NFL Draft 2020: Why 49ers added starters to fill need in first round

NFL Draft 2020: Why 49ers added starters to fill need in first round

The depth at the wide receiver position, coupled with the lack of top-flight talent at defensive tackle, helped the 49ers execute their strategy for the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night.

The draft was known to be deep at wide receiver, so there would not be a steep decline in talent at the position if the 49ers sat out the first run of receivers.

In the 10 picks after the 49ers selected South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw at No. 14 overall, four receivers were selected. One was Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb, whom 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan gave high marks in his draft evaluation.

But another receiver Shanahan coveted remained untouched. And that prompted the 49ers to move up six spots to select Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk -- a player the 49ers said they would have considered with their first selection if Kinlaw had not been available. The 49ers traded with the Minnesota Vikings to take Aiyuk at No. 25.

“He was my favorite receiver I evaluated,” Shanahan said Thursday. “There is no doubt on that. CeeDee Lamb was a hell of a player who can make a lot of plays. … And so, that was the guy who was competition with him. But, in terms of the receiver and just all the positions and developed, this guy was there from the first time we watched him.”

There were no other defensive tackle prospects whom the 49ers figured could come close to approaching what DeForest Buckner gave them over four seasons before he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 13 overall pick. The Carolina Panthers selected Derrick Brown at No. 7 overall. Then, the 49ers traded back one spot and still got Kinlaw.

The only issue with Kinlaw (6-foot-5, 324 pounds) is concern over knee tendinitis that prevented him from working out at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

“I was down there at the Senior Bowl,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday. “He went and absolutely decimated folks down there, and then got out after a couple of days. And apparently the knee did flare up.

“Our guys did as extensive of a medical check as they could have. We got to the point where we were comfortable there. And we liked the player so much. It's a guy who missed one game in college and played at an incredibly high level. We just think he's a tremendous fit.”

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So if the 49ers passed on Kinlaw at No. 14 to select the next defensive tackle later in the first round, whom might they have chosen?

The NFL will have to wait for that answer at some point on Friday night because there were no other defensive tackles who teams deemed worthy of being first-round draft picks.

The way the 49ers played the draft on Thursday enabled them to get two players at positions of need who were high on their draft boards. Kinlaw and Aiyuk are expected to be starters as rookies, effectively replacing Buckner and veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who signed with New Orleans as a free agent.

“We added two guys that without a doubt are starting-caliber players who will make our team better, who are going to be contributors on their first contracts and for a long time,” Shanahan said. “And that'll really help us in free agency next year. That'll really help us in the draft next year, and it'll really help the 2021 49ers.”

The variety of the wide receiver class worked to the 49ers’ benefit, too.

Lynch made the observation at the combine that there were wide receivers who provided all kinds of different options.

“You can kind of get whatever flavor you want,” Lynch said two months ago.

Aiyuk does not possess the speed of Henry Ruggs or the nuanced route-running of Jerry Jeudy or the slot expertise of Justin Jefferson. But what Aiyuk has to offer is exactly what Shanahan wanted – versatility to do everything and the desire to do it all at a high level.

“He has on tape that he can run every single route and he can do it outside the numbers and he can do it inside the numbers,” Shanahan said.

[RELATED49ers still actively seeking trade for Goodwin, Lynch says]

Shanahan compared Aiyuk to the best-case scenario for Dante Pettis, who was selected in the second round of the 2018 draft due to his versatility. But Aiyuk appears to play with a greater sense of urgency and is comfortable catching the ball in the teeth of a defense.

“He's got the speed to get on top,” Shanahan said of Aiyuk. “He's got the quickness to play in the slot. He's got the toughness to go over in the middle. And the guy is just completely committed to me in to being as good as God ever intended him to be.”

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

There currently are 32 NFL franchises, and for the vast majority of us, at no point during our lives will we have any chance of owning one of them.

But, forget reality. What if you were able to purchase a team? Who would you hire as head coach?

Fox Sports' Colin Cowherd gave his answer to that question Wednesday, but first established the five criteria by which he would form his list of the top 10 coaches he'd want to lead his franchise. They were:

1. Age does not matter 
2. Easy to work with 
3. The less controversy, the better 
4. Innovative thinker 
5. Relates to players

Based on those criteria, Cowherd landed on 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan as his top choice (h/t 49ers Web Zone).

"I know he has had a couple of Super Bowl moments you don't love," Cowherd explained Wednesday on "The Herd," "but I think San Francisco was right. I think he's intense. I think he has got the lineage from his dad (Mike Shanahan). I think he has a system, but he is nimble enough to manipulate the system and listen to (general manager) John Lynch and others. I think he's obsessively driven, which is probably most of these guys.

"But if I start my franchise today, I get the (experience from his) dad, I get him, I get playoff experience, and I also think he has got a chip on his shoulder because he thinks he should have won that Super Bowl last year. And he thinks he should have won that Atlanta Super Bowl against New England when he was the [offensive coordinator]."

Though the 49ers don't have new owners, they clearly share similar feelings about Shanahan, having just recently signed him to a six-year contract extension. He led San Francisco to a nine-win improvement this past season, and already has made it clear the expectation is to get back to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.

[RELATED: Bryant Young knows 49ers in good hands with Shanahan, Lynch]

Should the 49ers accomplish that goal -- and prove victorious in Super Bowl LV -- what few criticisms there are of Shanahan no longer would be valid.

For reference, here is Cowherd's full list:

1. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
2. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills 
3. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles 
4. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams 
5. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens 
6. Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears 
7. Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins 
8. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma Sooners 
9. Urban Meyer, formerly Ohio State Buckeyes 
10. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

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NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

The elephant in the room at this point of the 49ers' offseason is the absence of a contract extension for standout tight end George Kittle. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal which will pay him $2.1 million, and is due to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the upcoming season.

After cementing himself as the best tight end in all of football over the last two seasons, Kittle's inevitable extension has long been expected to reset the market at the position. Austin Hooper currently averages the highest annual salary of any tight end after signing a four-year, $42 million contract with the Cleveland Browns in free agency earlier this offseason.

Estimates for what Kittle could average on his next contract have ranged as high as $20 million per season, but the real number likely is somewhere between there and Hooper's annual rate due to the expected drop in league revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Athletic's Matt Barrows reported Wednesday that someone "in the know" told him that Kittle ultimately would get a contract extension averaging $13 million per season.

That's a far cry from $20 million, but as Barrows noted, it still would make Kittle the highest-paid tight end by a fairly wide margin. Though Kittle probably is worth more than that, the salary-cap uncertainty caused by COVID-19 likely will rule out the possibility of a market-shattering contract. The unprecedented situation could result in a creative deal.

[RELATED: Report: NFL preseason halved; 49ers-Raiders game remains]

The Athletic's David Lombardi recently suggested that it might make sense for Kittle and the 49ers to come to an agreement on a contract that is partially tied to the size of the salary cap moving forward. 

"The 49ers can offer Kittle a guaranteed base annual salary or signing bonus before using a percentage-of-the-cap scale on top of that to pay him commensurate to cap increases in future years, when the NFL’s revenue outlook should be rosier," Lombardi wrote. "That's just an idea. But since this is uncharted territory, creative contract structures cannot be ruled out -- especially if they help break a potentially problematic impasse."

Creativity aside, if an agreement can't be reached on a contract extension, the 49ers would still have the ability to apply the franchise tag to Kittle -- which would pay him the average of the top five tight-end salaries -- for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. That option obviously wouldn't provide Kittle with the long-term security he likely desires, but there's ample motivation on both sides to get a deal done for San Francisco's most indispensable offensive player.

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