General Manager John Lynch & Head Coach Kyle Shanahan
General Manager John Lynch & Head Coach Kyle Shanahan
Press Conference – April 28, 2023
San Francisco 49ers
Taking a kicker in the third round, John, as a former safety, was that tough to do?
John Lynch: “It’s not easy, but they’re really important and we’ve had a very good one here in our tenure. I think when you put this much work into making your roster as competitive as we have, you’re going to be in a lot of close games and kickers matter. We knew that we’d be looking this year and our special teams coaches really got out and about and really studied this thing hard. We put a lot of thought into it. When we felt like there was one who separated themselves from the rest, we became very convicted and we were fortunate to have three third round picks. We felt like he was worthy of one and we are happy to have done it.”
Did you have intel that somebody else was close to taking him?
JL: “No, no intel there. The intel that we had was that there’s a lot of teams in the NFL right now who seem to have a need at kicker. I think that there’s a couple good college ones this year, but consensus I think was that this was the guy. So, we put a lot of work into it. We ultimately decided with one of those three, if he’s there, we were going to go there. Right down to the end, we decided to do it at pick 99 because we felt that good. We didn’t want anyone going to that Vegas pick and doing it. We did that and there wasn’t the applause that we got when we took [S] Ji’Ayir Brown in our own room, but I think everyone knows it’s necessary. And everyone feels really good about this kid.”
K Jake Moody tells us that former 49ers K Robbie Gould has been someone who has been a mentor to him. He spent some time with him and he felt he wanted to pass the torch. Did you talk to Robbie at all about him?
JL: “No, we didn’t talk to Robbie about him. I know they share the same agent. [Special Teams Coordinator] Brian Schneider got out and worked him out and I think that was our interaction. Kyle and I are going to be completely up front just as we were with [P] Mitch [Wishnowsky], we really rely on our special teams coaches when it comes to those things. Schneider and his group did a great job of really vetting these guys, doing a thorough process, involving our R&D department. Jake was the consensus guy for us.”
What intrigues you about S Ji’Ayir Brown?
JL: “He’s a baller. I think he’s got the components of what I think makes up a Niner. We had a consensus, from coaches to scouts, it was all around the building. He really solidified that with this tape but then he came here on a 30 visit and he’s just got this infectious personality. I know something has been made about him not running a real fast 40. Our R&D department has some of the fastest times amongst the safety stack, so I think he plays fast. He’s good up towards the ball. Ball production, 10 interceptions over the last couple of years. He’s just a really good football player and then when you add the person, he’s a team captain, like [Defensive Coordinator] Steve Wilks said, ‘that’s my dude right there.’ Everybody in the building wanted that guy. Our top target of the guys we identified that we thought had the best chance of being there in the third where we picked. We didn’t think he’d be there at 99, and I didn’t think he’d be there. [Minnesota Vikings GM] Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] said no once but then we got back on the phone. Thank you to Kwesi and the Vikings for letting us get up there. We are really happy to have Ji’Ayir Brown.”
I know kicker is probably not a position you like to spend a lot of time thinking about. How important is it for you to have someone you can trust and have that piece of mind that you don’t have to worry about them?
Kyle Shanahan: “Very important because I don’t want to have to think about it, which I’ve been fortunate here for the last six years. It has been awesome with Robbie. We haven’t had to worry about that spot with how consistent he’s been with making the field goals. I think I said before, it was the first time in my career that I just felt, energy wise, like the kick was going in, and he earned that with us starting with our first year when he didn’t miss one. It’s not fun to go and replace that. I still can’t believe we didn’t take a running back [laughing], but it was a necessary need and if you’re going to do it, you better do it with the right one. We felt like we got the best kicker in the draft. I can’t say that I study kickers every year, but the people who do felt very good about it. I think it’s all about, you know you need one, so where are you going to get it. There are probably five to six teams who you feel need a kicker, so the whole debate is where to go get that guy because it is one you need to get. When you look at the history, the majority of kickers go in the fourth round. We didn’t have a fourth round pick and the guy was not going to be there in the fifth round. When you look at pick 99, they call it the third round but to me, it is seven picks after the third round ends, so I feel like it is the start of the fourth round. To me, that was the spot that we felt would be the spot to get him, but that’s why we were also nervous that someone could come up to 100 and take him. I’m very glad that we got him but its not quite as fun as some other things can be, but I think it would be if we had a bad kicker for the past six years. I think everyone would have been like, ‘alright, we finally invested in and got one,’ but when you have one that’s been like Robbie and so consistent, it is a little anticlimactic, but it was something that was extremely important.”
Did you guys get any texts, good or bad, from other draft rooms after the kicker pick?
JL: “Other Special Teams coaches, coaches who coached me throughout my career. So that’s always good.”
Were they like, ‘woah dude, you stole my guy?’
