The 2013 free agent period is in full swing, with several impact transactions having been completed this past week. Though, as expected, the San Francisco 49ers have cruised steadily under the radar.
Up to this point, the 49ers have seen far more departures than arrivals.
UFAs Isaac Sopoaga (Eagles), Delanie Walker (Titans), Ricky Jean-Francois (Colts) and Dashon Goldson (Buccaneers) have all signed with other teams, moving onto the next chapter in their careers, respectively.
Moreover, with the trade of No. 11 to Kansas City and the acquisition of Anquan Boldin from Baltimore, the 49ers gained a second-rounder and lost a sixth-rounder in the 2013 draft. They are now back to having 14 available selections for April’s draft – some of which are still undisclosed.
The team has been stockpiling picks, leaving them with virtually no limitations on draft day. And unlike last year’s turn at Radio City, the 49ers have very apparent needs to fill on their roster.
Their non-aggressive approach in free agency shows they have a plan for the draft.
They lost four key role players, but signed second-tier replacements who project as backups. With all things considered, the short-term deals extended to Glenn Dorsey and Craig Dahl are not final solutions to the DL and FS positions.
Now strapped with a surplus of draft ammunition, the Niners will revamp recent openings left on the roster, and perhaps come back stronger than before. For the San Francisco 49ers' full 7-round mock projections -- with free agency considered -- proceed through the following slides.
Heading into this offseason, priority No. 1 for the 49ers was to rebuild the interior defensive line.
With the losses of Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois, San Francisco stressed the importance of the DT position early in the offseason (via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area).
They made a firm motion to acquire Glenn Dorsey, signing him to a two-year deal on Day 2 of free agency.
Though Dorsey was their first signing–and a significant one–the team is by no means done addressing the position. They should finish shoring up the defensive line in the upcoming draft.
The 49ers’ first pick in the draft is their own, at No. 31 overall. The conference champions are slated to choose second-to-last in Round 1, and must tend to the defensive front. In a draft class loaded with line talent, a top prospect could very well fall right in their lap.
Mike Mayock has two DTs tied at his number 5 position: Kawann Short and Johnathan Hankins #NFLCombine— NFL Media PR (@InsideNFLMedia) February 25, 2013
The Niners stay put on Day 1 and make Kawann Short their first selection in the 2013 draft.
At 6’3”, 299 pounds, the former Purdue Boilermaker was a dominant defender at the line, bringing an all-encompassing skill set to the trenches. Short is built like a Coke machine but moves quite well for his size.
He has immense upper body strength, which has helped him control the line of scrimmage throughout his career. Short uses his hands exceptionally well and has a powerful club move, which often gets him behind protections.
He became recognized for his work between the hashes, as a generally disruptive penetrator in the middle. Short’s production increased each season at Purdue. He amassed 19.5 sacks in his last three campaigns.
He also had 45 tackles for a loss in that time.
Short proved he could push the pocket, either clogging running lanes or collapsing protection around the quarterback. As an aggressive, no-nonsense player, he can be the lynchpin in the 49ers’ line of the future.
Moreover, Short does not get enough credit for his versatility—an element he will bring that Sopoaga lacked.
He is a very gifted athlete, moving quite well with such a large frame. Short is flexible enough to play in a three- or four-man front. He also has the quickness to shoot gaps and has a nifty spin move.
The Niners lock down a huge need with this selection.
The 49ers will have their second pick shortly after their first, courtesy of the Alex Smith trade to the Kansas City Chiefs. This puts them in a very advantageous position near the front of the draft.
Since the Niners are choosing in such close proximity, they can narrow down the odds of who will be available and better control their picks. With their first two selections, San Francisco should be looking for starter-caliber players.
Off hand, they have evident vacancies to fill at DL and FS.
Two picks after San Francisco selects Kawann Short, general manager Trent Baalke pulls the trigger on Florida safety, Matt Elam.
The former SEC star defender was a two-year starter with the Gators, where he became one of college football’s most feared strikers.
By nature, Elam is very physical and has a reputation for his tone-setting hits. Even though he brings the lumber, he carries the prestige of a great open-field tackler. For the Niners, who just lost one of their hardest hitters, Elam would be a great addition.
