Why Kyle Shanahan Chose C. J. Beathard, Joe Williams, and George Kittle, and Why They Will Be the Cornerstones of the 49ers Offense moving forward. Niners Live goes “deep”.
Once the draft began and Lynch had committed highway robbery on the Chicago Bears to take his “Dawg Mentality” defensive centerpieces that Niner’s Live opened your eyes to in defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and linebacker Reuben Foster, Head Coach Kyle Shanahan turned to Lynch and jokingly said, “ You’ve had your fun. It’s my turn.”
This set off a run that brought to Santa Clara Iowa quarterback C. J. Beathard, Utah running back Joe Williams, and Iowa tight end George Kittle in consecutive picks during the third, fourth, and fifth rounds respectively. Each of these players brings traits that define the Shanahan offensive philosophy, and each one of these players were highly viewed by Shanahan as the best fits for his offense.
Who are the Players?
Beathardis 6’2, 215 lbs. and was evaluated by Shanahan as, “Tough as s—. Got a chance. He reminds me a lot of Kirk Cousins.” C.J. was the only quarterback on the 49ers draft board. Beathard played in a pro-style system in Iowa that runs a similar offensive scheme to what is going to be run in San Francisco. Displaying confidence when rolling out and on play action plays, Beathard provides the mobility and accuracy on the move Shanahan is looking for.
Joe Williams, 5’11, 210 lbs., is the biggest display of Shanahan and Lynch working together, as well as Shanahan having his mold and sticking to it. On Friday night, the night before the last day of the draft, Coach Shanahan was quoted as saying, “I’m telling you right now: If we don’t get him, I’ll be sick. I will be contemplating Joe Williams all night.” Well, at that point Coach Shanahan was destined to be sick because Joe Williams was not even on the 49ers board of draftable players, having been removed by General Manager John Lynch for apparently quitting on his team. But the conviction Shanahan had for Williams was as undeniable as the talent displayed on Williams’ film. Williams, after having what can be described as a mental breakdown, stopping playing football at Utah for five weeks before injuries prompted the Utah Head Coach to call Williams back to the team where he finished the year with 1,407 rushing yards. After watching film of the 210 pound running back move, and speaking to the Utah head coach and Williams himself, John Lynch not only drafted, but moved up in the draft to get Williams. Shanahan could rest easy.
George Kittle, 6’4, 240 lbs., would have no such issues, as his film and character were exactly what both Lynch and Shanahan wanted in a player and person, or should I say, in a 49er. A tenacious blocker, with 4.5 speed and excellent hands, Kittles said before the draft that, “(He) had to talk about outside and inside zone with some coaches (at the combine), and (he) can draw those in (his) sleep.” But again, it is not just his knowledge of how the scheme works, but also his style of play in the scheme that caught Shanahan and Lynch’s attention. And it wasn’t only Lynch and Shanahan that had Kittles on their radar. Pro Football Focus ranked Kittles as the best tight end in college football.
But looking at the history of the players brought in by both Mike (Kyle’s father, and former two-time Super Bowl-Winning NFL Head Coach) and the 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, there is a common theme established, and it shows with the drafting of these players.
The Denver Connection:
John Lynch said, during the Shanahan and Lynch press conference recapping the draft, “Kyle has been in this system a long time and knows exactly what he is looking for.” Well, yes a long time, over 30 years, as Kyle is running the exact same system, with the exact same player molds as his father. While the 49ers defense is going to be modeled after the Seattle Seahawk’s defense of the 2010 era, the 49ers offense will be modeled after the Denver Broncos of the late 1990’s era.
While winning back to back Super Bowls the Denver Bronco’s Head Coach Mike Shanahan found specific players to fit his system. From quarterback John Elway to running back Terrell Davis, to tight end Shannon Sharpe. The mold of players the Shanahans look for has not deviated through their careers.
Quarterbacks in the Shanahan offense have always been 6’2, mobile, accurate on the move, and are tough players who lead by example. From Steve Young to John Elway, to Kirk Cousins (drafted in the fourth round by Kyle and Mike after Washington Owner Dan Snyder took Robert Griffen III in the first round), to Brian Hoyer, both in Cleveland and now San Francisco, to new 49ers draftee C. J. Beathard. The mold has been set, and this draft pick shows it will not be broken. When looking at the available quarterbacks in this draft only three met the 6’2 standard, Chad Kelly, Nathan Peterman, and C.J. Beathard. Only Beathard and Peterman come from pro-style offenses, and only Beathard comes from Iowa where a zone scheme similar to Shanahan’s is run. When looking at the draftable players from this perspective, there could only be one quarterback that Shanahan would want to draft. Again, like Lynch said, very specific.
Running backs can be viewed through the same lens. Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis, Orlandis Gary, Alfred Morris, Kapri Bibbs and Joe Williams. All 5’11”, 210 lb. runners who posted at least a 4.41 forty yard dash time at the combine. Also, all late round draft picks. During the draft recap press conference Shanahan explained that in his system he needs a running back that can plant his foot in the ground and cut, and that players who are too fast cannot cut the way he needs them to, hence the 4.4 benchmark for the speed of the running back, and the 5’11, 210 lb. height and weight ratios. Running backs Coach Robert Tuner Jr. is another link to this system. A must have to make this offense work, as he has been the coach of all the Shanahan’s running backs, so he knows exactly what is asked and exactly what each needs to do to become the next 1,000-yard rusher in this offense. Even more specific.
Aggressive blockers with the ability to stretch the seams down the middle and make tough catches. Can you say Shannon Sharpe, Jordan Reed, Logan Paulsen, and George Kittles? Each of the staple tight ends in a Shanahan offense display these traits. While Sharpe is the most decorated of these players, earning Hall of Fame status, watching film of Kittles shows that he can be Sharpe 2.0. During their time with Coach Shanahan, Reed and Sharpe were asked to be a force on the edge in the blocking game. A strong point of attack is needed in the zone scheme due to the runner needing to round the corner at times to keep the defense spread across the field, allowing for less bodies inside the tackle box. If one player can crash the edge of the play consistently, then the flow of the inside defenders will negate the running game, which in turn will negate the play action pass the passing game is set up on. Sharpe, Reed, Paulsen and Kittles can get this done with efficiency. As their receptions show, Sharpe and Reed also excelled in the passing game, making life easy for a quarterback coming off the bootleg action to find them waiting for a pass with the speed to separate from a linebacker and pick up yards after the catch. The lack of passing game talents made the drafting of Kittles a priority, even with Paulsen on the roster, as he is known more for his blocking and special team abilities than his work in the passing game. Here we find the qualities not as specific, but specific qualities all the same.
As John Lynch said, Kyle has been in this offense many years and knows exactly what he is looking for. The fact that he is willing to listen allows Kyle to bring the exact groceries needed to remake the Denver offense that won two Super Bowls and produced numerous 1,000-yard rushers and multiple Hall of Famers. Offensively this is going to be a Shanahan offense to the core, and one that is going back to the core values and roots of this system. Each player brought in by Lynch, on the offensive side of the ball, will fit a specific player mold from these years past, or in the case of Pierre Garcon a specific player from the past. With the success of the offense over the years, let’s just hope that the defense being run will do for the 49ers what is did for the Broncos, and not what it did for the Redskins.
As always, keep your eyes wide open, 49er fans. Niners Live will be watching with you. #eyeswideopen and often imitated but never duplicated… Go Niners.
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Edward Erving new Staff Writer at Niners Live, Co-Author, Editor Niners Live.