When the San Francisco 49ers traded a bundle of draft picks to move into the No. 3 overall slot in the 2021 NFL Draft, questions about which player the Niners targeted flew with fury in the weeks leading up to the selection.
Most of the speculation was which quarterback San Francisco sold the farm to bring in alongside Jimmy Garoppolo. Mac Jones versus Trey Lance was the hottest April debate.
At the time, there was another, much, much smaller faction of observers who thought the Niners might shock the world and select Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. The thought process went that the TE was perfect for Kyle Shanahan’s system, and pairing him with George Kittle would make the Niners’ offense nearly unstoppable with what it could do through the air and on the ground.
During an episode of theFlying Coach podcast with Sean McVay and Peter Schrager, the Rams coach said he was among those who thought Shanahan — who joined for this taping — was going the Pitts route.
“I thought there was a possibility that Kyle was gonna go Pitts at three,” McVay said, via 49ers Web Zone. “In all seriousness, because he’s such a visionary. I’m telling you, I didn’t think it was going to be a crazy thought because you go back to when New England had the two-tight end set, and they were doing things totally different. You think about what Kittle. And then, the thing that makes sense is that, hey, Jimmy’s produced all the way. This isn’t a production thing. This is an availability thing that you’re saying, ‘We can’t have that,’ like, all the things.
“But I was like, ‘If it’s not Mac Jones — and I hadn’t studied Trey, just because there wasn’t a lot of film exposure going back a couple of years, and we weren’t in that market, so I didn’t know other than watching him throw at his pro day that you’re saying, ‘Alright, you can see a lot of the things that you would like and that would make sense.'”
In the end, the Niners selected Lance, who Shanahan afterward insisted was his choice all along, despite the Jones speculation. The Niners’ secrecy had everyone fooled, as Lance himself didn’t know he would be the selection until his phone rang on draft night. Pitts ended up going No. 4 overall to Atlanta.
McVay noted that his good buddy even had their division rivals second-guessing.
“He had everybody fooled, and he got the people that he knew we’d be looking to fool us as well,” McVay said of Shanahan.
It’s interesting to consider the Niners offense with a weapon like Pitts, but the price tag the Niners paid to leap from No. 12 to No. 3 — three first-round picks — always suggested it was a quarterback. It’s the only position worth that price in the long run, even if pairing Pitts with Kittle would have made Shanahan’s offense a dadgum nightmare for opposing defenses.
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