NFL Draft Picks Who Would Be Instant Starters for the San Francisco 49ers
It's Super Bowl week and the San Francisco 49ers will be competing for their sixth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. Nowadays, it's awfully hard for teams to repeat, or even earn a second consecutive trip to the big game.
More often than not, the best teams are poached in the offseason and have to rebuild through the draft and free agency. Under Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers have been a team about getting better each and every day, so they will be prepared for this moment.
The Niners will attack the offseason with as much enthusiasm as they do the regular season.
The 49ers traded up 9 spots in the 2011 draft to get Colin Kaepernick. They sent Denver three picks. The first of those three: Rahim Moore.
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) January 23, 2013
With Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh working in tandem, San Francisco has had a meticulous approach assessing incoming prospects. They've also been efficient on draft day, maneuvering back and forth with other teams.
If they see someone they like, they will be aggressive. And on the contrary, if they are not impressed with the top available names, they will move back.
According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, the 49ers will lead the league with 14 available picks in April’s draft. And with Alex Smith expected to be placed on the trading block, the Niners could potentially add to that total:
49ers 2013 picks
1. First round: Own pick
2. Second round: Own pick
3. Third round: Own pick
4. Third round: From Carolina in trade-back during 2012 draft
5. Third round: Likely compensatory selection
6. Fourth round: Own pick
7. Fifth round: Own pick
8. Fifth round: From Indianapolis in trade-back during 2012 draft
9. Sixth round: Own pick
10. Sixth round: From Miami in trade-back during 2012 draft
11. Seventh round: Own pick
12. Seventh round: From Cincinnati for Taylor Mays
13. Seventh round: Likely compensatory selection
14. Seventh round: Likely compensatory selection
Due to their loaded roster, the 49ers were not able to find any instant starters in the 2012 NFL Draft. However, things could be different this year with a few names expected to test the open market. The Niners will also have to address starters that underperformed and determine whether they are worth retaining on their current salary.
Fortunately for San Francisco, they have the ammunition to trade up if they see someone they like. Come April, Baalke and company will be ready to immediately fill any holes left by departing players.
Barrett Jones, Center
The 49ers had one of the more dominant offensive lines in the league in 2012.
Though, if there is one area on the line where the 49ers could potentially upgrade, it is at center. Former Pro Bowler Jonathan Goodwin has played well for the 49ers since joining the team under the Harbaugh regime, but they could look to move forward at the position.
Goodwin, 34, signed a three-year deal with the team in 2011 that is set to expire after next season. In 2013, Goodwin will be entering the final entering the final year of his contract, which will see him receive the largest sum of his deal.
The Niners’ cap will take a $5,016,667 hit with his return.
It goes without saying that Barrett Jones is a "Gold Star" prospect under the Trent Baalke-Jim Harbaugh criteria of NFL drafting.
The two-time All-American and three-time BCS National Champion anchored arguably the best line in college football at Alabama. At 6’5”, 302 pounds, Jones is incredibly dominating at the line of scrimmage.
The 2011 Outland Trophy winner is ultra-physical with his opponents, showing how much he loves contact. And despite his mammoth size, Jones is very versatile, having played tackle, guard and center during his time in the NCAA.
His profile and identity as a player could not be more fitting for the San Francisco 49ers.
However, after spending first-rounders on Joe Staley, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, it’s unlikely the Niners spend another high draft selection on an offensive lineman. They have a lot invested in this group already, and to some, this might seem like overkill.
But I insist that adding a player like Jones is never a mistake. He could start immediately and be a strong building block for the next wave of incoming offensive linemen – whenever that may be.
Referring back to Jones’ versatility on the offensive line, he could kick over to left tackle once Joe Staley has moved on. Bringing him in as a center and then eventually moving him to tackle would be a great value move, considering he wouldn’t be paid as a franchise LT.
Though this is his first Super Bowl, Staley is 28 years old, approaching his thirties. And while some offensive linemen have their best years in their thirties, there is no telling what Staley’s future is. He is currently under contract until 2017, upon which time he will be 33 years old.
According to Spotrac, Staley’s six-year, $28 million contract is heavily backloaded. He is set to earn $6.25 million in his final year and $11.65 million over the last two years. For scale, he earned less than two million in every year prior, including 2012.
