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49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has history of bold draft choices

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Kyle Shanahan prefers a type.

He looks for certain specific traits in quarterbacks. Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers’ current quarterback, may or may not have those traits, although he’s a good, winning quarterback.

Could Shanahan have his eye on another quarterback, someone in the upcoming draft? Someone unexpected?

Remember, Shanahan wanted Kirk Cousins in 2012 when his team’s owner, Dan Snyder, insisted the Redskins draft Robert Griffin III. Shanahan did not want Griffin, so he insisted the Redskins also draft Cousins in the fourth round. Shanahan was a bold 32-year-old at the time. And he was right. Cousins became the far superior quarterback.

Shanahan also wanted C.J. Beathard in 2017 and passed on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Wrong choice, but bold. Shanahan isn’t afraid to think for himself and make moves no one else would dream of. He has the courage of his convictions more than most coaches in the NFL.

So if there’s one quarterback in the upcoming draft who fits Shanahan’s prototype, it might be someone under the radar, just as Cousins and Beathard were.

It might be Washington quarterback Jacob Eason.

But let’s first establish exactly which quarterback traits Shanahan searches for.

When Shanahan had his introductory press conference in Santa Clara in 2017, and the 49ers had no quarterback on the roster, he spoke to a small group of reporters and explained how he evaluates quarterbacks:

“If you aren’t an extremely talented thrower — which means it’s effortless, you don’t think about it, you don’t have to go to all these quarterback gurus and work on your motion, you were born to throw — if you don’t have that, it’s very hard to succeed in this league. You’re always looking for one of those seven throwers on the planet, whatever that number is. I’m guessing there’s only around seven. I hope to get one of those seven guys.”

So Shanahan looks for arm strength. That’s the first trait.

Garoppolo, for all his strengths and gifts and talents, isn’t one of the seven most-talented throwers on the planet. He has a quick release, but he doesn’t have a particularly strong arm. Film of Garoppolo shows this.

Eason’s arm lacks nothing. It’s elite. It’s one of the four strongest arms in the world along with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. No exaggeration. Eason can flick the ball 50 yards on a line. He has a world-class arm, and he’s the only quarterback in the upcoming class with at least one world-class trait, other required traits being poise, field vision, accuracy, elusiveness in the pocket, to name a few.

When Shanahan lies awake in bed at night, and replays the Super Bowl loss to the Chiefs in his mind, he must think: “I’d be a Super Bowl champion right now if I just had a quarterback who could complete a 40-yard deep pass down the middle of the field. Is that so much to ask?”

Garoppolo missed that pass during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Eason completes that pass in his sleep.

Shanahan loves the big play. Meaning he values accuracy down the field. That’s the second trait he looks for: downfield accuracy, which is different from arm strength. Downfield accuracy requires timing and touch.

Shanahan wants to call deep passes — he called them for Matt Ryan on the Falcons — but Shanahan can’t call lots of them for Garoppolo because Garoppolo tends to miss those throws unless the receiver is wide open, and sometimes he misses open receivers.

The final quarterback trait Shanahan covets is toughness, which he values over mobility and improvisation skills. He wants his quarterback to stick to the structure of the play, stand in the pocket, take a hit if necessary and deliver the pass. Shanahan does not want his quarterback to flee and create chaos at the first sign of pressure.

“If a guy is scared to get hit, he has no chance to play in this league,” Shanahan explained to ESPN last August. “You have to use your brain, and there’s so much going on in the heat of battle, your mind has to be so clear when the ball is snapped, to understand coverages and to get the ball to the right spots.”

Garoppolo is not scared to get hit — his courage is one of his best attributes. Eason also is courageous. He takes big hits in the pocket and can withstand the beating because he is 6-foot-6, 231 pounds. He was built to take a beating.

So who is Eason? If you’ve never heard of him, you might wonder why he’s so under the radar, considering his skills.

He wasn’t always under the radar. In 2016, he was the No. 1 pro-style high school quarterback in the country. He committed to Georgia to play for head coach Mark Richt. But during the 2015 season, Georgia fired Richt and replaced him with Kirby Smart, who installed a conservative, run-first offense. Not what Eason had in mind when he committed to Georgia.

Eason started as a true freshman in 2016 and won eight games. But in 2017, he injured his knee and never regained his starting job from Jake Fromm, a safety-first game manager.

So Eason transferred to Washington to play for offensive coordinator Johnathan Smith. Eason had to sit out the entire 2018 season. While he sat out, Smith became the head coach at Oregon State. So in 2019, Eason played for offensive coordinator Bush Handman. Again, not what Eason had in mind. Handman was awful, and Washington fired him at the end of the season. Then Eason declared for the draft.

Eason is a victim of bad luck. Had he chosen to go to LSU instead of Georgia, he might be the No. 1 pick in two weeks instead of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.

CBS currently ranks Eason 41st among draft prospects, meaning an early second-round pick. The more people learn about him, the higher his draft stock could climb.

Perhaps Shanahan will take Eason with the 31st pick, then sit him behind Garoppolo for a year or two before making Eason the starter.

Then Shanahan would have his type.

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