The San Francisco 49ers started the day with the 13th and 31st picks in Round One of the 2020 NFL Draft. With some solid wheeling and dealing, they moved around to picks 14 and 25, drafting DT Javon Kinlaw and WR Brandon Aiyuk, respectively, getting the men they wanted for the jobs.
Earlier this week, 49ers’ General Manager John Lynch talked about finding a foundational player, someone like DL DeForest Buckner, who the 49ers traded to the Indianapolis Colts earlier this year.
“As to the number of foundational players, it’s difficult because there’s certain guys that you’re prepared if they were to fall, but as we anticipate, I would say about six guys, and I would still say we’re going through Kyle and myself now,” Lynch said. Lynch confirmed that both Kinlaw and Aiyuk were among the six.
In Kinlaw, they have their replacement on the D-line for Buckner, and in Aiyuk, they replace WR Emmanuel Sanders, who they lost to the New Orleans Saints in free agency.
“…[W]e added two guys here today that without a doubt are starting caliber players who will make our team better, who are going to be contributors on their first contracts for a long time,” Shanahan said in Zoom call with the media. “And that’ll really help us in free agency next year. That’ll really help us in the draft next year and they’ll really help the 2021 49ers. So, that’s what we’re just pumped about because it was tough, but that’s what we had to do to get to the Super Bowl last year.”
The “tough” Shanahan is referring to is that, as of now, the 49ers won’t pick again until the fifth-round, due to trades to get DE Dee Ford and Sanders (who they traded for midseason).
The 49ers first-round trades were as follows: they sent their 13th pick and a seventh-round pick (245) to Tampa Bay for the 14th pick and the 117th pick (fourth-round). They then went from 31 to 25, sending the Minnesota Vikings their 31, 117 and 176 (fifth-round) picks.
So, let’s take a look at the two newest members of the red and gold.
South Carolina’s Kinlaw joins Arik Armstead, Dee Ford and Nick Bosa on the 49ers’ defensive line.
“I think they might’ve been the best defensive line in football last year,” Kinlaw said. “I’m not just saying that. The way they play, they play the right way. I feel like they play the way the game is supposed to be played.”
Although he has battled knee tendinitis, which kept him out of workouts at the NFL Combine, Kinlaw says, “My knee is healed 100%. There’s no issues.”
John Lynch echoed that, telling the media that the 49ers’ medical staff was able to look at Kinlaw’s knee at the Senior Bowl and he was cleared.
The 49ers have used their first pick on a defensive lineman in five of the last six years, with Lynch and Shanahan doing so in three of their four drafts. With Shanahan being so offensive-minded, it is a strong statement on what is needed to win in the NFL.
“I’m always down to go defensive lineman if the right guy is there,” Shanahan said. “…[A]sk my high school friends, when we did Madden and we drafted our own guys, like this is back in ’97 or whatever, my first pick was always [former NFL DL Michael] Strahan and there’s was always like [former NFL WR] Randy Moss. I always built it. I always wanted to do D-Line and I think that’s what we’ve done here. And I think John feels the same way. You ask John why was why he was on one of the best defenses in the history of the NFL? Yeah, they had a hall of fame safety, a hall of fame corner in [former NFL CB] Tiki [Barber] and a linebacker in [former NFL LB] Derrick Brooks, but it was because of the D-Line and I think we both firmly believed that…
I love calling plays and running an offense for a team that’s more talented than everyone offensively. I mean, that’s really fun and I felt like that’s where we were at in Atlanta. You know, it’s a lot easier to call offensive plays for what we had in Weeks 1-8 last year where our defense was 100-percent healthy and dominated everyone and I felt like that was the easiest I’ve ever had to call a game offensively. And if we can keep our defense that way and still gradually build our offense, that was the goal of John and I talking before we got here…”
Kinlaw is 6’5″, 324 lbs., with career stats of 82 tackles, 10 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
When the 49ers picked at 14, top-rated receivers CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy were available, but as you saw above, that pick had defense written all over it. Fast forward to later in the first round, and the Niners got the receiver they wanted in Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk.
“…I’m so excited to have a guy like that because I think we can use him anyway we want,” Shanahan said. “And I think he’s capable of doing everything from an athletic standpoint. And I think he has the mentality from a toughness standpoint in terms of the contact of the game…This guy wants to be great. I want someone like that. And I think he has the tools to be great. I think he has the mindset to be great and I promise you schematically we’re going to give him every chance to do that…[H]e was my favorite receiver I evaluated. There is no doubt on that. [Dallas Cowboys WR] CeeDee Lamb was hell of a player who can make a lot of plays. I mean, I always keep it pretty real with you guys. 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.”
Plus, it was kind of written in the stars. Aiyuk’s mom is a big 49ers fan (smart woman) and Aiyuk went to Sierra College from 2016-2017, and yes, that’s the same Sierra College where the 49ers held training camp from 1981-1997.
In Aiyuk, the 49ers not only get a Sanders-like receiver, but they also get a guy who excels in yards after the catch, a quality that Shanahan loves. In his senior year at Arizona State, Aiyuk, who is a former running back, had 65 catches for 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns. Aiyuk’s average YAC? 10.9 yards, breaking 14 tackles, per Pro Football Focus.
“I take a lot of pride in my yards after the catch,” Aiyuk said. “Early on at Arizona State, I didn’t get a lot of touches and one of my coaches told me that when you do get the ball, just go score a touchdown. So I kind of just have that mentality that every time I touch the football. I want to go score a touchdown.”
This is a thought process 49ers fans can get behind.
The Draft continues today at 7 pm EST/4 pm EST with the second and third rounds. As mentioned above, as of now, the 49ers next pick will be in the fifth-round at 156. Their other remaining picks are at 210 (sixth-round) and 217 (seventh-round).