General Manager John Lynch & Head Coach Kyle Shanahan Press Conference
GM John Lynch & Head Coach Kyle Shanahan
Press Conference – April 29, 2023
San Francisco 49ers
John Lynch: “So, six picks, busy day, really good day and open it up to questions.”
I guess the one thing you look at this, you guys did not take an offensive lineman. So, what does that tell us?
Kyle Shanahan: “There wasn’t one there that would fit. We would love to take an O-lineman, but it just, the draft didn’t work out that way.”
JL: “Yeah, I think even in the first round, in a year that was very limited, especially at the tackle position, a lot of them went early. There was a huge run early that affected, it starts at the top and it’s a trickle down or up, or whatever you call it, effect and that happened. So, we weren’t going to take one just to take one.”
You said on Monday that you were open to trading Denver Broncos OT Mike McGlinchey last year, which suggests that you were fine with whatever you had last year as a starter, probably OL Colton McKivitz. So, is this a vote of confidence for Colton McKivitz as well?
JL: “Very much so. We believe in Colton. I’ll let Kyle talk a little bit about Colton as a player, but Colton, the Gold Helmet is a hard standard up there. We give it to very few people. Colton was one of those when he came out of West Virginia. I think when he got here, we didn’t necessarily see that all the time, because he was shy. It kind of, it took him a little while, but I think over time, as his confidence grew, you started to see all those traits and qualities, the spirit as we call it, really start to show. And then, Colton’s sneaky talented as well and we like him a lot as a player. Kyle, you can go ahead and talk about him.”
KS: “Yeah, I mean just getting an O-lineman to start in this league is really tough, especially how different playing in the league is than college, and the lack of preparation we get with how OTAs are this year, how much shorter training camp is, but you can win with Colton. He’s been her for a while. When he has played we have won games with him. He did a hell of a job last year, or two years ago getting into the playoffs when he had to start unexpectedly against the Rams in Week 17 I think. But I look at Colton very similar to how [C] Jake [Brendel] was last year. We felt very good about Jake, but you never know until they get out there a ton, and you look in the draft to add depth and you always want to if there’s someone’s there that falls in that you think can beat out your starter, that’s really a good pick, but it’s not easy to find a guy, a pick 99 or later that can beat out Colton McKivitz, just like you don’t just find anyone for Jake Brendel last year. So, when you have guys who’ve played and you practice with a lot, and you have an idea about them, I get how not everyone else knows about them as much, because they haven’t seen them, but I mean we were going to that draft hoping to find depth and hoping to find some competition, but to go into that draft and think you’re going to find someone to start over someone like Colton, or as good as Colton can be and has been, would be very unusual.”
JL: “Yeah, the thing I’d add, big shout out to [Director of Pro Personnel] R.J. Gillen and his staff. You go get a guy like [OT] Matt Pryor who’s started games and played at a high-level last year. Wasn’t as good, whatever happened in Indy [Indianapolis], I think their O-line struggled as a whole. They moved him over to the left side. He didn’t play as well, but we think Matt Pryor’s a guy who’s shown he can play. So, that gives you at least whoever we draft better be able to beat him out and we didn’t see that happening.”
KS: “And that’s the hardest thing too. In order, not just to play. You talk about Colton, because you know him, but Matt Pryor we brought in free agency who we liked two years ago too, and then you’ve got Jalen Moore who’s been our swing tackle for a couple years, has played in games. So, it’s not only finding someone who can have a chance to compete with a starter, which we feel we’ve brought in some vets to do that, but if they can’t compete with a starter they have to beat out those vets to make the team, and when you look at a draft and when you look at O-linemen, and you’re sitting there and your first pick’s at 99 all the way down. We’re not just talking about who can come start at a position. We’re talking about who do we think can make the team, and you compare that to every single position. We believe the kicker for sure could, that’s probably why it was the pick there, and you see the safety. We’d love to get depth at every position and we can at every position, but we also got a good team that does have some depth and our first goal is that we hope that these draft picks can make our team, which isn’t easy to do.”
One of the defensive lineman you drafted was Robert Beal Jr., a defensive end, so what do you see out of him and how does he fit in?
JL: “Beal’s a really, really gifted athlete. You rely a lot on relationships in this thing and [University of Georgia Head Coach] Kirby Smart’s been good to us. He’s got a lot of players. Kirby was a safety and we kind of bonded over that, but Kirby said someone’s going to get a really gifted and talented player if they just let this guy go hunt QBs and set edges, and when he said that, that’s exactly what we do. He’s not really good at going back and all that stuff. He could do it but what Kirby said really resonated, or I saw the same thing. He ran a 4.47 [40-yard dash]. So, he adds speed. He’s in the 6’3” range but he’s got 34 and 35-inch [arm length] so he’s got that length you look for.”
JL: “That’s right. Our analytics, let’s see if anyone can guess. We have a, I tell our analytics guys all the time, [Research & Development Manager Matt] Ploenzke and his group, go watch the coaches. Get in there and let’s come up with measurables that are what we coach, and GTFO is something [Defensive Line Coach] Kris Kocurek is always screaming. Do you guys know what it is? Yeah, so he had the highest GTFO grade in the draft. So, we’re really fired up about that.”
