18 May I Thought I Knew Kyle Shanahan. I Was Wrong.
This is my debut article with 49ersHive — and you thought my tweets were long! Winning any awards for brevity is probably not in my future.
Coming into the 2021 free agency period & NFL Draft, I really thought that Shanny had many immutable rules:
- He liked unathletic quarterbacks similar to Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan & Kirk Cousins.
- He only liked smaller, more athletic offensive linemen, who could get to their second level run blocks & didn’t place a high value on pass-blocking.
- He didn’t value or draft guards.
- He only liked blazing fast running backs
- He didn’t draft running backs.
- He rarely drafted cornerbacks, especially not prior to day 3.
- He always drafted a wide receiver; usually in the first or second round.
- He always drafted offensive or defensive line in the first round.
- He almost always drafted a linebacker — except in 2020, when the 49ers only had two picks, prior to day 3.
- He was always conservative, without the nerve to pull the trigger on a big deal
2021 Free Agency Period
The way the 49ers handled their 2021 free agency & NFL Draft, showed me that I didn’t really know Shanny at all.
I knew Shanny loved Juice, but thought that his $5M per year price tag would be too expensive, given that 2021 salary cap dropped to $188.4 million in 2021, from $198.2 million in 2020.
On March 15th, the team re-signed FB Kyle Juszczyk to a 5-year, $27M deal. I was so happy that the 49ers would be keeping one of best run-blockers & a sneaky good pass-catcher. This also meant that the team didn’t have to draft a FB.
I was convinced that Saleh & the New York Jets (or some other team) were coming to raid the 49ers’ secondary, but that never happened.
On March 12th, the team also re-signed CB Emmanuel Moseley to a 2-year, $9.4M deal. E-Man has been a very versatile/solid/consistent, but not flashy, corner for the 49ers.
On March 16th, the 49ers re-signed lockdown CB Jason Verrett to a 1-year, $5.5-6.5M deal. ($4.5M guaranteed + up to $1M for for roster bonuses + $1M bonus for Pro Bowl). This again saved the team from having to draft a CB early in the draft.
On March 22nd, SS Jaquiski was re-signed to a 1-year $1.1M deal. Tartt is very solid safety, who has been a big key to the defense. He has struggled with injuries, only averaging 11 games per season & recently only 9 games per season. When he has been out, the defense’s efficiency has suffered. Re-signing Tartt eliminated the need to draft a Safety early.
On March 24th, nickel CB K’waun Williams was re-signed to a 1-year, $2.4M deal. K’waun is one of the best nickel CBs in the league, when healthy. He is extremely solid in coverage (especially when locking down Lockett), a very good tackler & an excellent blitzer. The 49ers were able to keep almost the entire secondary together for at least another year — something that seemed almost impossible a few months prior to the start of free agency.
On March 19th, CB Dontae Johnson was also re-signed. Dontae is CB depth, who always seems to come back — no matter how many times they cut him.
I knew Shanny really liked LT Trent Williams. However, I also knew that extending him was going to require a blockbuster deal, as he is the only left tackle who is top-5 in both pass-blocking and run-blocking. No other left tackle is even top-10 in both. Due to rule #2, I thought we would let Trent Williams walk, which would have forced the 49ers into drafting a left tackle very early in the draft. I was okay with this, since left tackles are less likely to bust than nearly any other position, worthy of being drafted in the first round (QB, WR & DE). Additionally, a left tackle on a rookie deal, drafted at #12 overall, would cost about $4M per year vs $23M per year for Trent. You don’t to be better, to be a better value in a salary capped league. I didn’t see the point in paying that much for Trent’s pass-blocking prowess when the other four offensive linemen were poor-pass blockers.
On March 17th, the 49ers were able to re-sign LT Trent Williams to a six- year $138.06M mega deal. Rule #2 was shattered.
