The 49ers faced a tough decision early on in the 2020 NFL Draft, but general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan aced the test.
With Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw both on the board, the 49ers had to decide which option would most benefit their team. The 49ers drafted Kinlaw, with a deciding factor being they had another receiver tied with Lamb atop their board in Brandon Aiyuk, and hoped they might be able to find a way to nab the Arizona State product later in the first round.
Lynch explained to NBC Sports' Peter King how much they loved both receivers.
"He and CeeDee, at the end of the day, we had almost evenly matched," Lynch said on "The Peter King Podcast.." "It was hard not to take CeeDee because he had so much more production in college and in high school. He was one of the most prolific high school players in Texas history. But Aiyuk is a guy that just the more we watched, the more fond we grew of him."
Lamb was viewed by many analysts as the top wide receiver in a loaded class, with his YAC ability, good hands and elite body control making him an ideal fit for almost any offense. While Lamb might have been the YAC king, Aiyuk was no stranger to forcing missed tackles. The 6-foot receiver averaged 10.9 yards after the catch and has an 81-inch wingspan.
His college coach Herm Edwards invoked jerry Rice when discussing Aiyuk's football speed, and Lynch admitted the 49ers even thought about taking Aiyuk at No. 13 if they couldn't trade down.
"I think it was two days before, I said to Kyle, 'You know what? I know people might raise some eyebrows, but I really don't care. At 13, if we get stuck, and we can't trade out, I'd be perfectly happy taking Aiyuk.' And he said, 'I'm so glad you said that because I feel the same way.'"
The 49ers made the right decision in opting to select Kinlaw over Lamb at No. 14 after their trade down with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While there's no doubt Lamb would have been a monster in Shanahan's system, the 49ers know football still is won in the trenches. After trading DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts in the offseason, they needed to plug the massive hole they had in a defensive line that led their charge to Super Bowl LIV.
Adding Kinlaw, a raw, powerful defensive tackle with a sky-high ceiling allows the 49ers to extend their championship window. The combination of Kinlaw, Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead upfront should wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Drafting Lamb, or even Aiyuk at No. 13 or 14 after the trade down, would have put the 49ers in a less than ideal position. Missing out on Kinlaw would have forced the 49ers to either reach for a defensive tackle from the next tier at No. 31, or trade down and pick a player who might not be able to contribute as much immediately as Kinlaw is expected to.
The 49ers got lucky that the Philadelphia Eagles passed on Justin Jefferson at No. 21. Philly taking Jalen Reagor meant the Minnesota Vikings could snap up Jefferson and it sent the 49ers scrambling to move from No. 31 to draft Aiyuk before the Green Bay Packers could do so.
In the end, the 49ers were able to add the second-best defensive line prospect in the class and the wide receiver they had at the top of their board in Aiyuk.
Aiyuk should thrive in Shanahan's system. Per PFF, Aiyuk ranked 241 out of 241 receiving prospects in average depth of target and still racked up 1,192 yards. Shanahan will be able to get him the ball in space, and Aiyuk can handle the rest.
The 49ers played the draft perfectly and were able to add pieces who can contribute to another Super Bowl run in 2020 and also be long-term franchise building blocks.
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