Florida Safety Matt Elam clocked at a 4.46 & 4.53 is his two unofficial 40s. Mike Mayock on Elam, "He won't tackle you, he'll knock you out"
— NFL Draft Insider (@NFLDraftInsider) February 26, 2013
He also has prodigious coverage skills for a strong safety, making him interchangeable in San Francisco’s defense. Elam can step up in the box or drop back and play single-high if necessary—he is that well rounded.
As a senior, he racked up 76 tackles, nine pass deflections and four interceptions. Elam also managed 11 tackles for a loss, including two sacks and three forced fumbles. This is a player that is always around the football, swarming and making plays.
As a versatile hybrid safety, Elam can be a weapon in the secondary while upgrading the special teams coverage in his rookie season.
The 49ers doubled up on second-round picks this year, which will put them in a position to settle a few needs early.
Although they recently bolstered the receiving corps, San Francisco is not sure how long Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham will be around. Given the lack of production from A.J. Jenkins, wide receiver remains a need.
If injuries were to occur, they would be in a tough spot, again.
Ideally, the 49ers will draft a raw, high-ceiling player that complements their slot and possession receivers. This player would be able to provide depth, yet differ from the rest of the corps in terms of skill set.
Enter Aaron Dobson from Marshall University.
At 6’3”, 210 pounds, Dobson is the height/weight/speed receiver teams desire. On top of his imposing size, the Marshall product is a flyer, bringing top-end speed to the position.
According to CBS Sports, Dobson recorded a 4.33 40-yard dash in the 2009 preseason as a true freshman at Marshall.
Unlike the rest of San Francisco’s WRs, Dobson is lengthy (33" arms) and uses his size well. He is assertive going up for the reception, and has fine jump-ball ability.
And with all of his fancy measurables, Dobson has been commended for his precise route-running. Even though he has height and straight-line speed, he should not be characterized as simply a nine-route guy.
He runs all patterns and works awfully hard after the catch.
Dobson finished his collegiate career with 165 receptions, 2,398 yards and 25 touchdowns in 47 games played.
Aaron Dobson has a rare combination of height, speed, hands and leaping ability, classifying him as that highly coveted A.J. Green prototype. Although he is raw, the young pass-catcher is confident in his abilities and could emerge as one of the best receivers in this class.
While the 49ers have possession and slot receivers in spades, Dobson can be the one to take the top off the defense. He is an ultra-aggressive receiver that is always a threat to make the catch.
When considering the future of this San Francisco offense, Dobson makes a ton of sense in Round 2.
Marshall's Aaron Dobson posts a 4.4 forty time in his pro day at Marshall— Keith Morehouse (@KeithMorehouse) March 13, 2013
The 49ers’ first third-round pick comes from the Carolina Panthers, via a trade back during the 2012 draft.
This gives San Francisco the opportunity to find a fourth impact player inside the top 75 picks in April. Early in the third round, the 49ers will still be perusing potential starters, since they’ll still have needs to fill.
Niners’ veteran tight end Delanie Walker signed a four-year deal with the Tennessee Titans, leaving a gap at the No. 2 spot in the team’s tight-end friendly offense. He played an integral role on game day, participating in nearly 57 percent of offensive snaps (h/t Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area).
This is a system that demands a lot from their tight ends, so they will need to adequately replace Walker.
With his departure, the 49ers will take this opportunity to upgrade with a fiery hybrid TE in San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar.
Right off the bat, Escobar has great hand-eye coordination and can do anything you ask of him. He is a dangerous receiver, but has the frame to pack on weight and become a mauler in the trenches.
The edge Escobar holds over, say, Zach Ertz, is that he is going to knock guys off the ball.
The main aspect when it coms to replacing Walker is finding a versatile player that can be a presence in the run game. Escobar can certainly hone his skills in that regard, but, at the end of the day, his upside as a receiver greatly outweighs his floor as a blocker.
This 6’6”, 254-pound behemoth will provide a massive target for Colin Kaepernick.
Escobar displays toughness over the middle and can run all the routes. With his size, he is always a threat to go over the top of the defender and secure the catch.
During his time in the NCAA, he responded well to initial contact and fought for extra yards. When going up for the football, Escobar displayed good body control and adjusted well to the ball in flight.
