The San Francisco 49ers featured one of the NFL’s best defensive lines last season, with Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas.
The rich got richer Thursday night, when the team drafted former South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw with the No. 14 overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. The franchise originally held the No. 13 pick, but traded back one spot to add a fourth-round pick.
San Francisco also traded up, into the No. 25 spot, to select Arizona State receiver Brandon Aiyuk.
When the night was over, San Francisco general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan met with reporters to discuss their selections.
Here’s what they said. Answers have been shortened for clarity and brevity.
How much action did you get on the pick at 13 and what led you to make the decision to just do the one thing? And with Javon Kinlaw being the guy, how much was he one of your six [targets] that you mentioned the other day?
Lynch: “The answer to the latter part of that is yes. Kinlaw was one of those guys. He was actually the first guy on our list that we would’ve taken at 13. In response to how much action, you know, I think we did a lot more and I think the entire league did before the draft because of the potential hitches that could go on with virtual drafting. And so there was a lot of calling before the draft and … in the days leading up. … So, we had a lot of different things going. I think the Tampa [trade] came about while we were in that pick and we felt like there was a good chance that Kinlaw would be there. If not, you know, a couple of the other players that we really liked at kind of that 13 slot would be there. So we felt comfortable getting back one spot, gaining a fourth round pick and had a good idea that Javon would still be there. And he’s a guy that we had zeroed in on for a while. You know, you go back to when we first built this thing, Kyle and I came together, one of the things that we really believed in is that that’s an equalizer in a football league where everything’s set up for offenses to be successful. One of the ways you can equalize the equation is by getting after and knocking down the passer. We built a pretty good unit there and we wanted to keep that strong. We thought he was a great fit for that.”
At what point, John, did you realize that you couldn’t sit at 31 and get the guy you wanted [Aiyuk]? Was it during that run of wide receivers or was the plan to go up all along?
Lynch: “… Our Scouts were unbelievable, but [South Carolina head coach] Will Muschamp is a guy that I really grew to know last year and the process with Deebo Samuel and one thing Kyle and I talked to him, I think we talked to him a couple of days before the draft. We both were just struck, I think a couple months later, how accurately he just depicted exactly who Deebo was both in his strengths and the limited weaknesses that he had. He was extremely honest, so Will was tremendous. I talked to his junior college coach, with Javon and then [former South Carolina defensive line coach] John Scott, their [former] defensive line coach is a guy some of our guys had relationships, so all those guys were huge.”
Shanahan: “… This draft was so hard. I mean, no one will ever want to be in a situation where they don’t have a second, third or fourth-round pick. Why are we in that situation? And we decided last year going into the draft we thought we could get [Nick] Bosa and we were like, ‘Man, how nice would it be to have someone else on the other side of Bosa and we spent a second-round pick to get Dee Ford with that. And that’s what it is this year. And we feel like if we didn’t have Dee Ford, we wouldn’t have been in the Super Bowl. … And it was real tough to lose [DeForest Buckner], like as hard as anything, not only with the player but the guy. But DeFo gave us a chance to fix a little bit and to be able to regain some of that. … There’s a few guys who you can’t pass at 13 and Kinlaw was one of those guys. And for Kinlaw to be there at 13 and us to go to 14 and still get him and pick up a fourth rounder, we thought it was unbelievable.”
Kinlaw reportedly didn't work at the combine because of knee tendinitis. Can you speak to if there's any concern there? I'm sure he got checked out at the combine, but the way this offseason is structured was it any different as far as getting medical on him?
Lynch: “… Javon and his injury at the Senior Bowl, first of all, I was down there at the Senior Bowl. He went and absolutely decimated folks down there and then got out after a couple of days. And apparently the knee did flare up. Our guys did as extensive of a medical check as they could have. We got to the point where we were comfortable there. And we liked the player so much. It’s a guy who missed one game in college and played at an incredibly high level. We just think he’s a tremendous fit.”
Kyle, you're obviously an offensive minded guy. You've coached offense and yet in three of your first four drafts here you’ve taken a defensive lineman with your first pick. Is that you look back on that as surprising to you or is that when you were, and John, were first talking about this with a team that’s already invested a lot in a defensive line?
Shanahan: “I’m always going, I’m always down to go defensive lineman if the right guy is there. And I was surprised Kinlaw was there. But I can promise you, ask 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 [Michael] Strahan and theirs was always like 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 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] Ronde [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. And I was on a team in Atlanta with I think possibly the best offense in the history of the NFL or at least up there with a few of them and still really tough to win if you don't have that D-Line and you don't have that defense. And that’s what we’ve been able, that’s what our goal was to do here since before we came here and I think last year that really showed.”