The 49ers liked wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk enough to strongly consider drafting him with the first of two first-round selections in last week's NFL draft, but one team needed to pass on the Arizona State product for San Francisco to pick him with its second.
When the Philadelphia Eagles turned heads and selected former TCU receiver Jalen Reagor with the No. 21 overall pick in the first round, the 49ers swung into action.
"We never had any intention of moving up in this draft," general manager John Lynch told NBC Sports' Mike Tirico on Tuesday's "Lunch Talk Live." "It was all about moving back to accrue some more picks. But when Aiyuk fell past Philly, we started scrambling on the phones, saying here's a guy we might have taken at 13 had Kinlaw not been there and some other things. So we moved up and called [the Minnesota Vikings], and were able to get a deal done."
The 49ers moved back from No. 13 to 14 after trading with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were worried left tackle Tristan Wirfs wouldn't be available at No. 14 due to Joe Staley's then-rumored retirement. San Francisco swapped a seventh-rounder for a fourth, and later traded it along with the No. 31 pick to Minnesota in a package that fetched the No. 25 selection.
Five receivers already had been selected when the 49ers traded up, with the Vikings using the first-rounder they acquired for Stefon Diggs to select former LSU wideout Justin Jefferson with the No. 22 overall pick. Minnesota might not have been as willing to trade back without a receiver it valued in tow, and Philadelphia passing on Jefferson (and Aiyuk) created a window of opportunity for San Francisco.
Coach Kyle Shanahan admitted that Aiyuk and Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb were his favorite receivers in the 2020 class, and Aiyuk being off the board would've changed the outlook of the 49ers' draft almost entirely. It's easy to envision Lynch, Shanahan and Co. trading back from No. 31 to get more picks, likely ending the draft with far more than the four players they ultimately selected.
More picks wouldn't have necessarily made their draft better, as Lynch said before the draft that the 49ers' existing depth would pose a significant challenge for a potential glut of incoming rookies. San Francisco opted against quantity and even used a fifth-round pick to acquire seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams.
Whether that approach ultimately produces quality contributors remains to be seen, but the 49ers' maneuvering to draft Aiyuk wouldn't have been possible without the picks ahead of them falling their way.
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