49ers’ Kyle Shanahan Says Surprise Week 16 Benching Wasn’t a Punishment

Drake Jackson

Getty Drake Jackson #95 of the San Francisco 49ers rushes Trace McSorley #19 of the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of a game on November 21, 2022.

While Week 16 was an all-around plus effort for the San Francisco 49ers, with Brock Purdy recording his fourth-straight two-touchdown game, there was one noticeable absence from the field that drew raised eyebrows from around the fanbase: Drake Jackson was a healthy scratch.

Asked about why Jackson didn’t get the nod after appearing in the first 14 games of the season, Kyle Shanahan asserted that the decision purely came down to a numbers game.

“No, it was no difference and this wasn’t at all to punish him,” Shanahan said via 49ers WebZone. “This was completely with the five inside D-Linemen. I want everyone to keep getting better and better each week. There’s no doubt about that, but there was nothing that was worse in this week compared to any other week that made us make that decision. This was strictly that we usually go with five on the edge and four inside guys up and we thought it was important to do this game differently. Us anticipating how much they were going to try to run the ball.”

With Javon Kinlaw making his return in Week 16 after landing on IR back in October, the 49ers made an effort to ease his third-year defensive tackle back into DeMeco Ryans’ defense, with the South Carolina product only logging 16 defensive snaps. Assuming Kinlaw is able to fill a more expansive role moving forward, Jackson’s time in street clothes may prove short lived.

Drake Jackson’s Rookie Season Has Been Deceptively Encouraging

Dubbed a “loose-limbed, restless pass rusher with the activity level to find angles and openings in both his primary and secondary rush” by Lance Zierlein during the pre-draft process, Jackson has been largely used as a dedicated pass rusher for the 49ers, and the results have been encouraging.

Logging 218 snaps against the pass versus just 80 against the run, according to Pro Football Focus, Jackson has recorded 9 hurries, 4 sacks, 3 hits and 16 total pressures for his efforts, which all rank fourth on the team behind Nick Bosa, Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu.

Jackson also ranks fourth on the team in passes defensed at 7, a mark that is greater than every other defensive lineman on the roster combined. Even if Jackson isn’t quite ready to be a full-time starter and is firmly behind Bosa, Ebukam, Omenihhu and apparently even Jordan Willis, who played in Week 16, the USC product’s future is bright.

The San Francisco 49ers Got a Good Effort From a Returning DT

Though seeing Jackson on the bench was a bummer for Niners fans, the return of Kinlaw was anything but, as he looked very good in limited action. Marking Kinlaw’s first start since Week 3, Shanahan was asked how he thought his once and current starter fared in his first game back and gave an honest assessment of his performance.

“I thought he did a good job. I think the more he plays, the more we’ll be able to keep him out there longer. That fourth-and-one down on the goal line, I thought he made a real big play there taking on the double team, taking two blockers, allowing Fred (Warner) and T.Y. (McGill) to make that play, so he really helped out, was stout in the run game, and that was a good first step.”

If Kinlaw can play a full-time role for the 49ers moving forward, it should open up a spot on the game-day roster for Jackson and allow Ryan to have his full proverbial hand available over the final two games of the 2022 NFL season and into the playoffs.

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