On March 17th, the team re-signed run-stuffing DT DJ Jones to a 1-year $3.5M deal. DJ is also an underrated pass-rusher. Injuries have kept him from playing an entire season, but he is a very valuable member of the base defense (1st downs, as well as 2nd/3rd & short). His signing allowed the team the luxury of not having to address the DT position in the draft.
On March 23rd, the 49ers re-signed DE Jordan Willis to a 1-year $990K deal. Willis provides depth behind Arik Armstead & Nick Bosa.
Free Agents From Other Teams:
On March 18th, the 49ers signed C Alex Mack (formerly of the Atlanta Falcons) to a three-year $14.85M deal. This was music to my ears. The interior offensive line’s pass-blocking had been a huge issue ever since Weston Richburg ruptured his patellar tendon on December 8th, 2019. Mack is very solid pass-blocker and he is very experienced in calling out blocking assignments for the rest of the line.
On March 19th, the team signed DE Samson Ebukam (formerly of the Los Angeles Rams) to a 2-year $12M deal. Ebukam will likely line up opposite of Nick Bosa in the Nickel package (pass-defense).
On April 21st, the 49ers signed RB Wayne Gallman (formerly of the New York Giants). (6’0, 215, 4.6 40, 32 1/2″ arms) Gallman filled in very nicely, when Saquon Barkley tore his ACL in 2020. He’s not extremely fast, but he just might be the team’s most well-rounded RB.
On March 23rd, the team signed DT Zach Kerr (formerly of the Carolina Panthers) to a 1-year $805K deal. Kerr was the Panthers’ highest-graded defensive lineman in 2020. Kerr was a nice depth signing for the defense.
On April 21st, the team signed DE Arden Key (formerly of the Oakland Raiders) to a 1-year $1.045M deal. Key will provide depth behind Ebukam & Bosa.
On April 22nd, the team signed DT Maurice Hurst (formerly of the Oakland Raiders) to a 1-year $1.045M deal. Mo will provide depth at DT, behind DJ Jones.
On April 8th, the 49ers signed QB Nate Sudfeld (formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles) to a 1-year $990K deal. Sudfield will compete with Josh Rosen for our QB3 role.
On March 18th, the team signed Trent Sherfield WR & S/T (formerly of the Arizona Cardinals) to a 1-year $920K deal. Sherfield will provide WR depth & play S/T too.
On March 27th, we signed WR Mohamed Sanu to a 1-year $1.14 million deal. Sanu will provide depth + mentorship for the younger WRs.
On March 22nd, the 49ers signed S Tavon Wilson (formerly of the Indianapolis Colts) to a 1-year $1.125M deal. Tavon will provide safety & S/T depth.
On March 28th, the 49ers signed LB Nathan Gerry (formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles) to a 1-year $990K deal. Gerry will provide a speedy LB & S/T depth.
On March 26th, the 49ers traded their 2021 #12th overall pick, 2022 1st-round pick, 2022 3rd-round pick, 2023 1st-round pick to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for their 2021 #3rd overall pick. This was the biggest trade from the 49rs that I could remember… and that is going back to 1976. Rule #10 had been plucked like a hen.
Following the trade-up, there was much speculation as to who the Niners would draft, with the newly-acquired, shiny, #3 overall pick. Alabama QB Mac Jones was a popular choice at #12, so many people thought he would remain as the favorite at #3. Many fans, like myself, wanted a more mobile quarterback with a bigger arm. Ohio State QB Justin Fields was the most popular choice among fans on social media, with Trey Lance as a close second. Most of us were just terrified that Lynch and Shanny would settle for Mac Jones, who did very well at Alabama, but also was surrounded by incredible talent at every position. That is not a style of play that can be expected in the NFL.
Most people assumed that we would take a quarterback at #3. Then, the team had 8 more picks — #43, #102, #117, #155, #172, #180, #194 & #230.