Beside the benefit of having a starter right away, Barrett Jones would give the 49ers leverage and flexibility down the line. A move like this could also launch this offensive line group into the stratosphere.
Sharrif Floyd, Nose Tackle
For the Niners, it starts on the defensive line. Winning the battle in the trenches is a significant part of this team’s identity as a whole.
Heading into the 2013 offseason, the Niners could possibly lose two of their top four defensive linemen. Both Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois have expiring contracts at the end of the league year.
In all likelihood, the 49ers will only re-sign one of them.
Isaac Sopoaga, 31, played a lot less snaps this year—the least of any 49ers starter on the roster, participating only 31 percent of the time. The 49ers came out of their nickel roughly 337 more times than their base. For this reason, paying Sopoaga like a premier NT would be fiscally irresponsible.
Ricky Jean-Francois, 26, has been a great addition to this team. As the primary substitute on the defensive line, Jean-Francois has brought versatility and stability to this group. There is a good chance that his best days are still ahead of him, and he could be re-signed for less than Sopoaga.
This could make for an open competition at camp, but the 49ers will need to bring another body in. Enter Sharrif Floyd.
According to Rivals.com, Floyd was a 5-star recruit when he committed to Florida in 2010. Only two years later, Floyd had his best year as a Gator and was named a first-team All-American. He finished with 46 tackles, which included 3.0 sacks and 13 for a loss.
Elam and Floyd said in the locker room that they will turn pro. Not a huge surprise.— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) January 3, 2013
Floyd decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the 2013 NFL Draft, where he is a projected first-round pick. At 6’3”, 305 pounds, Floyd is ready for the pros—but only three-years removed from high school, he could benefit from more hands-on coaching.
He is a better fit than Star Lotulelei for the mere fact that he’s not as large. Floyd is quicker on his feet and can play any position on the line. He lined up everywhere in the Gators’ four-man front, showing he can always be a factor.
To reiterate, the 49ers play out of the nickel a lot, which means four down linemen.
Whereas Sopoaga would head off the field in this package, the 49ers might be able to get some production out of Floyd. Given the system he played in during college, it would lead us to believe that Floyd can get penetration as an interior rusher out of the nickel.
He can also be a factor in the team’s base formations. Floyd controls blockers well with his arms, and has a strong club move. He frantically goes after the ball-carrier, churning his feet and getting his arms free.
He has very good lateral quickness for someone his size, showing he can stick with the play. With his bigger upper body and wide frame, Floyd does an exceptional job flooding gaps in order to collapse the pocket.
With Justin Smith on one side, Ray McDonald on the other, and Jim Tomsula on the sideline, Floyd can be an impact player in year one.
31. San Francisco 49ers - Sharrif Floyd, DE Florida32. Baltimore Ravens - Kiko Alonso, LB Oregon— Josh Liskiewitz (@JoshLiskiewitz) January 26, 2013
Eric Reid, Free Safety
In 2012, both of the San Francisco 49ers’ starting safeties received their first career Pro Bowl nods, respectively.
Unfortunately, the only one under contract beyond 2012 is Donte Whitner.
Dashon Goldson was tagged by the organization this year, and will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. Of course, the team has the option of franchising him again, but it will cost them roughly $7.5 million against the cap.
Goldson, 28, might have an opportunity to test the open market.
If that is the case, the 49ers will look to the NFL draft for a suitable replacement. And with the rest of the roster filled out, they can prioritize the acquisition of a top-tier safety. LSU defensive back Eric Reid is a logical choice for Goldson’s successor.
Eric Reid should be the 49ers first pick. Don't over think this, Baalke.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 20, 2013
At 6’2”, 208 pounds, Reid is a notoriously punishing hitter coming downhill from the safety spot. He is a very stout tackler with good closing speed and a nose for tracking down the ball-carrier.
If Goldson is to leave in 2013 or beyond, Reid could continue to give the 49ers the hard-hitting presence on the backend.
Like Goldson, Reid consistently runs the play down and is great at dislodging the ball with his high-impact blows. He can also be relied upon in run support, which is something the 49ers pride themselves on.