Over three seasons, he accumulated 122 receptions, 1,646 yards and 17 touchdowns.
In his best campaign with the Aztecs, Escobar hauled in seven touchdowns and averaged 15.3 yards per catch on the season.
Given the threatening combination of leaping ability, size and high level of awareness, Escobar will upgrade this team’s red-zone attack, which plagued them in Super Bowl XLVII.
This acquisition would give San Francisco a set of dynamic tight ends—each providing a mismatch with their elite size and speed. Escobar, paired with Vernon Davis, would add an entirely new element to this high-volume offense.
Working back on 2011 games for Gavin Escobar. His blocking, at least on first contact, was much better. Love how he always hands catches.
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) March 17, 2013
The 49ers make their first trade of the draft, giving their third-round (No. 93 overall), their fourth-rounder and fifth-rounder to move up in the middle of Round 3.
With this selection, the 49ers target Georgia free safety Bacarri Rambo.
As a punishing hitter and hawking defensive back, Rambo is the total package, much like his would-be predecessor, Dashon Goldson.
In fact, during his draft evaluation process, CBS Sports—amongst others—compared the ex-Bulldog to the All-Pro safety, Goldson. Their style of play is strikingly similar, both functioning as dual-threat defensive backs.
Like Goldson, Rambo is an intensely aggressive tackler, and has the awareness and ball skills to create turnovers. He tracks the ball well in the air and has the soft hands to come down with it.
In his four-year career with Georgia, Rambo amassed 235 tackles and 16 interceptions, with 11 of those picks coming in his last two seasons.
He is aggressive running plays down near the line of scrimmage, so he’ll be an asset rather than a liability when it comes to run support. Although, it must be noted that Rambo often looks for the knockout blow rather than wrapping up.
But he will bring great versatility as a player, able to play up in the box, as well cover up the slot or the tight end. He could also develop into a first-rate special teams player as a rookie.
As a third-rounder, Bacarri Rambo brings great value and has a high ceiling under Ed Donatell.
Around that time in the draft, San Francisco is expecting a compensatory pick, which could be used on the former NCAA superstar.
Tyrann Mathieu was an electrifying All-American at LSU, emerging as an impact player from the first minute.
In 2011, he was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year, amassing six takeaways (2 INT, 4 FR), as well as six forced fumbles, and 11 pass deflections. He also led the Tigers in tackles (76) and had a pair of defensive touchdowns to go with.
At the end of the year, Mathieu was presented with the Chuck Bednarik Award, which is awarded to the nation’s best defensive player. He also took home MVP honors in the SEC Championship and the Cotton Bowl.
On the field, Mathieu was a force and could mature into a defensive weapon for the 49ers.
He projects as a superb nickel corner at the next level. He could become one of the most exciting, well-rounded special teamers in the NFL. Mathieu could get on the field as a rookie and prove to be a multifaceted threat.
On draft day, teams are going to be scared off by Mathieu’s off-field persona, but San Francisco’s locker room gives him a chance to succeed.
They have cultivated a winning environment that has seen several players branded “defective” succeed. The 49ers could get great value in the early to mid rounds by taking a leap of faith with Mathieu.
During the draft process, Mathieu went through the proper channels to redeem himself in the eyes of the pundits. He seems focused—reborn almost—and prepared to take on the responsibilities of being an NFL pro.
This past week, TMZ caught up with Mathieu, and when asked about his “dream team” to play for, the LSU corner said the San Francisco 49ers. With the Niners in need of assistance and playmaking ability in the secondary, this could be a perfect fit.
49ers DB coach Ed Donatell was chatting with ex-LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu between drills. Mathieu smiled and gave Donatell pat on his back.
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) February 26, 2013
Heading into the late rounds the talent pool begins to dry up, but there are plenty of prospects with unrealized potential.
The Niners are still in a position to acquire contributors here because they have excellent talent evaluators and a coaching staff, to boot.
In Round 5, the 49ers select their second defensive prospect from Georgia, Kwame Geathers.
At 6’5”, 342 pounds, this guy is mammoth, making him an interesting project for line coach Jim Tomsula. Geathers’ technique is the reason he is not an early to mid rounder, but he has the physical gifts to make a difference at the next level.