It’s hard to get an offensive lineman from college transitioned and ready to start in the NFL. Why is it harder for an offensive lineman than a defensive lineman to have those guys hit the ground running?
KS: “Because, just like receivers, just like running backs and D-lineman, you’re rotating. You can put guys that just have a certain skillset, put them in in that situation and that situation only. An O-lineman, show me someone who rotates. You’re out there 70 plays. That’s also why the guy with the best highlight tape is not the guy that you go get. If it’s the highlight tape and the whole game, yes, but an O-lineman is different. You’ve got to be built to last. You don’t have to be flashy. You’ve got to make sure you can survive that game and not be the reason that we lost, and if you can have a guy who can dominate, someone like [T] Trent Williams, it’s still only so much you can do there. Where, the D-ends, these pass rushers, they might not be able to play the run, they might not be able to do something, but you can put them in in a 2-minute situation and have them win a game for you. So, that’s why you can win with D-lineman by a group of them. O-line, how good do those five play together and one goes down, and the next one comes in. How does that adjust your five and how they play together?”
Can I ask about the GTFO. How do you assess that, is it the first guy who’s off the line of scrimmage, do you look at the 10-yard split, I mean–?
KS: “That’s what we look at as coaches, but analytics I have no clue how they do that stuff. They know like—.”
JL: “It’s within the first two-yards is what we’re measuring, and they’ve come up with a way to measure that and Beal’s right at the top of it, so that’s something. We’re always talking about getting length and explosion out of that stance, and Beal’s a guy that kind of embodies that. The other unique thing that you get from Beal, and I think it really helps on game day, we dress a lot of D-lineman. He’s a guy who can help you a lot in Special Teams as well, because he can really run and he’s really good in space. So, kind of a unique ability. When you get a D-lineman that can do that it’s an added bonus.”
RB Christian McCaffrey’s contract is that just to have–?
JL: “It just gives us some room. We were pressed right up there when we were to sign our rookies. We could have done it, but we would have been right there, and we wanted to have some flexibility and it made sense. Christian’s going to be here, simple conversion, and we did it and we’re thankful to Christian for agreeing to do it. Good thing for him. Good thing for us.”
Moving forward, signings don’t count against the compensation formula, right, after the draft?
JL: “Yeah, that’s correct.”
So, does that give you some thoughts on free agency that you might not have considered before?
JL: “We’re working on Undrafted Free Agency right now. We’ve got a lot of numbers on our roster. Had a healthy draft. Our numbers were pretty good. We’ll see where it’s at after this. This is always kind of nerve wracking because we’re down here and they’re up there filling out that class, but we’ve got it pretty slotted. We’ll see. We’re never going to stop looking for players that can help, and it’s just a lot of the slots are filled and where they aren’t we’ll go add it to it if we need to.”
What is exciting to you about WR Ronnie Bell?
KS: “That he went to Michigan. [Laughs] Just how consistent of a football player he is. I believe he was a captain and a coach’s son. Not that that means much, but he plays like you want that to be like. He was just so consistent. A special teams player and a good returner. He did really everything they asked. He was very good in his routes. There was not one thing that he struggled with. When you can put him into a group, and whatever his skillset is, I think he can fit into any position and he seemed like one of the more reliable wideouts that we watched in all of college football. We want guys to be good over time and I feel like he’s a guy who has been as good of a football player as there is in college. We have to see how he adjusts at this level but if he can play at this level the way that he did in college, we’re going to have a really good football player.”
JL: “I think not the biggest package, but real tough, physical and gritty player with the ball in his hands. He made a lot of big plays in big moments. The return ability is a big thing. We had [WR] Ray-Ray [McCloud] and behind Ray-Ray we didn’t really have anyone. BA [WR Brandon Aiyuk] has done it before but we wanted another returner. Really, he made it just on those traits. He’s a guy that, the more we watched, the more we liked. He did it at the right times, too. Ronnie was a great addition.”
What did you like about TE Brayden Willis that made you want to take a second tight end?
JL: “Really that we had him ranked really high. Everybody always says this, but we had him at the end of the fifth-round grade. When he was still around, it made a lot of sense. He’s got a lot of versatility to his game. He’s a guy who kind of embodies what we like in terms of, after the ball is in his hands, he can do some special things. He can play some tight end, play some fullback. He is a nice tool to move around and made a lot of big plays for Oklahoma. He’s a former quarterback and real smart, cerebral kid. You can put a lot on him. When he was still there it just made sense for us.”
I think last night you referred to S Ji’Ayir Brown potentially being a succession player for S Tashaun Gipson Sr. like S Talanoa Hufanga was for former 49ers S Jaquiski Tartt. You’ve had other guys like that. OL Aaron Banks did that, DL Drake Jackson will be doing it this year. When you get guys at this point who aren’t going to necessarily start right away, how can that year help set them up for that future succession?
