (Martin may still have more tread), it is a cultural decision (Gruden isn’t all that warm or fuzzy with the employees) and it’s a new boss decision (Gruden wants his guys, not someone else’s).
But it also reminds us that coaches are liars unless forced into the truth, and when Gruden lauded Lynch a month ago, veteran observers could hear his fingers crossing themselves. After all, the rule of thumb for any public figure who isn’t either crazy or narcisstic is always “praise in public, purge in private,” and people who know Gruden well couldn’t see him nuzzling up to Lynch only to discipline him later for all the things he was allowed to do under Del Rio.
The same logic is being applied to the attraction for Jordy Nelson as a replacement for Michael Crabtree – well, except the mileage part. Gruden is recreating the Raiders in his image, which not only puts an interesting ellipsis on his own resume but puts all but a few players from the old regime (or regimes) in danger of being relocated.
And while we’re at it, the same is true for Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, who watched center Daniel Kilgore get a new deal last month and traded to Miami this month – giving a fresh interpretation to the notion of being day-to-day. In the NFL, everyone is, right up to the door of the owner’s suite.
Whether the Martin signing is a good idea or not remains to be determined, of course, because the future has an odd way of not obeying the needs of the present, and March’s good idea can become October’s mistake. But Gruden reminded us yet again that coaches aren’t to be taken seriously when they say something in public because they don’t regard anything they say as binding. Every answer is simply a placeholder until it has to be changed, and that’s a valuable lesson for us to remember the next time we think a coach is leveling with us on anything. They live in an autocorrect world, and when it comes to taking them at their word, we should remember that.

After filling needs on first day, here's what to expect from 49ers this offseason

After filling needs on first day, here's what to expect from 49ers this offseason

The first day of free agency is over, and the 49ers have made all of their expected big moves to fill holes at positions of need.

Cornerback Richard Sherman takes over at the position where the 49ers did not have a second starter. Weston Richburg was signed to strengthen the interior of the offensive line. And the 49ers signed versatile and explosive running back Jerick McKinnon, whom coach Kyle Shanahan deemed as a better fit for his system than Cleveland-bound Carlos Hyde.

Now what?

Jimmy Garoppolo
C.J. Beathard
Nick Mullens
Now what? The 49ers are set at this position for the next three seasons. But that should not prevent them from looking at the rookie class every year to determine if there’s a late-round draft pick or priority free agent worth adding to the mix.

Jerick McKinnon
Kyle Juszczyk (FB)
Matt Breida
Raheem Mostert
Malcolm Johnson (FB)
Joe Williams
Jeremy McNichols
Now what? Hyde is out, and McKinnon is in. The 49ers identified McKinnon as the player they want in their system, and then they went out and got him. McKinnon is the 49ers’ version of Devonta Freeman, who accounted for 1,500 yards from scrimmage (1,079 rushing; 462 receiving) in Shanahan’s offense in 2016 with the Atlanta Falcons. Breida showed a lot of promise during his rookie season and, right now, figures to get mixed into the action regularly. Mostert has a role on special teams. Williams is immensely talented, but unless he shows he’s ready to put in the work to be a pro, he is on the outside looking in. The 49ers should invest a mid-round draft pick on one of the many talented running backs in the draft, too.

Pierre Garçon
Marquise Goodwin
Trent Taylor
Kendrick Bourne
Aldrick Robinson
Victor Bolden
Max McCaffrey
Aaron Burbridge
DeAndre Carter
Now what? The 49ers feel good with this collection of receivers and were never even tempted to enter the bidding for the top free agents, such as Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins. As much as they might have liked Robinson, who is coming off a season lost to an ACL tear, they did not believe he was worth the money he received. Perhaps, the 49ers sign a veteran role player, but there is no urgency to get that done. If the 49ers add a player who sticks, it would likely come during the draft. That way, the team could fully develop a young player -- probably a big-bodied guy -- without feeling the need to rush him onto the field to be a first-year contributor.

George Kittle
Garrett Celek
Cole Hikutini
Cole Wick
Now what? The tandem of Kittle and Celek played well last season, especially toward the end of the season. Both Shanahan and Lynch mentioned recently the need for Kittle to remain healthy. The 49ers could use some help here, especially when it comes to a big tight end who can be deployed in situations where they need another blocker.

