Just last week, Roger Goodell was crowing the Baltimore Ravens as 2012-2013 NFL champions. While the Ravens celebrate, it's back to the drawing board for 31 other NFL teams, including the San Francisco 49ers.
The NFL Scouting Combine (Feb 24-27) is a great start. While the event gets a bad rep at times, it's still a solid indicator of future success—if put in perspective. Individual workouts, interviews and pro-day workouts should also be taken into consideration, but I don't have to tell you that.
The 49ers will have their work cut out for them in this year's draft. While they possess a league-leading 11 draft selections (potentially 14 when including compensatory selections), this roster is stacked with talent. Expect to see a lot of movement by the Niners—whether trading up or down—in this year's draft.
We may see the 49ers target quality rather than quantity. And believe me, there's more quality players to be had in this year's draft, especially in the top 15-20 selections.
Without further ado, I present seven prospects for the 49ers to consider.
At 6'3'', 335 pounds, Johnathan Hankins certainly earns the nickname "Big Hank." However, it's his surprising versatility that gives him the nod in this year's stacked defensive lineman class.
Hankins will be a great fit on this run-stuffing 49ers line. He has the girth to play as a 0-technique nose tackle in the Niners' 3-4 scheme, while also having the ability to play end as a 5-technique in situational downs.
The 49ers lacked girth in the middle of their defense in 2013, and need to get younger inside, especially with Isaac Sopoaga likely departing via free agency. Sopoaga's subpar performance also plays a factor in the Niners decision to address this spot.
While Dee Milliner seems to be the standard at corner in this year's draft class, Rhodes is the better fit with this current 49ers squad.
At 6'1'', 215 pounds, Rhodes has the height and length to match up with big receivers and tight ends. He excels in press man coverage and is as physical a corner as you'll see in college football.
While he didn't play a lot of snaps in the slot, he has the feet and quickness to eventually succeed. However, his bread and butter is playing receivers on the outside. Extremely physical corner.
The 49ers may have to move up to acquire Rhodes, and with a possible 14 selections in this year's draft, making such a move shouldn't be an issue.
Many have criticized Tyrann Mathieu's game and off-the-field issues, however, I still think he can offer value to plenty of teams who need help in the secondary.
At 5'9'', Mathieu isn't physically imposing, but he more than makes up for that with his high activity level and instincts. His exceptional instincts have made him a turnover-causing machine in college football, and I expect the same level of play, if used properly, at the next level.
Additionally, Mathieu has shown he can play different positions along a defensive secondary. He can play in the slot or at safety, while also showcasing the ability to match up on the outside. Though, because of his lack of height, I expect NFL coaches to start him off at safety, before being comfortable enough to move him around.
As we all saw in the 49ers' postseason run this year, the team could use some help on the backend of its defense. Mathieu would be a great pickup in the later rounds, if available.
Another LSU product who would fit well in the 49ers secondary, Reid, unlike Mathieu, has the physical traits (6'2'', 208 pounds) and clean background to interest plenty of teams on draft night.
He has the height and length, plus the range, to defend bigger receivers and tight ends. He should be an excellent red-zone defender, something the 49ers struggled with in the regular season.
Reid can also deliver the big hit, but will struggle at times in the open field. That comes with the territory when dealing with younger players, but I don't suspect this to be a huge issue if Reid lands with a detail-oriented coaching staff like the one the 49ers possess.
Thomas won't make the "wow" plays, but his hustle and high energy level will make him a prime rotational player in the right system.
Thomas can play as a Mike backer, but will likely make his way onto an NFL roster as a strong-side linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Though, in situational downs, Thomas has shown he can play end, which should make him favorable in the eyes of the 49er coaches.
Don't expect Thomas to be a high-potential type of player. He won't turn into a superstar, but he could be a solid contributor in a rotation, especially considering the depth the Niners have at linebacker.
While the 49ers would likely love to select Cordarrelle Patterson, I can't see the University of Tennessee product slipping far enough in the draft.
However, Terrance Williams would be a great alternative. At 6'2'', Williams has proven to be an excellent vertical and red-zone threat. He can both go up and get balls and stretch the field.
What I love most about Williams is his effectiveness as a blocker in the run game. The 49ers almost demand their receivers to be effective blockers out on the perimeter, and Williams would fit right in.
Williams is still a bit raw, especially as a route-runner, but with the right coaching, he could be a steal at the end of the first round or early second round.
Ertz will likely be a second-day selection, but I can envision a tight end-needy team, like the Atlanta Falcons, reaching to select the Stanford product at the end of the first round.
The 49ers may go this route if they can't re-sign jack-of-all-knives tight end, Delanie Walker.
Like Walker, Ertz has the versatility to line up in the slot, on the line and even as an outside receiver. He is a solid athlete with above-average hands.
While Ertz can be overpowered when run-blocking, he has made strides in this area. As we all know, Walker developed into a fantastic blocker in the run game, forming a great tandem with Vernon Davis.
With Ertz, the 49ers may lose that slight edge, but if Ertz can bulk up a bit, he should continue to improve as an in-line blocker.