KS: “I think it is really good when you have someone like Gip there to watch. Someone who has done it for a while, who has done it and succeeded in this league when his skillset was at the top of his game and as he’s gotten older, you’ve seen nothing change. Gip, with the pro he is, when you can sit and watch that it really helps you learn how to play. When you look at Banks, O-Line is a little tougher because there’s not many other places to do it. So you sit there and you want them in case there is an injury, but you’re just kind of hoping they can develop, learn the game and practice for the next year. When you take a guy like a safety, who you believe does have that capability, hopefully it pushes the whole group this year. That way everyone has to be on and take it to another level. We do want to be better than we were last year. We’re never going to say that we just brought in a guy to make them the next guy once people leave. I’m also not trying to threaten people either. We didn’t bring in Banks to take [former 49ers OL] Laken’s [Tomlinson] job but he could have if he was ready to. I look at that at every single position. If they are better, we are going to play the best guy. I think that’s really hard to do when you have someone like Laken that year, or someone like Gip, but when you have a safety there is still so much more value. You can have three safeties on the field at once. Safeties are always up, you need a guy to play special teams. You usually have four safeties up per game, two are playing and those other two are your special teams demons, but just on one injury, they have to know how to play safety, too. When you look at a guy like [S] George Odum, I think he’s one of the best special teams players in the league who also can help us at safety. Now we are bringing in another guy who we all think can be a starting safety in this league as soon as that makes sense for the Niners. In the meantime, we think he can be a difference-maker in all the other parts too.”
When you have drafted guys in the later rounds like you were this weekend, are you under the understanding that they might not start, they might just try to make the team? Do you look for different things in those guys that might be developable over that course of a year to eventually become that?
KS: “Yeah, you do. When you get to the later round picks, sometimes you want the guy with the most traits, just a guy to develop. I’ve been in the league a long time and it’s hard to develop guys with the way things are structured. There are only so many practice squad spots, there are only so many people on a roster and there are only so many people up on gameday. That’s what’s tough when you take some real talented guys early because those guys aren’t ready to play. I’ve been in places where, regardless, you have to play them right away because of their draft status. Then they come out and they look really bad and they’re not. You want to stash them away a little bit so they can practice and develop. Unfortunately, in this league, we don’t have 100 guys on the team like you might in college. There are certain rules to that. You have to weigh all that in. You think, ‘man, I would love to work with this guy. He’s got it in him but he looks so far away. How are we going to be able to stash him?’ Can you keep him on practice squad? No, he’s got to be your third tight end. Well, we use our third tight end so it’s going to be a big problem come Week Two if someone is hurt. You look into all that stuff and that’s why there isn’t any absolute answer. Sometimes we will go for the most upside and guy to develop, and sometimes you just want the best football player you can count on. The higher you go, you hope it fits all.”
LB Dee Winters says he has been watching LB Fred Warner for years because he is a former safety and he was looking for someone who went that route. Warner told us he came here as a positionless player. Do you see some of those traits in Dee?
JL: “I think his linebacker coach did. Johnny Holland was a huge Dee Winters fan. We trust Johnny’s eye a lot. Our scouts like Dee Winters a lot. We had a really nice discussion. We ended up with [LB] Jalen Graham and the reason we drafted him when we already had a linebacker was because we were torn between Dee Winters and Jalen Graham. Ultimately, Dee Winters beat him out. When Jalen is still there at the end, you go get Jalen Graham. We liked them both. Dee kind of fits who we are. He is a player who drew some comparisons. Comparisons are dangerous because you have to go do it, but he has similar traits to [LB] Dre Greenlaw. A similar suddenness to his game. I had the advantage. TCU was a heavily scouted school by me, selfishly, because my daughter Lilly goes to school there. I got to be there on three different occasions this year and anyone who I would talk to would talk about Dee Winters as being a real leader on that team. He’s another captain and the unequivocal leader for that defense and the voice of that defense. That carried weight as well and ultimately, we felt like Dee was just a guy we needed to bring in. We’re really excited to take him.”
What’s the thinking and plan at the number four quarterback, which could be the number three quarterback for a big chunk of the offseason? Is it that one of the positions they are working on upstairs right now?
KS: “Yeah, they are looking to fill everything with the free agents. We’d love to get a fourth guy here. We’ll see which one it is. We’ll be alright, though, in the offseason. We’ll get to training camp. Hopefully we’ll get [QB] Brock [Purdy] back soon. Regardless, we’d love a fourth guy here. You never know how much we end up doing in the OTAs sessions, but it has been good having two guys out there throwing. They have been on their own. We’ll start with everybody tomorrow where we can actually go out on the field with them as coaches. Hopefully when it’s said and done, we’ll have a fourth guy.”
QB Trey Lance is completely cleared to practice?
JL: “Yeah. He’s been out there throwing and doing everything.”
Do you have an agreement with an undrafted quarterback?
KS: “Not when we came down here.”
JL: “Not when we left.”
KS: “That’s what these guys do for the next couple hours.”