Joe Staley
Trent Brown
Weston Richburg
Laken Tomlinson
Daniel Kilgore
Garry Gilliam
Erik Magnuson
Joshua Garnett
Zane Beadles
Darrell Williams
Pace Murphy
Andrew Lauderdale
Now what? The 49ers have not tipped their hand, yet, about where they envision Richburg playing. He is currently listed as a center/guard. He has not played guard since his rookie season, so it would figure that center would be the spot for him. The 49ers reached a contract extension with Kilgore in the offseason. He started every game last season at center. (UPDATE: The 49ers tipped their hand, all right. Richburg is the center, and Kilgore was traded to the Miami Dolphins.) The 49ers are likely back in the free-agent market at guard. Staley and Brown are at the tackle spots. Tomlinson enters the offseason as the favorite at left guard. Brandon Fusco, the 16-game starter at right guard, signed with Atlanta on Wednesday. The 49ers are not counting on Garnett, but he will be given a chance to compete. The 49ers should use a draft pick to strengthen the guard position, too.

DeForest Buckner
Solomon Thomas
Earl Mitchell
Arik Armstead
Cassius Marsh
Ronald Blair
D.J. Jones
Sheldon Day
Now what? The 49ers have the makings of a strong unit, but they could certainly use more players in the competition – maybe a veteran or two, as well as multiple first-year players. Tank Carradine remains available on the open market. Carradine believes he can produce a lot of sacks, if given the opportunity. He is on the free-agent market to look for a team that sees things the way he does. Armstead enters the final year of his contract. The 49ers must make a decision by May 3 whether to pick up the non-guaranteed fifth-year option. It is still not obvious where and how he fits into this defense.

Reuben Foster
Malcolm Smith
Eli Harold
Brock Coyle
Pita Taumoepenu
Dekoda Watson
Mark Nzeocha
Elijah Lee
Jimmie Gilbert
Donavin Newsom
Boseko Lokombo
Now what? The next big development with the linebacking corps will rest with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office, which is still mulling its decision whether to pursue criminal charges against Foster. He was arrested last month for alleged domestic violence, threats and possession of an assault weapon. The 49ers re-signed Coyle, who started 10 games last season and is also a core special-teams player. Smith will be healthy after missing last season with a torn pectoral. His loss was a devastating blow for the team after the 49ers made him their big free-agent pickup on defense. The 49ers will give Harold and Taumoepenu auditions to see if they can be third-down pass-rushers, too. The 49ers can be expected to add to this position group in the draft. At No. 9 overall, the 49ers could strongly consider Roquan Smith (Georgia) or Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech). There are few options to help at edge rusher, but Harold Landry (Boston College) is an intriguing possibility in the first round.

Richard Sherman
Ahkello Witherspoon
K’Waun Williams
Greg Mabin
Channing Stribling
Trovon Reed
Now what? If the 49ers add a veteran cornerback at this point, he would likely be a back-end-of-the-roster type. After all, Sherman and Witherspoon are set as the starters. The 49ers will unquestionably draft a cornerback. But where? It could come as early as No. 9 with either Denzel Ward (Ohio State) or Josh Jackson (Iowa) as the main options. One legitimate possibility is for the 49ers to use a mid-round selection on a tall cornerback, such as Quenton Meeks (Stanford), and have him learn from Sherman, the prototype cornerback for this defense.

Jimmie Ward
Jaquiski Tartt
Adrian Colbert
Dexter McCoil
Tyvis Powell
Don Jones
Chancellor James
Now what? There is a lot to like from the group of safeties that includes starter-caliber players Ward, Tartt and Colbert. However, they all got injured last season and must prove they can remain healthy. The 49ers have not pursued bringing back Eric Reid as a free agent because they do not consider him a starter among this group. It is possible if Reid remains available deep into the offseason that he could be brought back on a one-year, prove-it contract.

Robbie Gould (K)
Bradley Pinion (P)
Kyle Nelson (LS)
Jeff Locke (P)
Now what? The 49ers are set with their three specialists. The team also added left-footed punter Locke for the offseason. The 49ers like the idea of having a lefty around the team to get the return men acclimated to the unique look of the ball coming off and spinning in a different direction.