From Feb. 23 to 26, thousands of gifted prospects will be competing in a rigorous four-day trial that is the NFL Scouting Combine.
Over the course of the weekend, there will be a constant circuit of events, including the 40-yard dash, three-cone shuttle, bench press, broad jump, vertical jump and the fairly new receiving gauntlet.
For 32 NFL teams, it is the primary event leading into April’s draft before they decide whom they want to select.
Each year, the makeup of the draft class is altered and unique in its own way. At this time last year there was a great deal of offensive talent being thrust into the league. There were quarterbacks, receivers and running backs lining virtually every round.
The Washington Redskins were able to revamp their offense at its core by adding Robert Griffin III (Round 1) and Alfred Morris (Round 6). The Colts were able to find Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, T.Y. Hilton and Vick Ballard helpful as rookies.
In terms of identity, this year’s draft class could not stray further from the one preceding it. 2013's class is heavy on the defensive side of the ball, and particularly thick in the trenches.
The San Francisco 49ers could emerge as big winners in this year’s draft, but there are a few things they would like to see play out first. Continue through the following slides for a breakdown of what the Niners hope to learn at the 2013 combine.
The great thing about the combine is that it is a major NFL event that commands the presence of the team’s chief decision makers. Outside of the scouts, the head coaches and general managers will be in attendance, rubbing shoulders at the combine.
The 49ers representatives will be able to speak with other teams and gauge their temperature heading into the draft. With Alex Smith as a bargaining chip and a league-high 14 draft picks, the 49ers should be popular at the combine.
Even though the 49ers have the most available selections, they are sitting at the back end of most rounds.
If the 49ers are going to target a difference maker like Keenan Allen or Kenny Vaccaro in Round 1, they will need to trade up. Given their draft capital, there is a very good chance they move up in one of the early rounds.
Ideally, the Niners will learn which teams selecting in the middle of the first round are open to selling their pick.
San Francisco has done a fine job attacking the draft, finding contributors even on Days 2 and 3. The 49ers currently have plenty of contributors that were drafted outside the first and second rounds.
This roster boasts some notable mid-to-late rounders like NaVorro Bowman, Frank Gore, Ray McDonald and Chris Culliver (Round 3); Kendall Hunter and Dashon Goldson (Round 4); Tarell Brown (Round 5); along with Anthony Dixon, Kyle Williams and Andy Lee (Round 6).
In the seventh round of the 2011 draft, the 49ers even selected former defensive end Bruce Miller and converted him to a top-tier starting fullback.
This team has a lot of picks, including 12 outside the first two rounds. They need to get value at positions of need. For the Niners, they will be hoping for depth among the pass-catchers and defensive backs.
When they compile their list of favorite prospects, they’d like it to be deep at those position groups. The Niners need depth and potential starters, but may look past the first round to address those needs.
They will also hope for linebackers and dynamic special-teamers to slip through the cracks on draft day.
NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock has six defensive linemen with unanimous first-round grades.
Star Lotulelei, Jesse Williams, Sheldon Richardson, Sharrif Floyd, Jonathan Hankins and John Jenkins highlight a big, powerful group of defensive linemen. But team needs and an otherwise very talented 2013 class may cause one of them to fall.
If Williams, Floyd or Jenkins does not have their name called on Day 1, for whatever reason, the 49ers should leap in the second round to take the best remaining DT on the board.
This gives them flexibility to select another position with the No. 31-overall pick. They will also have a break between Rounds 1 and 2 to facilitate a trade.
The 49ers will be hoping for a great combine weekend from the defensive line group—any shakeups in perception could cause hesitation on draft day.
Right now, Lotulelei leads this group and he’ll go high, but San Francisco can still wind up with a top 5-10 defensive lineman. Hopefully it will be a player that can immediately fill in at nose guard and potentially move to end when Justin Smith retires.
In a sparse draft class for signal-callers, Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and Mike Glennon are the three most talked-about names.
San Francisco will not be in the market for a quarterback, so it will not affect them to see any taken off the board. However, the Niners would like to see a good showing by the QBs at the combine, which hopefully leads to a significant boost in draft stock.
This plays to their favor because an over-drafted passer will cause others to fall—primarily any top-ranked defensive players.
This is a scenario the Niners have to like. There are going to be teams ahead of them with glaring needs that wind up reaching—there always are. The quarterback situation is one of the major factors that could cause a talented player to fall to the 49ers at No. 31.
At the end of the day, San Francisco wants to hear that this quarterback class emerged from the combine with an amplified stock.
Even though they finished the 2012 season in the Super Bowl and have an abundance of draft picks, the 49ers have needs to fill.
The question: How many players do they let go and how many do they retain?
The 49ers have approximately 12 legitimate free agents set to hit the open market, including three starters and numerous role players.
More than likely, the 49ers will only be looking to select roughly eight or so players, theoretically leaving them six draft picks. One of their options would be to trade back into the 2014 draft.
Alternatively, the Niners could trade up for a player in the early rounds, which would cost them some of their later selections.
At the combine, San Francisco will be able to identify who to take and when. This will help them to better understand which picks they need and what to do with the rest of the draft ammunition.
The 49ers are very decisive, as they are known to trade up or back depending on how the board correlates to their draft criteria. After the combine wraps up, the 49ers want to have a better grip on their 2013 draft strategy, including plans for each pick.
The 49ers would love to hear this at the combine.
It would mean that one of the draft’s most prolific receivers is very much in play. Allen is already in first-round competition with Cordarrelle Patterson, Terrance Williams and Tavon Austin, and something like this could decide the top-ranked WRs.