Top needs were: boundary CB (Jason Verrett on a 1-year deal), nickel CB (K’waun Williams on a 1-year deal), edge (Kerry Hyder replacement), wide receiver 3 (Kendrick Bourne replacement), strong safety (Tartt on a 1-year deal), running back (Tevin Coleman & Jerick McKinnon not re-signed), center (Alex Mack will be 36), guard (Daniel Brunskill is best as a 6th man, who can play all 5 of the offensive line positions & Laken Tomlinson has 1 year left on his deal), TE2 (Jordan Reed retired), inside linebacker (depth, or compete with Azeez Al-Shaair). right tackle (depth, or compete with Mike McGlinchey)
April 26th, Day 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft
The draft began & as expected, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence #1 overall. The New York Jets selected BYU QB Zach Wilson #2. What would Shanny do?
With the 3rd-overall pick, the San Francisco 49ers selected North Dakota State QB Trey Lance. Rule #9 was officially in decline! Shanny & the 49ers had boldly moved up & then made the most exciting pick. A big (6’4, 225LBS), strong, tough, fast quarterback with a cannon for arm. Now with all of that being said, Lance was selected with only 17 starts & more importantly — only 312 pass attempts. That is the fewest attempts of any QB drafted in the 1st round in over 40 years. Niner fans rejoiced everywhere! Even though more fans wanted Fields, we could see that Lance was very similar, with arguably a higher ceiling. Most Mac Jones fans didn’t want Fields, but they liked Lance a lot. The pick had an unexpected unifying effect on the fanbase. I went to bed very happy that night, knowing we drafted a quarterback who had the potential to carry the team, even after his rookie deal expired. Rule #1 was on the run.
April 27th – Day 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft.
With the #43 pick, the 49ers moved back to #48 which gave them an additional fourth round pick. Those two picks cost the team pick #230, in addition to pick #43.
With the 48th pick, SF selected Notre Dame G Aaron Banks. He is massive (6’5 1./2″, 330LBS & 33 1/8″ arms), but still has relatively light feet. He is a very powerful gap & power scheme blocker, who can also block in outside zone scheme. The best part is that he is a brick wall when it comes to pass-blocking. Only 2 sacks allowed in over 1200 snaps! Rules #2 & #3 both set free!
After the team selected Banks, I settled in for the long wait from #48 until #102. There was some thought that the team might trade back into the third round. Sure enough, SF used both their original 4th & the 4th they received for moving back from #43 to #48, to move to move up to #88.
With the 88th pick, the 49ers selected Ohio State RB Trey Sermon(6’1, 215). Trey is a big, quick, punishing back, with very good hands & good pass-blocking. His 4.57 40 time is unusually slow for a Shanny back, but his quickness in the 10-yard split was 97th percentile. Rules #4 & #5 no longer alive.
With the 102nd pick, the 49ers selected Michigan CB Ambry Thomas (6’0, 191). Ambry is a shutdown corner. If you’re like me, then he flew under your radar due to sitting out the 2020 season with health concerns. He is long, with 32 1/4″ arms & fast 4.37 40. In addition to being a ballhawk, he specializes as a lockdown man-to-man coverage corner. Ambry is also an explosive kick/punt returner. Rule #6 was nullified with picks like this.
April 28th, Day 3 of the 2021 NFL Draft.
With the 155th pick, the 49ers selected Western Michigan OT Jaylon Moore (6’4, 311, 33.38″ arms). Jaylon primarily played left tackle, but also might be used as a guard in the NFL. Jaylon fits the athletic, run-blocking mold that we are more used to for Shanny’s offensive linemen.
With the 172nd pick, the 49ers selected Oregon CB Deommodore Lenoir (5’10, 195, 30 1/8″ arms, 4.45 40). Lenoir projects to play nickel CB, but he is very versatile & can play boundary CB as well. Lenoir can play zone-scheme, or man-to-man. He also is a very sound tackler.
