Kyle Shanahan has never hidden the admiration he has for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
The two worked together for two seasons with the Redskins in 2012 and 2013, when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and Cousins was the backup to Robert Griffin III.
In his third year as the San Francisco 49ers head coach, Shanahan's squad is facing the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, led by third-year quarterback and reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes. Shanahan had the opportunity to draft Mahomes in 2017, his first draft as the helm in San Francisco.
So, why did Shanahan pass on Mahomes? Enter Cousins.
"It's pretty well documented the relationship I had with Kirk," Shanahan said. "Just being in Washington and everything, I felt confident he wasn't going to stay there."
It was expected that Shanahan's 49ers would be making a run at signing Cousins the following offseason before they traded for Jimmy Garoppolo at the 2017 trade deadline. Garoppolo won all five of his starts in 2017, and the 49ers signed him to a five-year extension the following offseason.
Cousins, who spent his final two years in Washington playing under the franchise tag, departed from the nation's capital to Minnesota, where he signed a three-year, $84 million fully-guaranteed deal with the Vikings.
"Any time you go into a season and know a franchise quarterback is going to be available the next year, it made me a lot more picky with what we were looking at," Shanahan said.
The 49ers decided to trade back with the Chicago Bears (who traded up to No. 2 to select UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky), and San Francisco ended up selecting defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. San Francisco took Iowa signal-caller C.J. Beathard in the third round, and he competed with veteran Brian Hoyer for the 49ers starting job in 2017.
Shanahan expanded on his decision to pass on Mahomes, emphasizing the difficulty in scouting college quarterbacks in certain systems. Mahomes' system under Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech was named the "Air Raid' due to the high-volume of passes.
"There were a bunch of talented guys in that draft," Shanahan said. "But it's very tough when you watch college systems and stuff, you don't really know until you get somebody in the building.
"You can see ability. You can see talent," he continued. "But how's the mind? How's the play in the pocket? How do they process? That's not just an IQ score. That's stuff that I don't think you can totally test."
The 2017 draft wasn't just Shanahan's first with the 49ers, it was his first draft as a head coach, ever. Thomas was a highly-rated prospect and was a relatively safe pick.
Looking back, it makes sense that the rookie head coach did not want to take a risk on a rookie quarterback, especially if he felt the team had a good chance at landing Cousins, someone he was familiar with.
But San Francisco ended up sticking with Garoppolo, and now the 49ers are 60 minutes away from their sixth Super Bowl title.
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