Florida's Matt Elam would make a huge impact in the 49ers secondary.
Writing from an oceanfront vista in Mexico on Christmas Eve, it’s only appropriate that we compose such a wish list for the 49ers.
(Especially after the disaster that was the 42-13 blowout loss to the Seahawks on Sunday night.)
The 2013 draft class isn’t nearly as rich in quarterbacks, running backs and overall offensive talent. Luckily for San Francisco, however, there’s an abundance of impressive defensive prospects, as well as some solid options on offense.
Plus, the 49ers are fairly set at QB, RB and the offensive line. And we all know how Jim Harbaugh and company sure love quality, hard-nosed defenders.
A million and one things will invariably take place that will affect prospect rankings, the draft order and team needs for San Francisco. It’s also unlikely that the 49ers will keep every one of their 14 picks.
But those factors won’t preclude us from assembling a handsome list of players and full mock draft.
On that note, let’s take a gander at seven players from Rounds 1 through 7 who would make a fine wish list for the 49ers in the 2013 draft.
Elam is a force in both the run game and in pass defense.
How do the 49ers bolster a short-term strength in the back end of their defense?
By infusing long-term talent with SS Matt Elam.
The Florida product is arguably the best prospect at safety, and certainly at strong safety. The 5’10’’, 202-pound Elam is a certifiable masher at the line of scrimmage with the versatility to hold his own in coverage.
Appropriately enough, Elam posted double-digit tackles for loss (21) and multiple interceptions (six) while starting the past two years. He also totaled 18 pass deflections and three forced fumbles the last two seasons while playing in the nation's top conference.
He officially introduced himself to quarterbacks in intimate fashion four times during his collegiate career as well (i.e. four sacks).
Elam embodies the 49ers' identity of proficient functionality in all defensive assignments and would fill a relative position of need.
Strong safety Donte Whitner’s contract expires after the 2013 season. He will command a substantial deal as an established league contributor at just 27 years of age.
He could help develop Elam into a starting-caliber player, while the former Gator provides exceptional backup depth.
Also, Alex Smith’s contract is likely coming off the books in 2013 and Dashon Goldson is one of the league's best at his position. As such, the 49ers should use that money to re-sign the hard-hitting free safety as opposed to saving it for Whitner.
With Goldson, Whitner and Elam (not to mention 2012 pick Trenton Robinson), the 49ers would have one of the league's most dominant safety contingents.
Things would also look fairly bright beyond 2013.
Thomas utilizes great closing speed en route to QB takedowns.
San Francisco 49ers fans, we have your Christmas wish for outside linebacker.
His name is Chase Thomas and he’ll do nothing but solidify the NFL’s strongest corps at OLB.
A four-year starter at Stanford—Jim Harbaugh’s coaching alma mater—Thomas was a constant destructive force against the run and pass. He accumulated a monster 50.5 tackles for loss, 27.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles.
And Thomas reached the apex of his NCAA career during his senior season. Check out this stat line:
71 T (14.5 for loss), 7.5 S, 1 INT, 4 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD
(Those are tackles, sacks, interceptions, passes deflected, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries and touchdowns, in case you were wondering.)
This outside backer would provide a pass rush behind Aldon Smith and could also back up Ahmad Brooks on the strong side. He’s similar to Brooks in that he does everything well at the linebacker position.
Furthermore, Thomas played for two years under Harbaugh at Stanford. The now 49ers’ head coach helped Thomas realize his potential—evidenced by his 2010 production that was nearly as dominant as his senior year numbers.
Most of all, Thomas has both the physical talent and mental intangibles. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports perhaps articulated it best:
He is tough to contain because of his energetic playing style and quick feet to avoid blockers, using arm-over technique to gain leverage and break through the line of scrimmage. Thomas plays disciplined with a high football IQ. Although he isn’t naturally explosive or a quick-twitch pass-rusher, he plays fast and hard with controlled aggression and goes at full speed any time he’s on the field.
Pay particular attention to “disciplined,” “high football IQ” and “full speed.”
Talk about a Harbaugh product and San Francisco 49er personified.
Taylor has a knack for powering through would-be tacklers.
Another early-round running back and another Stanford player, you say?
Well, we say why not—any NFL team is just one injury away from a positional need.
Stepfan Taylor is as solid a running back as you’re going to find. While not possessing breakaway speed, “he does everything else well—if not outstanding,” as CBS Sports astutely notes.
Taylor is a powerful back who runs with an unabated motor, toughness and tenacity. His work in pass protection is unrivaled, while his role as a pass-catcher is highly touted (94 catches for 761 yards and five touchdowns).
And his 39 career rushing touchdowns reveal his particular fondness for the end zone.
As another player recruited and developed by Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Taylor has intimate knowledge of the 49ers’ rushing schemes. He could immediately step in as a viable back in San Francisco’s offense.
His abilities as a blocker and receiver would only further his seamless transition.
But please allow us to address what you’re undoubtedly thinking.
The 49ers already have Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon on the roster. Why would they take another RB so high in the draft?
Again, injuries, especially at running back, too often deplete depth. The 49ers witnessed this firsthand when Hunter went down for the season with an Achilles injury in Week 12.
Gore is without question the every-down back and heart and soul of this 49ers team. And Hunter is an exceptional backup, without even taking into account what James provides as a change-of-pace rusher.
But the 5’11’’, 215-pound Taylor would serve as the bruising RB behind Gore, giving him much-needed rest at this stage of his career (although he's surely scoff at that).
He would also be available as a short-yardage and goal-line power back, something the 49ers hoped the now suspended Brandon Jacobs would provide.
