Even a team as talent-rich as the 49ers could use more.
So, the San Francisco 49ers can get richer through the 2013 NFL Draft, you say?
The current Super Bowl contender and arguably best team in the NFL can become even more dominant, you mean?
With 14 real-life picks juxtaposed with a mock draft scenario, the 49ers can get bigger, better, stronger and indeed richer in 2013.
Now, before embarking on this journey, we’ll make it perfectly clear that assembling any sort of a mock draft in December involves a substantial amount of uncertainty. The endless moving parts from now until April will dictate a different outcome than what would happen if the draft took place today.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a little draft-related fun to ease the angst brought on by this upcoming 49ers-Seahawks divisional battle.
Let’s assume that San Francisco will finish in the top four when the 2012 season comes to a close. It currently holds the No. 4 overall seed, so regardless of what happens in the playoffs, let’s figure that the 49ers’ first-round pick will fall between No. 29 and No. 32.
(We will omit all potential trades as well.)
Having established these initial parameters, just what attractive college prospects might be available for the 49ers in the bottom of the first round?
How can the 49ers get richer next season with their 2013 opening-round draft selection?
Let’s check out three players who could oblige with first-round level skill sets.
Ansah enjoys getting his massive hands on opposing quarterbacks.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh sure loves him some tough, versatile and game-changing studs in his front seven.
If a player doesn’t have all three, then he should at least possess quality intangibles and be receptive to the molding process necessary to become an NFL-caliber gridiron warrior.
Enter: Ezekiel Ansah.
The senior defensive end out of BYU is a monster at 6’6’’, 273 pounds with a 40-time of 4.73 seconds. He played both linebacker and every position across the defensive line while in college.
Ansah totaled 57 tackles (13 for loss), 4.5 sacks, eight pass breakups and six quarterback hurries during his senior year. Those numbers are a clear indication of his productivity in the run defense and rushing the quarterback. He also has a knack for disrupting the passing game when the ball’s in flight.
Still, he is raw and inexperienced, after having never played football while living most of his life in Ghana.
But Harbaugh and the 49ers coaching staff could surely coach him up due to his immense physical gifts and maximum effort style of play.
The Ghanaian national might fit better as a true DE in a 4-3 scheme. That said, he also could fill the role of an Aldon Smith-type—defying inexperience and traditional football classifications with sheer unrivaled talent.
San Francisco could afford a project pick with starters already established at nearly every defensive position. Ansah’s potential is just too rich to pass up.
Austin is an absolute burner in the open field.
Instead of the 49ers getting torched by blazing-fast slot receivers all the time, why not get one of their own?
Tavon Austin (5’9’’, 173 pounds) is a former running back that was turned into a wide receiver and can play anywhere on the field. He is especially deadly out of the slot, but can operate out of the backfield, out wide and also in the return game.
Austin’s elite 4.3-level speed, exceptional route running, elusiveness and formative training as a RB give rise to that aforementioned versatility.
But let’s not stop at a jack-of-all-trades, “he’s-a-little-good-at-everything description.” Austin is a bona-fide playmaker—and a big one at that.
He racked up an incredible 1,259 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns, along with 598 yards rushing (9.8-yard average) and three scores at West Virginia during his senior season.
Leading the offensively dominant Big 12 conference with 1,857 yards from scrimmage should put everything into perspective.
Well, five career return touchdowns (four on kickoffs) should also provide some context, not to mention his propensity for making defenders miss on a weekly basis.
For the 49ers, the one dynamic they consistently lack on offense is a big-play threat at wide receiver—remember, Vernon Davis is a tight end.
Michael Crabtree is great, but he’s a great possession receiver. Mario Manningham often succumbs to injury and Randy Moss is on his last NFL legs. Kyle Williams is an underneath guy, while A.J. Jenkins is an unproven commodity.
Bring in Austin and San Francisco immediately has an explosive downfield option in the passing game.
Furthermore, the 49ers could use him in the run/screen game knowing how well Harbaugh and Co. scheme with that area of the offense. Austin is a former every-down backfield weapon and possesses the requisite speed, vision and toughness for that position.
Depth behind Williams and LaMichael James on special teams returns is just one more area Austin could be of service. Ted Ginn will surely move on after playing out his one-year deal.
One foreseeable problem could be Austin’s lack of size and strength, posing an issue with bigger and more physical defenders at the pro level.
Then again, the Wes Welkers, DeSean Jacksons and even Danny Woodheads of the world have been known to have some success over the years.
There isn’t any reason why Austin couldn’t carve himself a niche in the NFL—especially with the help of the diverse-minded 49ers coaching staff.
Richardson plays with a supreme level of confidence on game-days.
Justin Smith, Missouri — 2011 All-Pro DT/DE
Aldon Smith, Missouri — 2012 NFL Sacks Leader (*currently tied with J.J. Watt)
Sheldon Richardson, Missouri — 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year?
Okay, we won’t get too far ahead of ourselves.
But if we’re not mistaken, the 49ers have a fairly awesome track record of drafting and/or signing defensive stalwarts from the University of Missouri.
With Richardson, San Francisco could very well strike gold to complete the trifecta.
The red-shirt junior was an absolute beast in 2012. He recorded 75 tackles (10.5 for loss), four sacks, three pass deflections, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
At 6’3’’, 290 pounds, Richardson has great short-area explosion from his defensive tackle position. He uses his above-average speed, vision, power and range to wrap up ball carriers.
While not as proficient rushing the passer as he is against the run, he certainly makes a living by penetrating the backfield and does well chasing down QBs from the backside.
Also, his quickness, strength and athleticism at least grant him the ability to rush the passer from both the tackle and end positions in a 3-4 front.
Richardson would fit in quite well with the 49ers’ personnel grouping. He’s of a similar mold to both Ray McDonald and Ricky Jean-Francois—not supremely talented, but big and athletic enough to operate effectively across the line.
He would fulfill the unglamorous but necessary role of dirty-work run-stuffer, while the “Smith Brothers” would supply the pass rush. But like what occurred in Week 15 against the Patriots, Richardson could develop into a 49ers DT that contributes a sack or two of his own after learning from the masterful J. Smith.
On the negative side, there are concerns over his limited high-level experience, maturity level and general intangibles.
Yet, we also heard similar misgivings over one Aldon Smith a couple years back.
In any case, as we’ve seen increasingly more and more over the years, teams can never have too many quality linemen on the defensive front. Rich, rotational depth and fresh legs are key.
Richardson could be the man for the job if he falls to the 49ers at the end of the first round.