A slow 40 time always deters a certain group of suitors, and if it were to benefit one team, it would be San Francisco.
Out of the University of California, Allen was one of the NCAA’s most dynamic pass-catchers.
Allen produced gaudy numbers in limited time with the Golden Bears. As the team’s singular threat, he accrued 205 receptions for 2,570 yards and 17 touchdowns, and did so with less than stellar quarterback play.
There is the understanding that if Allen is available at No. 23, the Minnesota Vikings will take him. But he has to get through a gauntlet of receiver-needy teams like Miami, Carolina, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis.
He could be the complement to Michael Crabtree while A.J. Jenkins develops in a slot role. After this past season, it’s clear the 49ers need another wide receiver and Allen would be a steal late in the first round
He is not known for being a speed demon, so the 49ers are hoping an uninspiring 40 derails his stock.
With Keenan Allen, it’s one word: speed. That’s the only question scouts have on him. It’s hard to (evaluate) him with the way they throw the football. So what is it? If he’s a 4.4 guy, bang the table, he’s a top-25 pick. If he runs 4.55, 4.58, there’s going to be a lot of questions about him. … If you like him, he’s an Anquan-Boldin-type guy. If you don’t like him, you say he’s speed deficient. If he runs fast at the combine, that’s one of those positions where speed at the combine means something.
The Niners have three featured role players set to hit free agency in Dashon Goldson, Isaac Sopoaga and Delanie Walker. There is a high chance that the majority of them—if not all—will be wearing different colors in 2013.
However, San Francisco will inevitably realize that this was a very timely year to lose said players at those positions.
At a position where gifted prospects are typically limited, this draft is booming with impact safeties. There are numerous starter-caliber players that could be had up until Round 3. From Kenny Vaccaro to Bacarri Rambo, San Francisco can easily find Goldson’s replacement this year.
Sopoaga, 30, also picked a bad year to become a free agent. The identity of this draft class has been defined by its brute force and size on the defensive line. It is a deep class with plenty of big-bodied prospects ready to start in Week 1.
This draft might also see two tight ends go in the first round with Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) and Zach Ertz (Stanford).
Jim Harbaugh is going to be sitting comfortably on the bleachers, gazing at a well-stocked defensive class full of hybrid athletes, assured that Trent Baalke will execute yet another copacetic draft.
Since 2008, Baalke has fulfilled an integral role overseeing incoming talent. Before being named GM, he held central roles as the Director of Player Personnel and VP of Player Personnel.
Baalke has been affirmative in his decision-making, revealing an aggressive yet methodical draft prowess. He actively pursues highlighted players, having traded up on multiple occasions to secure the right man.
He has acquired targeted players in, but not exclusive to, the first round. In 2011, the Niners traded up to No. 36-overall for Colin Kaepernick. The year before, San Francisco moved up to No. 11-overall for Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis.
Baalke has a fairly astute draft history, having discovered a number of impact players outside the first round. When it comes to drafting in the mid-to-late rounds, he has attained underrated prospects that fit the system defensively.
Since 2009, Ricky Jean-Francois, NaVorro Bowman and Chris Culliver have all been regular defensive contributors found on Days 2 and 3 of the draft. With this being a defense-heavy draft, Baalke could come out strong as San Francisco looks to rebuild this secondary and add depth to the front seven.
Trent Baalke could wind up being MVP of the 2013 NFL Draft.
In April, only 254 names will be officially selected to join NFL teams. The remainder will have to wait and hopefully sign on as undrafted free agents.
Each year, talented players fall out of the draft for various reasons; either for injuries, character concerns or maybe they played at a small school. The 49ers have been advocates of those cast out of the NFL draft.
They have had a number of UDFAs come in and compete with draftees, and the 49ers show no favoritism. There was an example of this when 49ers sixth-round offensive lineman, Jason Slowey, was cut, while undrafted safety Michael Thomas managed to stick around.
Last year, Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict was widely regarded as a first-round prospect. However, following a poor showing at the combine and numerous off-the-field concerns, Burfict slid completely out of the draft.
He signed with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent and led the team in tackles in his rookie campaign. Now, the team is willing to part ways with former first-rounder Rey Maualuga in favor of the formerly troubled UDFA.
It's true, some players just turn it up when they strap the pads on.
San Francisco will be looking for bargains after Day 3 comes to a close. A talented draft class and teams scared off by character concerns or injuries could mean money in the bank for the 49ers.
It is easy to look at the San Francisco 49ers and dismiss any needs they may have. The fact is, they are not reigning Super Bowl champions, and thus they have to improve somehow.
This is a very talented roster, which forced the team to redshirt the vast majority of their rookies in 2012.
But with new vacancies expected to be available, San Francisco will be looking to upgrade.
They were already teetering on complete dominance, and some have gone as far to say that they may have a dynasty on their hands.
— Ron Kroichick (@rkroichick) February 1, 2013
But this team will never be finished under Harbaugh’s watch. It is constantly growing and improving—day by day, year by year. This may be the last draft needed to get them over the championship hump.
If they find a proper complement to Michael Crabtree, as well as successors to Isaac Sopoaga and Dashon Goldson, San Francisco should be in excellent shape personnel-wise.
After adding one more spark plug to this offense and filling out the defense, the 49ers should have the most dense roster in the NFL, and a sixth Lombardi Trophy on the horizon.
Fmr RB Roger Craig on #49ers: "They’ll have the NFL’s winningest team the next decade & they'll win 3 Super Bowls in the next eight years."— Ron Kroichick (@rkroichick) February 1, 2013