However, the biggest fear concerning Reid is that he does not have the coverage instincts or ball-hawking skills of Goldson. He is much better in the box than he is downfield. Reid’s value comes when the runner has possession of the ball—not when it’s in the air.
Regardless, he is still a day-one starter that has a high ceiling with Ed Donatell, Vic Fangio and this 49ers coaching staff.
Dustin Hopkins, Kicker
49ers kicker David Akers was record setting in the 2011 season. In his second year with the team, the veteran and six-time All-Pro had a complete collapse. Akers hit only 69 percent of his field goal attempts, missing 13 times in 2012.
He calls these career lows “a head-scratcher.”
Akers, 38, will be owed a salary of $3 million in 2013. After seven visits to the NFC Championship Game, if he finally wins a Super Bowl ring, he may call it a career. But if he decides to stick around, he could not be considered as anything else but a liability.
The Niners might want to circumvent the multimillion dollar cap hit and bring in the next franchise kicker. After all, the 49ers drafted Andy Lee 188th overall (6th round) and that worked out.
Since the 49ers will have a league-high 14 draft picks, they can undoubtedly afford to spend one of their selections on a steadfast kicker. San Francisco can bring in a first-rate kicker after the fourth round with one of their many picks.
Florida state kicker Dustin Hopkinskicking.Ball pops off of his foot. Draftable kicker easily. May be best of this class
— Shane P. Hallam (@ShanePHallam) January 22, 2013
The best place kicker this year is Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins.
The All-American was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, presented to the nation’s top kicker. He is the NCAA FBS all-time kick scorer with 459 points, per NFL Draft Scout. In his senior campaign, Hopkins finished 24-of-28 from the field and led his team in points.
He can potentially develop into one of the NFL’s more clutch field-goal kickers. He has a strong leg, and more importantly, the confidence that Akers seems to have lost.
Hopkins made a statement as a freshman when the Florida State Seminoles took on the Clemson Tigers. With :03 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the game tied at 13, Hopkins crushed a 55-yard game-winner.
This is the kind of poise, leg strength and accuracy the 49ers need for their special teams unit going forward.
Keenan Allen, Wide Receiver
The 49ers only have four receivers under contract beyond this year.
Michael Crabtree will be back, eager to continue his extraordinary progress. Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams will be returning as well, however, both will be recuperating from season-ending injuries. Then there is A.J. Jenkins, who is coming off a substandard rookie debut.
It would be hard for a rookie to leapfrog Manningham, Williams and Jenkins on the depth chart unless he was supremely gifted, but it’s not out of the question.
And it is a long shot that the 49ers draft a wide receiver in the first round—especially this one. But Keenan Allen is a remarkable talent, listed as the No. 1 WR available in the 2013 NFL Draft, according to NFL Draft Scout.
The fact remains that after this year the 49ers will not have a legitimate No. 2 receiver. Since the contracts of Manningham and Williams may not be long-term, the team could very well bring in another high-ceiling prospect to compete at the position.
Moreover, the 49ers need to prioritize finding the perfect complement for Crabtree.
After seeing the Falcons’ high-powered offense up close and personal, the 49ers may be more inclined to bet the house on someone like Keenan Allen. From the University of California-Berkeley, Allen is an in-state player, which is always favorable.
At 6’3”, 206 pounds, Allen has the size and agility to be a dominant pass-catching threat. He is a precise route-runner that is awfully aggressive at the point of the catch. His quickness enables him to create separation, and he is always looking for the football.
He seems to have a knack for finding soft spots in the defense, and is as reliable as any receiver. From the crop of 2013 prospects, Allen may have the best concentration and hands of any wide receiver, period.
San Francisco does not presently have a receiver with his physical gifts. Out of the four returning pass catchers, the 49ers’ tallest receiver is Crabtree, at 6’1”.
The issue is Keenan Allen will not fall to No. 31 or 32 in the draft—it's highly unlikely he’ll be on the board at that point. Acquiring Allen would necessitate a trade, which Baalke is unafraid to do, having moved up for Anthony Davis and Colin Kaepernick during his tenure.
But if San Francisco were enterprising enough, they could find a wideout capable of starting as a rookie.