Kyle Shanahan Says 49ers Looked ‘Real Close’ Into Selecting Star WR

Kyle Shanahan

Getty 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan stands next to quarterback Trey Lance during the road win at Jacksonville on Sunday, November 21.

Turns out “The Griddy” nearly became a popular dance craze in the Bay Area for the San Francisco 49ers.

There was a chance, and there was chatter, of head coach Kyle Shanahan, general manager John Lynch and the rest of the S.F front office taking Justin Jefferson in April 2020.

That’s right, the same LSU star who would go on to become a future Minnesota Vikings 1,400-yard receiver who also popularized the end zone celebration while torching cornerbacks.

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The 49ers held two first round selections that draft year, with one spot coming via a swap with the Vikings at No. 25.

The talk of Jefferson possibly becoming a 49er was true — as Shanahan answered that question during his press conference with the Bay Area media on Wednesday, November 24.

“Oh yeah, we looked at him real close,” Shanahan said.

Shanahan and the 49ers Were Fans of Jefferson

In one of the more wide receiver heavy classes, six different wideouts were taken in the first round.

The 49ers first sat at No. 14 via an exchange with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where they ended up taking Javon Kinlaw to bolster the defensive line. Finding the replacement for DeForest Buckner became priority No. 1 for a 49ers team that saw the defensive line play help become a catalyst in their NFC title pursuit.

But at No. 25, it became clear the ‘Niners were seeking a wide receiver.

Every WR name you could think of — from CeeDee Lamb, to Jerry Jeudy to Jefferson — crossed the minds of Shanahan and the 49ers’ front office inside their draft room. But it was the latter receiver Shanahan says the team were huge fans of.

“We looked at all those receivers real close,” Shanahan said. “And we were huge fans and I think he’s one of the best receivers in the league, if not the best. So, I think he’s been unbelievable. I love his style of play, he reminds me a ton of (former 49er) Emmanuel Sanders back in the day. But he’s a hell of a player.”

The 49ers, unfortunately, saw the Vikings snatch their future star receiver at No. 22 overall, with that spot coming via the Buffalo Bills.

Three spots later, the 49ers took a receiver after all: Brandon Aiyuk out of Arizona State at No. 25, who would become the final wideout taken in that loaded and historic class.

Did the 49ers Gaffe at not Taking Jefferson Earlier?

Now, for anyone who looks back at past draft classes, they will ask themselves why certain teams passed on Jefferson…or keep a list of who skipped out on taking him.

But do the 49ers really deserve a bashing here? I honestly don’t think so.

Sure, the jury is out on the 6-foot-5, 312-pound Kinlaw as he’s been limited to 16 total starts in his first two seasons — and has had his sophomore NFL campaign wiped away due to his season-ending knee injury. However, here are other notable teams who passed on Jefferson when they had the chance:

Las Vegas: Took Henry Ruggs III as the first WR taken in this class at No. 12. Ruggs is now facing up to 20 years in prison with DUI charges from his November 2 arrest and is currently on house arrest.

Denver: Jeudy, after averaging 16.5 yards a catch his rookie year, has been limited to four games in 2021 with an ankle injury and is yet to score this season.

Miami: The Dolphins’ No. 18 selection Austin Jackson has fared well at guard. But there could’ve been a Jefferson and Jaylen Waddle paring in South Beach…which perhaps would’ve given Tua Tagovailoa two dynamite playmakers plus less criticism.

Philadelphia: Jalen Reagor was taken a spot ahead of Jefferson. But the TCU star has had a slow start in the NFL: 31 receptions in 11 games played last year and 23 catches in 11 games this season. His average yards a catch (7.4) has also dipped from his rookie production (12.8).

Meanwhile, Aiyuk has looked like a much different receiver during the 49ers’ current spark. He’s gone from catching just 9 passes for 96 yards and one TD in the first five games to hauling in 20 receptions for 245 yards and adding two scores during S.F’s 3-1 turnaround.

So not all is lost on the 49ers for not drafting Jefferson, even though the opportunity to add “The Griddy” to “The Smeeze” or “Turfing” in the Bay Area dance lineup nearly happened.

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