How Kyle Juszczyk helped recruit Jerick McKinnon to the 49ers


How Kyle Juszczyk helped recruit Jerick McKinnon to the 49ers

SANTA CLARA – After facing some midseason criticism for not necessarily living up to the advance billing as the 49ers’ O.W., Kyle Juszczyk finished the season strong and added another huge contribution to the organization in March.

Juszczyk was the 49ers’ only Pro Bowl selection last season. And the coaches voted him as the winner of the Bill Walsh Award, which goes to the player who best represents the standard of professional excellence established by the Hall-of-Fame coach.

The fullback determined the 49ers needed another O.W. – another “offensive weapon,” as general manager John Lynch first labeled Juszczyk – and he scanned the list of available free agents as he tried to figure out how the organization would replace running back Carlos Hyde.

He zeroed in on Jerick McKinnon, who had been used mostly as a third-down back during his four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

“Once I pretty much figured out that Carlos wasn’t going to be coming back, I knew we were in the market for a running back and Jerick looked exactly like the kind of guy we needed here,” Juszczyk said on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

Juszczyk saw a player, in McKinnon, who could make plays on his own with the ball in his hands, whether he was running or receiving. So Juszczyk sent McKinnon a text, first explaining who he was and why this seemingly random text was not random at all.

It went something like this:

Hey, man, this is Kyle Juszczyk. I’m the 49ers fullback, and I know how free agency goes. I just went through the same thing last year. I think you would fit perfectly here. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me and I’ll answer everything honestly and just give you a feel for what it’s like here.

McKinnon responded and began a dialogue with the man who would become his lead-blocker.

Juszczyk said he reached out to McKinnon on his own – just following a hunch. Then, McKinnon later told him the 49ers, indeed, were interested. And when Juszczyk contacted a member or two of the 49ers’ coaching staff, he was told to keep pushing.

Juszczyk had gone through free agency the previous offseason. He signed a four-year, $21 million contract with the 49ers on the first day of the signing period. The day after he verbally agreed to terms with the 49ers, the New York Jets offered him more money, he said. Still, there were some that questioned the size of the deal. And after a slow statistical start, Juszczyk finished with 33 receptions for 315 yards in 14 games.

McKinnon also drew intense interest from the Jets. He ended up following Juszczyk’s path and signed a four-year, $30 million deal with the 49ers. It's only natural the 49ers and Jets have similar ideals in the running game. Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and offensive line coach Rick Dennison come from Mike Shanahan’s coaching tree. When Kyle Shanahan landed McKinnon, he got his guy.

“I don’t know if I knew he was going to be the top-paid running back in the market that year, but I figured he’d be a guy that we’d be interested in,” Juszczyk said.

Juszczyk said his interaction with McKinnon during the process only confirmed his belief that he would fit in perfectly with the 49ers.

“Great guy – the dude works his absolute tail off,” Juszczyk said. “I remember in the recruiting process, I texted him, and he said, ‘Hey, I’m in-between workouts right now. Let me hit you up after my second workout.’ Just that, right there, let me know what kind of guy he was.”

Deebo Samuel's insane catch in 49ers' win had Nate Burleson going nuts

Deebo Samuel's insane catch in 49ers' win had Nate Burleson going nuts

If 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel's incredible circus catch against the Cardinals on Sunday caused you to go crazy, you're not the only one.

Former NFL wide receiver and current NFL Network analyst Nate Burleson highlighted the catch in this week's edition of "Toe Drag Swag," and to say that 11-year veteran was impressed with the rookie was an understatement.

"Now this one is nasty," Burleson said. "Deebo Samuel. Don't forget about him. He goes up and gets this. It bounces off of the back pad, bounces off the helmet of [Patrick] Peterson and then he tracks the ball. Deebo Samuel is snatching footballs like the real Deebo in 'Friday' was snatching chains.

"But how 'bout that concentration, though? You're trying to catch it over the back of one of the best corners in the business. It bounces off his back, it bounces off his head and then you still have the awareness to get your feet down before you go out of bounds."

In case you need a refresher, here are a few slo-mo replays.

Burleson went on to shower the 2019 second-round pick with praise.

"Deebo Samuel, for a young player who is transitioning from position to position, has stepped up and is one the best targets that Jimmy Garoppolo has on this offense," Burleson said. "Look at this play again. Keeping his eyes on the ball the whole time, in between two defenders, and still gets his feet down for one of the best catches in the business."

[RELATED: Samuel makes history vs. Cardinals]

After catching 22 passes for 227 yards over the first seven games he played in this season, Samuel has broken out with 16 receptions for 246 yards combined the last two weeks. Garoppolo targeted the rookie wide receiver a total of 21 times against the Seahawks and Cardinals.

Samuel is starting to make a believer out of everyone, including Burleson.

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Why 49ers' Jeff Wilson enjoyed celebrating game-winning TD vs. Cardinals

Why 49ers' Jeff Wilson enjoyed celebrating game-winning TD vs. Cardinals

Jeff Wilson has done a lot with a little bit of playing time this season.

The 49ers running back has scored five touchdowns in seven games in 2019, finding the end zone on 10 percent of the offensive snaps in which he has lined up. His latest TD was the winning one in San Francisco's 36-26 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Levi's Stadium.

It came on Wilson's lone offensive snap of the day, and he celebrated appropriately.

"It was just like all the pain I ever felt, all the mistakes I ever made, all the good times I ever had, just all that came out and went," Wilson told KNBR's "Papa & Lund" show Tuesday (H/T 49ers Webzone). "This game meant a lot to me. Obviously, just not playing the whole game, just to get one play, and then the play, you get in and score, and it's for a big moment for the game, it was just all so surreal to me."

[RELATED: How Packers, 49ers gave LaFleur bros 'win-win' situation]

The 49ers got by with a little help from their depth in Week 11, as backup tight end Ross Dwelley hauled in a pair of touchdowns in place of George Kittle and rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel played on more offensive snaps than anyone else at a skill position. Kittle and running back Matt Breida returning likely would push Dwelley and Wilson, respectively, down the depth chart for San Francisco's Sunday night matchup with the 8-2 Green Bay Packers.

If Wilson manages to get another scoring opportunity, the 49ers know they can trust him to deliver in a big moment and be ready to celebrate.