With the 180th pick, the 49ers selected USC S Talanoa Hufanga (6’0 1/2″, 199, 32″ arms, 4.61 40). Hufanga plays faster than his 40 time, is a big hitter, is an effective blitzer & a big play-maker. His coverage skills need to improve & he has had multiple injuries, but he feels like a poor man’s Jamal Adams to me, and maybe not that poor. To top it all off, I have an affinity for Hufanga because we share the same initials — TH!
With the 194th pick, the 49ers selected Louisiana RB Elijah Mitchell (5’10, 205, 31″ arms, 4.33 40). Eli projects to be a bigger Mostert. Blazing fast, 1-cut runner, who also is a kick returner. Rule #5 took another dive.
With the Elijah Mitchell selection, the 49ers’ 2021 NFL Draft was complete, but they weren’t finished adding players who they felt could compete.
- UAB WR Austin Watkins (6’1 1/2″, 215, 4.5 40, 31 3/4″ arms). Watkins is deep threat, with 16.8 yards per catch. He is very good route-runner, solid with contested catches & has excellent hands. Rule #7 has officially died & gone to heaven.
- Louisiana-Monroe TE Josh Pederson (6’5, 235, 4.81 40). The son of former-Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson, Josh showed promise in 2019, with 567 receiving yards & 9 TDs. In 2020, he lost his QB & his stats suffered. Especially his TDs — 367 yards & 0 TDs. Louisiana-Monroe’s loss, is our gain!
- Ohio State LB Justin Hilliard (6’0 1/2″, 229, 4.81 40, 31 1/2″ arms). Hilliard is very skilled & could be the most talented member of the 49ers’ free agent class. However, he has been plagued with injuries, so I’m tempering my expectations accordingly.
- Kansas State LB Elijah Sullivan (6’1, 215, 4.56 40, 32″ arms). Sullivan is very fast, like Dre Greenlaw, or maybe even Fred Warner, but he’s had some injury issues as well. Hopefully he (or Hilliard) can contribute on special teams &/or as depth at LB. This showed that Rule #9 is in sharp decline.
- Mexico – International Practice Squad Exemption OT Aldfredo Gutierrez OT (6’9, 340). Gutierrez is a very large guy who is a low-risk investment in the future of the OT position, since he doesn’t take up a roster spot, or even a PS spot!
Turns out that I didn’t know Shanny at all. Having my assumptions proved wrong had never been such a… ball!
I’ve always said that anyone can report what HAS happened, but that the real skill is predict what WILL happen.
This offseason has the potential to be one of the greatest ever for the 49ers, even without factoring Trey Lance into it. He may not play much in 2021 & his cost won’t be fully paid off until the 2023 NFL Draft. Much like how Trent Williams’ cost wasn’t fully paid until SF’s original 3rd round pick, this year.
Ideal Start Dates for Rookies:
Trey Lance probably won’t start week 1, but it would be smart to start sprinkling him into gameplans, ASAP. Short-yardage / goalline situations would make sense & so would games that are blowouts. Normally, I would say after the bye week might make sense, but that’s the Indianapolis Colts in week 7 & their defense is very stout. The Chicago Bears are next in week 8 & their defense is almost as tough. Week 9 vs the Arizona Cardinals might make sense, or week 11 vs the Jacksonville Jaguars might too. Lance vs Lawrence is something everyone who isn’t a Jags fan probably would like to see. The Minnesota Vikings’ defense in week 12 would be favorable. Same could be said with the rival-Seattle Seahawks matchup in week 13 & the Cincinnati Bengals week 14. The Atlanta Falcons week 15, or Houston Texans week 17 matchups would have to be the two most ideal defenses for Trey Lance to have his initial start against. His ability to run will force opposing defenses to play 11 on 11, instead of 11 on 10 as Shanny has said gleefully. This will pull at least 1 defender away from other potential ball-carriers or receivers. Lance’s ability to throw deep will make it risky for opposing defenses to stack the box. It’s going to be an absolutely unfair advantage for Shanny & I’m all here for it!
