San Francisco 49ers: How Kyle Shanahan Drafts Receivers


A wide receiver out of Washington that scouts graded as a third or fourth round prospect went 44th overall to the 49ers back in the 2018 NFL Draft. The 49ers traded the 59th and 74th picks (a 3rd and a 4th) to move up and grab their guy. Draft analysts scratched their heads collectively, calling him “slight” and “weak with more physical corners”. The comments rang hollow when Dante Pettis finally hit the field, shaking All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes completely out of his cleats on multiple occasions and giving teams hell with his cat-like-quickness and savant-esque route running ability.

Turns out Shanahan knew exactly what he was doing and what he was getting with Pettis, envisioning a guy that could separate quickly off of press and zone coverage.

Kyle Shanahan is a product of the West Coast Offense, the one a certain former legendary San Francisco 49ers Head Coach, Bill Walsh, birthed from his certifiably X’s and O’s filled cranium. The operative word of the West Coast Offense is “quickness”. Quickness off the snap, quickness off the line, quick reads, quick decisions, and quick playmakers. You control the game with the high percentage, short area targets that open up quickly in pursuit of opportunities for the big play. That quickness doesn’t dominate all of the infrastructures of the system though, it wouldn’t be fully effective if some levers aren’t pulled, like a pure speed receiver to scare the hell out of corners and to take the top off of the defense, dragging safeties into obsessing over their respective speed.


As former Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver Andrew Hawkins put it, “He needs a speed guy. He needs a guy who is faster than everybody else on the field. That’s a big part of his offense. He needs a tough guy who is going to catch the ball over the middle, be tough as nails and be a little versatile. He needs a third-down guy who has great hands and will, under any circumstance, move the sticks.” Hawkins would know, posting the best statistical numbers of his career under the guise of Shanahan and always showering Kyle with glowing admiration filled compliments.

Shanahan determines who will play receiver for his offense with the criteria that Hawkins shared. On the current roster, one starts to see clarity and fulfillment in his vision. Let’s take a look at what specific skillsets Coach Shanahan uses, and what current receivers match it:


Skillset 1: The pure speed guy (Marquise Goodwin)
Skillset 2: The guy who is a threat over the middle (Jordan Matthews/George Kittle/Kendrick Bourne)
Skillset 3: The guy who gets open immediately (Dante Pettis/Trent Taylor/Richie James)

Notice a glut? Reportedly the 49ers are planning on dialing back Marquise Goodwin’s playtime to preserve his talents and keep him at a lower risk of injury.

Enter the 2019 NFL Draft, which is stockpiled with wide receiver prospects of all shapes and sizes. However much Shanahan may say, he does not have a type, his preconceived bias shows in the types of players he has chosen that inevitably end up fortifying Andrew Hawkins positing of his receiving philosophy. Might Kyle follow suite to fill in the depth at his “Pure Speed” criteria point?

Here are a couple of players to keep an eye on, ones that fit the Shanahan-mold in the upcoming draft:


Riley Ridley, Georgia

(Fits skillsets 2 and 3) Riley is the younger brother of Calvin Ridley, the Atlanta Falcons’ first-round selection last year. He is a tough receiver who snatches the ball at the catch point and digs-and-breaks out of routes with a hard hip-snap. He is also a receiver that Kyle Shanahan would covet for his tenacity, separation ability and arm extended, catch point skill set. Davante Adams would be a good NFL comparison for him. If the 49ers choose Ridley, they would likely cut Kendrick Bourne come training camp.

Parris Campbell, Ohio State

(Fits skillset 1) Scouts are higher on Parris Campbell than outside analysts and pundits. He was oft used at Ohio State. Keep in mind, though, that Ohio State wide receivers are notoriously underwhelming at the professional level. Save for Cris Carter and Michael Thomas, considering Ohio State’s prowess over college football for the past few decades, only producing two legit NFL Wide Receivers doesn’t bode well for present and future prospects.

Still, Campbell has blazing speed (4.31) and has Percy Harvin-like YAC ability. Punch him in as “Shanahan’s guy,” at the top of round 2 if he is still available. Shanahan wants pure speed, in which Campbell’s got all that and more.

Marquise Brown, Oklahoma

(Fits skillset 1) Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is Chris Simms’ number two receiver on his big board for the 2019 receiver prospects. In addition, Marquise is a cousin of Raiders star wideout Antonio Brown, who is maybe the more deserving of the “Hollywood” nickname.

Marquise plays similar to his big cousin. He is shifty and quick out of his breaks, elusive after the catch and elite at tracking over-head balls. With this in mind, Marquise still holds untapped potential as a bonafide playmaker. With Shanahan’s offense utilizing sweeps and motions off of play action, and the added presence of legit receiving backs out of the backfield, “Hollywood” Brown could be the perfect addition to the red and gold fold.

Deebo Samuel, South Carolina

(Fits skillset 2) During the Senior Bowl, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch got a first-hand look at the abilities of Deebo Samuel. He was breaking opponents’ ankles, which is routine in the red-zone for him. In addition, Samuel’s after the catch ability is violent and bullish, similar to Pierre Garcon. Deebo’s an absolute stud of a receiver and he’ll be a surefire productive pro, or as the scouting community would put it, a “high floor” type of prospect. His bust rate is low but his “ceiling” potential is quite high, which is not fully clear and realized.

Notable mentions: Andy Isabella (Massachusetts), J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (Stanford), A.J. Brown (Ole Miss)

The 49ers need one more receiver to fulfill Shanahan’s vision. The 49ers weren’t able to part with the number two overall pick and some change for the services of Odell Beckham, which that pick is likely reserved for Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa. Yet, Beckham is the type of receiver Shanahan likes, a fast playmaker.

It seems as if Kyle Shanahan gets what Kyle Shanahan wants during the annual three-day draft extravaganza. Regardless of the speculation, the San Francisco 49ers will exit the 2019 NFL Draft with a receiver that will be a major factor in building the future of the team.


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