Forty-Niner general manager Trent Baalke said last week in his pre-draft press conference with the local media that he felt a specific player will be available with the team’s 30th selection.
That doesn’t mean Baalke will draft that player; it’s just the team ranks him a good selection for that draft spot. Among NFL personnel people, Baalke’s statement is akin to saying he is certain how the first 29 hands of blackjack are going to play out.
Every draft has its surprises. The best example: Aaron Rodgers falling to 24 in the 2005 draft (the same year that Alex Smith went No. 1 overall). Rodgers, I feel, is the game’s best QB, and he’s brought stability and amazing effectiveness to the Packers.
It was a surprise that Rodgers fell that far, and it turned out to be another surprise that he developed into the game’s best quarterback.
Baalke’s proclamation about a “certain” player brings scrutiny. But then, no team had a better draft than the Niners in 2011. Baalke has earned our attention, and thus, a rundown of the best fits for the 49ers at every position can prepare us the team’s selection this Thursday.
I still feel, as does Peter King of Sports Illustrated, that the Niners will continue to look at wide receiver early in the draft.
I agree. The Niners have added Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, but getting a first-rate playmaker in the draft ensures the team’s long-term capability to make the defense back up a bit.
Justin Blackmon, the receiver out of Oklahoma State, seems locked into the Rams at pick No. 6. Michael Floyd out of Notre Dame could go as high as 10, but perhaps he falls. He’s bigger than Blackmon, and the Niners like that.
But it’s doubtful that the Niners can trade up to the mid-teens to get Floyd. That leaves two intriguing possibilities:
Stephen Hill, the fast, big (6’4”) receiver out of Georgia Tech or Coby Fleener, the 6’6” tight end out of Stanford.
My gut: Fleener. Why? Coach Jim Harbaugh knows him. Also, Fleener was in the Niners pro-day workout recently but didn’t work out. Perhaps he didn’t have to. Also, Baalke in talking with the press also mentioned something deeper: character.
Players have to be in a certain mold with good on- and off-field behavior. Fleener’s familiarity with Harbaugh would seem to give him an inside track.
There are some good ones, but the Niners are fairly deep at this position. They signed reserve Alex Boone to an extended contract last year, and they have Joe Staley and Anthony Davis. If they draft anyone with a high draft pick, it would have to be a spectacular fall for a player. Like who?
Jonathan Martin of Stanford.
Martin could go as high as No. 12. Falling 18 slots would be too much to pass up.
Again, the loss of Adam Snyder to free agency seems to create a hole in the line, and with a bevy of first-rate guards available, this seems a natural. Not so fast. Even Baalke suggested so much in his press conference, bringing up backup Daniel Kilgore and Alex Boone as possible alternatives to this position.
The one thing I hear is that Kevin Zeitler of Wisconsin is aggressive and good at run blocking, which fits the Niners’ style. Better yet, he’s also working out at center. With a receiver taken in the first, Zeitler could be a perfect fit in the third round; that is, if he falls that far.
For the same reasons cited in the offensive guard: Zeitler. Mainly because a player who can play both positions gives the team flexibility, and Harbaugh loves flexibility. Also, Jonathan Goodwin is reaching his mid-30s. Time to think down the road.
Fleener. Here’s why: He can play wide and he can play tight, and he can play in “bunch” formations. Flexibility again. The team is deep at this position, but Fleener is unique. And again, he has that Harbaugh connection.
Frank Gore was drafted in the third round. Backup Kendall Martin came in the fourth. In a league dominated by passing, running backs are losing their allure in terms of their impact on offensive potency. But they are needed for blitz pickup and short outlet passing.
The drafts that have a first-rate player like Adrien Peterson ranking well above the other RBs are rare. But the chances of finding a Chris Johnson (24th pick to Tennessee in 2008) are much greater.
Trent Richardson of Alabama is rated by many to be the best RB in the draft. He’s 5’9”, 228 pounds with great acceleration and tackle-breaking strength. He’d be a bigger, faster Frank Gore. And the Niners have no chance to get him.
Again, this comes down to Baalke finding the best player available. If the Niners trade down and load up on second-round picks, Doug Martin (5’9”, 223) out of Boise State is the No. 2 back in the draft, and if he was there late in the second round, Baalke might find him irresistible.
Well, I can say with great assurance (but not an absolute guarantee) that the 49ers will not draft a quarterback. They drafted Colin Kaepernick in the second round last year, added Scott Tolzien late in the 2011 preseason, pursued and came up short with Peyton Manning last month before signing a three-year deal with Alex Smith.
No, I think the Niners are done at QB.
Nick Perry (6’3”, 271) out of Southern Cal seems a perfect fit as a “bookend” defensive end for Aldon Smith. And this definitely seems like a Baalke move.
Last year, the Niners drafted seventh, and I had them taking Patrick Peterson, the CB out of LSU. The Cardinals took Peterson with the sixth pick. Baalke selected Aldon Smith, who was not on anyone’s radar screen, but this pick turned out well for the Niners.
Perry, USC’s defensive lineman of the year, has amazing physical skills.
He’s rated a first-rounder, but freakier things have happened. I don’t see the Niners using their first-round pick to get him.
Here’s another scenario: They target Fleener, but some other team takes him earlier. Baalke could trade down and get more second-round or third-round picks and load up on a player like Perry and Montana CB Trumaine Johnson.
Value, it’s all about value.
In light of Justin Smith getting up there in years, as well as the wear-and-tear that comes with being a lane-clogging nose tackle like Isaac Sopoaga, adding depth here seems a very smart move. Anything to keep interior linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman running free to make all those tackles.
This is a position that the Niners don’t have to use a first- or second-round pick, but a fourth-round selection of Mike Martin of Michigan seems to fit. Especially this: “a nonstop motor, a refuse-to-lose mentality and technique.”
Sounds pure Harbaugh to me.
With backup Larry Grant signed again, the Niners have five first-rate athletes—Willis, Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson and Aldon Smith—at this position. If there’s anything they want to add, it’s in the late rounds.
Could Josh Kaddu of Oregon fall to the fifth or sixth round? If so, he’d be a steal.
There’s no doubt that the Niners would love to have a premier press cornerback. Having one player take out the opposition’s best receiver—a Calvin Johnson or Victor Cruz or Larry Fitzgerald—makes a huge difference in the NFL.
In this mold, Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama and Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama seem to be atop the rankings. Neither will be around when the Niners pick in the first round. But the likes of Trumaine Johnson of Montana could be in the third round. At 6’2”, he has the size the Niners love.
In the second or third round, Johnson would be ideal.
Dashon Goldson has a one-year deal but has said he’d like a long-term contract. Donte Whitner has been solid as well. But more depth at this position is something the team has to consider. Granted, last year’s sixth-rounder, Colin Jones, can play, there’s more to be had here.
Again, this is not a position in which the Niners need to reach with a trade to move up in the early rounds. Good players will come to them in Day 3 of the draft. In that scenario, Duke Ihenacho of San Jose State could fill the bill. He’s 6’0" and 213 pounds, which is what the Niners like in their safeties: wallop.