Aaron Banks will likely be a week 1 starter, at RG. His outside zone–blocking prowess might not be quite on the level we are used to, but his gap/power-blocking will be unlike any of our IOL since Shanny arrived. His pass-blocking will be unlike any of our IOL since Weston Richburg was injured. I’ve been beating the drum for improved pass-blocking since the 2019 playoffs. I’m confident that my prayers have been answered.
Trey Sermon could be a real bell cow back that the 49ers have lacked since Shanny has been here. I always wanted to know what he could do with a back with elite physical traits. Well, I believe that we are about to fund out with Sermon.
Ambry Thomas should contribute immediately, in S/T as a KR/PR. Don’t be surprised if he challenges Emmanuel Moseley for the starting CB role opposite of Verrett. I could also see Thomas playing some FS.
Jaylon Moore could compete with Laken Tomlinson sooner, rather than later. If not, he will certainly provide G/T depth.
Deommodore Lenoir already had a pick on the first day of rookie camp on Friday 5/14. It will be difficult for him to unseat longtime starter K’waun Williams, but KW has missed at least a game in most of his seasons with us. He missed 8 games in 2020. It seems likely Thomas could see extended playing time if Williams misses a chunk of games yet again.
Talanoa Hufanga needs to improve his pass-coverage skills, but his hitting, playmaking & blitzing skills are unquestionable. He also might benefit from adding some good weight. Since vet Jaquiski Tartt has missed a lot of games in his time with the team, Hufanga may get to play sooner than many people initially thought.
Elijah Mitchell will likely be Mostert’s primary backup as our change of pace (speed) RB. I see Sermon & Jeff Wilson Jr (JWJ) as the bulls to beat defenses down. Then Mostert & Eli will come in & fly right by. Gallman would be RB5, if we keep 5 RBs + Juice, which is my hope. Hasty seems all but destined for the PS, but that could always change.
Austin Watkins could easily end up as our WR3. Especially if Jalen Hurd gets moved to TE to help replace Jordan Reed, or gets injured. Jauan Jennings will probably be Watkins’ biggest competition for WR3. I love Richie James, but he simply can’t block well.
Josh Pederson could be a viable option for TE2. Hurd, Woerner & Dwelley are his biggest competitors.
Justin Hilliard is a special talent — if he can just stay healthy.
Elijah Sullivan has the speed to be special in this offense.
Rule #11 — Shanny prioritizes talent, even at the cost of durability.
This one seems to have been debunked as well. The new free agent signings & most of the draft picks have rarely been injured. The 49ers re-signed some injury prone guys, but they were mostly small/short deals & the team has drafted or signed backups for them. Our draft class played in 93% of the games in which they were expected to play. Some injuries are due to bad luck, but some are due to bad planning. Lance, Banks, Ambry, Jaylon Moore and Lenior, didn’t miss a game because of injury, once they were established players. Thank you Shanny, for changing your ways!
For their 2021 record, I predict 12-5, with 13-4 being more likely than 11-6. The 49ers play 5 bad teams & the Green Bay Packers might be the 6th — if Aaron Rodgers leaves.
The 49ers offense should be top 3 & so should their defense.
While our NFC West foes all drafted smaller, faster WRs (Eskeridge, Rondale & Tutu), we got bigger and tougher on offense. #BullyBall.
San Francisco’s defense was ranked 5th in 2020, without Bosa, Ford & Ebukam. I expect Javon Kinlaw & Arik Armstead to have much better seasons with better edge support.
The 49ers may not be finished signing players yet either. WR3, DE & TE2 were not addressed in the draft. Ingram DE, Lazard WR & Ertz TE are still unsigned. ATL WR Julio Jones remains as one thought to be available for trade.
If the 49ers can stay relatively healthy, there are very few teams that can challenge them. There are none that I would consider to be favorite to beat SF. I can honestly say the 49ers are strong Super Bowl contenders — even with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. If Trey Lance can emulate his intermediate passing game, the 49ers could be heavy favorites, to win #6 in February 2022, at Sofi Stadium.