JL: “Great pick, great spot. That meant something to me because I respect this guy. He’s one of the better ones. Those guys tend to know.”
KS: “Most of my friends made fun of me. They were trying to make me feel insecure about it but we don’t.”
Did the fact that he played in Ann Arbor in the bad weather factor into this decision?
KS: “I think it helps.”
JL: “A little bit of the story that was shared with us. There was a guy who had arrived there before him who was highly recruited guy, more heralded than Jake, and Jake came in, was pretty good so [University of Michigan head coach Jim] Harbaugh put them through a competition, as explained to me, only Jim Harbaugh could do. It was pretty intense and the kid was nails and really kind of fought through that to win the job over a guy who was a really big recruit and all that, so they really speak of him glowingly there. [San Francisco 49ers special teams coordinator] Brian Schneider got to be there, spend some time with him and really became convicted not only with the way this guy kicks the ball on his kicks and kickoffs, but the personality which is important for that position – the confidence, the steadiness was all there.”
Was the Brown pick kind of looking ahead a year with S Tashaun Gipson Sr. on a one-year deal and his age or was that something where you think he can compete for a starting job now?
JL: “I think we feel pretty good about Gip and [S Talanoa Hufanga] Huf. They played really well at a really high level. We’re not just giving people jobs and Kyle can speak more to that, but we felt like we could add to the depth at that position and Ji’Ayir is a guy who can come in, play special teams right away and learn the safety position. I think he has good versatility to his game and he’ll be a great complement to those guys.”
Moody was the highest drafted kicker since Roberto Aguayo. That did not work out well and became a cautionary tale about drafting kickers. Kicking in college is different than kicking in the NFL. What do you know about his makeup that suggests he’ll be able to handle this?
JL: “I think the things I described. He’s an extremely confident kid, he’s been through that competition I spoke of at Michigan. The way he kicks, he’s an extremely aggressive kicker. All the things, we just became very convicted. Yeah, you have to look at history and study it. We didn’t pick him in the second round. As Kyle said, we see that as a 4th round pick. We felt it was worthy of the pick, so we’re convicted on it.”
What are some of the things you liked most about Cameron Latu?
JL: “I think his mentality. I think he’s a versatile player in that he’s good in both the run and the pass, but he went to ‘Bama as a linebacker and I think he plays like that. He’s an aggressive player, he’s a competitive player when you’re watching film with him, his recall is really good. He grew on you from that standpoint. I know Kyle got to talk to [Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian] Sark over at Texas who had coached him right when he was transitioning over to the tight end position and got some information. We liked the skillset and we liked the mentality.”
Is Latu more for the future and depth or do you see him playing right away?
KS: “I think you look at it the same way as Ji’Ayir. When we’re sitting at 99, we’re trying to get the best player and that’s going to be our first 99 and 101 and 102 we looked at those all the same – we’re trying to get a player who can make our team and we feel we have a pretty good team. We had a lot of hopes of guys who could fall to there who not only just make our team, but could fill spots to potentially be a starter. It was so nice going into the draft this year that we didn’t feel like we had to find a starter at any position, except kicker. Everything else, we feel like we can win with our guys, but we’re going to do our best with every pick we have to first of all find someone who can make the team and then someone who can compete to make the guys we have better or to beat out the guys that we have. We played two safeties, we have packages where we can have three in. Last year, our starting safety got hurt pretty early and we ended up starting a safety who we got in a workout three weeks into training camp who is now our starting safety this year. Huf just got to start last year for the first time, we were fortunate there with health, but to add some depth and also a guy who we believe could have gone in the second round and been a starter somewhere else, we feel we got a real good player who is going to help our team. And the tight end is the same situiation, I think. It’s really the safeties and we’ve got a number of other positions just like that that we can hopefully address tomorrow.”
A few days ago, you said you hadn’t talked to WR Brandon Aiyuk or DL Javon Kinlaw about exercising their fifth-year options. Have you talked to those two yet?
JL: “I talked to both of them. Brandon, we’re going to exercise that fifth-year option. We won’t with Javon. I talked to Javon, still looking for great things from Javon. Javon is having an outstanding offseason. He’s in a great place. He’s excited about what’s to come, as are we for him.”
They said on the broadcast that Cameron Latu got stronger as the year went on. Did you guys see the same thing that this is a guy who is getting better?
KS: “That’s one of the things we liked about him the most. He looked like a good player, but also how much better he got throughout the year and how much more we think is in his body. Then you look at his history knowing he came in playing linebacker the first two years I think then switched over, so he’s late to the position and as you watch him throughout the year, we think he can get a lot better in the run game and the pass game. It’s hard to say whether he’s a run blocker or a pass game guy and we see this guy as both and he can accelerate at both and that’s important to us in all our tight ends.”