The 49ers must not pass on Taylor if he falls to them at the bottom of the third round.
The Penn State defensive tackle is a monster in the backfield.
San Francisco addresses its greatest need by drafting two defensive linemen in consecutive rounds.
Penn State’s Jordan Hill is first up and is a quality future piece for the interior of the line.
At 6’1’’ and 294 pounds, Hill may seem undersized as a 3-4 nose tackle. However, he showed his ability at that position during his final two years in State College.
Notably, when star DT Devon Still left for the NFL in 2012, Hill stepped up with 65 tackles, 8.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks. Those were fourth, third and second on the team, respectively. He also showed a knack for creating havoc, with an interception, pass break-up and forced fumble.
The first-team All-Big Ten selection (as chosen by the media) showcased his penchant for big-time performances in big-time games with three tackles for loss, two sacks and a career-high 12 tackles in the season finale against Wisconsin.
Isaac Sopoaga is the 49ers' sole active nose tackle and is a free agent after the season. His backup Ian Williams has rarely been active in 2012. And Ricky Jean-Francois is also unsigned for 2013 and is better utilized as a backup behind Justin Smith and Ray McDonald.
Hill will need to bulk up as an NFL player, but his explosiveness and reliability as a wrap-up tackler in run defense deem him a wise choice for San Francisco in the middle rounds.
You ain't going nowhere (per the inner monologue of Josh Boyd).
Josh Boyd steadily increased his productivity during his first three years at Mississippi State.
As a junior in 2011, Boyd registered career bests with 51 tackles, 8.0 for loss, and 4.5 sacks. He appeared very much like a high-round pick at that time.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports summed up his talents this way.
Boyd has an explosive burst off the snap, generating even better quickness than [Fletcher] Cox [No. 12 overall pick of the Eagles in 2012]. He also flashes a terrific arm-over swim move and generally uses his hands well as he initially attacks his opponent.
Unfortunately, Boyd’s numbers experienced a drop-off in 2012. His totals fell to 33 tackles (1.5 for loss) and 1.5 sacks.
And that’s exactly why the 49ers will be able to take him at around the 170 mark in the draft.
Boyd’s talent is clearly there. He’s shown his proficiency at clogging the middle of the defensive front and taking down ball-carriers behind the line of scrimmage.
He just needs coaching to realize his Round 2 potential and eliminate what Rang calls his “tendency to play [down] to the level of his opponent” (via CBSSports.com).
And who better for that guiding role than the great Jim Tomsula and Vic Fangio, the 49ers’ defensive line coach and defensive coordinator, respectively.
These men coach one of the best three-man fronts in all of football. Boyd could develop under them, as well as Ray McDonald, Justin Smith and whoever else holds point for the 49ers' defense.
Yes, not selecting a defensive lineman until the fourth and fifth round seems troublesome, considering the lack of depth behind San Francisco’s every-down players at the position.
On the other hand, with Boyd’s potential, recently established numbers and proper coaching, he has a serious chance at filling a much-needed role for the 49ers.
Talk about a major steal if Kelce falls to the 49ers in the sixth.
When thinking underrated offensive playmakers, look no further than Travis Kelce.
The Cincinnati tight end arrived on the national scene with 40 catches for 599 yards and seven touchdowns during his senior season. He quadrupled his career production up to that point.
While not the type of blocking TE suited for Jim Harbaugh’s rushing offense, Kelce is a bona fide weapon on offense. His seven scores and 15.0 yards-per-reception are surely indicative of that quality.
Yet, it’s his versatility that makes him such an attractive prospect.
Kelce’s athleticism allows teams to utilize this 6’5’’, 4.68-running tight end on the line, in the slot and out wide. The creative minds of Harbaugh and the 49ers' coaching staff could surely use Kelce in a variety of passing schemes, including a dynamic role from the H-back position.
Delanie Walker will likely seek a big contract elsewhere in 2013. His expected departure would leave a gaping hole behind Vernon Davis at playmaking tight end.
San Francisco also needs a tall red-zone target. Outside of Davis, Randy Moss is the only receiver taller than 6’1’’, and he will surely be gone after playing out his one-year deal this season.
(To be sure, the 6’5’’ Garrett Celek is primarily a blocking tight end.)
Bring in Kelce as a highly skilled, yet cheap and risk-free sixth-round pick and the 49ers are once again loaded with offensive weaponry.
Not too bad of a pickup, if you ask me.
Take a look at an NCAA all-timer and potential future kicker for the 49ers.
Considering the number of under-the-radar prospects found in the later rounds, drafting kickers is almost always a dubious business.
But not when a team grabs the all-time scoring kicker in the NCAA FBS.
Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins set an ACC record with 133 points in 2012 en route to his NCAA record-setting 459 career points. He also ranks first all time with 87 made field goals.
For the 49ers, David Akers is in the middle of a miserable season just one year after setting the NFL record for fields goals and non-touchdown points scored.
He has missed 10 field goals, including two from 30-39 yards, four from 40-49 yards and two game-winners.
The former Mr. Reliable also has had three games with more than one field-goal attempt.
To be fair, Akers had been one of the most consistent kickers in NFL history. And it’s not like he’s pulling a 2012 Mason Crosby, whose kicks were sailing five yards to the left or right.
But the six-time Pro Bowler and two-time, first-team All-Pro has been anything but his former self in 2012.
Being owed more than $3 million in 2013 when the 49ers are barely under the projected $121 million salary cap makes Akers a casualty of financial constraints as it is (via CSNBayArea.com).
Drafting Hopkins—one of the best kickers in NCAA history—and signing him for a fraction of the cost simply makes too much sense.
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