McKinnon followed Garoppolo's lead to 49ers: ‘He's a true leader, you can't teach that'

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SANTA CLARA -- Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo caught the attention of running back Jerick McKinnon long before they became teammates with the 49ers.

And when McKinnon was available as a free agent this offseason, Garoppolo helped sell him on the idea of moving to the Bay Area.

And now that they have been in the same building for a month-and-a-half during the 49ers’ offseason program, McKinnon feels better and better about his new NFL address.

“It’s not always about the money, like people say,” McKinnon said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “For me, it’s about the scheme. And I felt like this was probably the best fit that I could possibly think of.”

Before signing a four-year, $30 million contract, McKinnon spoke to Garoppolo and 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk and asked questions about the organization, the coaching staff and Bay Area.

“Talking to those guys and coming here, being blessed with the contract, obviously, it’s just a good fit,” McKinnon said. “Since I got here, it’s been nothing but love. I feel like this team is family oriented. And I can feel that when I first got here. It reminded me of a lot of the things that went on in Minnesota. That’s how I know there’s something special going on here.”

McKinnon was mostly the No. 2 back behind Adrian Peterson and Latavius Murray during his four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. He said he knew he would not be returning to the Vikings as a free agent. And he used his knowledge of happenings around the NFL to help figure out his next move. Out of all the options at running back available to him, including Carlos Hyde, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan targeted McKinnon.

And McKinnon targeted the 49ers, too.

He said he took note of Garoppolo during his time as a backup in New England. Both were in the 2014 draft. Garoppolo was a second-round pick from Eastern Illinois. McKinnon was a third-round selection from Georgia Southern.

“That dude right there is sharp,” McKinnon said of Garoppolo. “We came out the same year. I watched him behind Brady, and when he got his chance to play and how he did, I was like, ‘When this guy gets his time, he’s going to be ready – there’s no doubt.’ He’s playing behind Tom Brady, one of the best. Tom Brady’s got five rings. So he got to learn from the best on a daily basis.

"I saw the trade was made last year. ‘OK, he’s going to be something special.’ And when he got hit chance, he didn’t lose a game, they didn’t lose a game. . . I watched them last year toward the end of the season when they started winning. I was like, ‘Those guys over there have something contagious going on.’ ”

Garoppolo signed a five-year, $137.5 million contract extension with the 49ers prior to the start of free agency. He led the way, and McKinnon followed.

“Coming here and getting to meet him in person and see how he prepares and how he leads in the huddle and on the field, he’s a true leader,” McKinnon said. “You can’t teach that.”

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