With his incredible size and athleticism, Geathers is simply begging to be coached up. He is strong and has exceptional short-area quickness for his size. Needless to say he takes up a lot of space at the line of scrimmage.
The knock against him is that he is still raw and does not play as big as he looks.
Geathers has found himself susceptible to cut blocks, showing he needs to improve his balance and play with better leverage on a more consistent basis. But overall, he could benefit from good coaching, learning to harness his size and sharpen his technique.
Geathers could be a solid developmental player as a late-round pick up.
This year, the 49ers have an early sixth-round pick acquired in a trade from Miami back during the 2012 draft.
This past season, San Francisco endured what was David Akers’ worst season as a pro. While the All-Pro kicker was battling injury, that soon developed into a mental block that plagued him well into the Super Bowl.
The team announced Akers' release in early March, and now find themselves in the market for a starting kicker. In the early sixth round, the selection of Dustin Hopkins is really a no-brainer.
The Florida State product is the No. 1 place kicker on the board, having set the FBS record for a kicker by scoring 466 points over his NCAA career.
During his time with the 'Noles, Hopkins earned the nickname “The Golden Toe,” completing over 81 percent of his FGs in his last two seasons.
With this pick, the 49ers ensure consistency, as well as a long-term solution at the position. It would also prevent them from signing a kicker in free agency, ultimately saving them money against the cap.
Hopkins has shown the ability to perform under pressure, while also bringing accuracy and plenty of leg strength. The 49ers get real value here on Day 3.
The 49ers will have an extra seventh-round pick this year, via the Cincinnati Bengals' trade for Taylor Mays.
With this pick, San Francisco selects a developmental pass-rush specialist in Quanterus Smith of Western Kentucky.
At 6’5”, 250 pounds, Smith can provide depth at outside linebacker and potentially spell winded starters as a rookie.
There is a lot of upside with Smith, as he has an uncanny knack for getting around the edge. He has the flexibility to bend and dip that shoulder, but remain in steady pursuit. When on the field, he showed he could consistently get in the opponent’s backfield.
Moreover, Smith has a long, lean frame, and he’s highly athletic, which makes him so intriguing as a developmental prospect. He had 40 tackles for a loss in his last three seasons, including 24 sacks–showing improvement each year.
While he hustles to the ball carrier, he needs to improve his technique against the run so he is not a liability.
For a seventh-rounder, Smith presents a tremendous opportunity for a team willing to work with him. Had it not been for a late season ACL tear in November 2012 (via Fox Sports), Smith’s draft stock might’ve been in the early to mid rounds.
Quanterus Smith led nation w/ 1.25 sacks a game -including 3 vs. 'Bama- but inability to work out makes him a gamble: cbssports.com/nfl/draft/blog…
— Rob Rang (@RobRang) February 23, 2013
The 49ers expect to have the second-to-last pick in the draft this year, which is a tough spot to discover value.
However, San Francisco has found contributors as of recent years with Bruce Miller (No. 211 overall) and Ricky Jean-Francois (No. 244 overall), showing there is value if you have an idea what you’re looking for.
The Niners should be looking for a specialist with this pick, not a starter.
Moreover, with the departure of Ted Ginn, Jr., San Francisco has shown they are in the market for a return specialist. They had been connected to both Percy Harvin and Josh Cribbs this offseason, but the prices were too high.
At the end of Day 3, the 49ers select return ace Reggie Dunn from Utah.
During his time with the Utes, Dunn returned four 100-plus-yard kicks for touchdowns, which set an NCAA single-season record. He is a dynamic returner that could immediately upgrade the special teams, or at the very least provide competition.
Unfortunately, Dunn has almost no potential as a wide receiver; he is strictly a return specialist.
Though, if he is still available near the end of the draft, the Niners cannot afford to pass on his explosiveness. Dunn is a home-run threat, having clocked a low 4.28-second 40-yard dash (h/t NFL Draft Scout).
On any given return, Dunn can turn the narrowest seam into a game-breaking moment.
In his senior season, he finished with an average of 51 yards per kick return, which would have been the highest in at least 10 years if Dunn were eligible. Given all he has shown on special teams he would be worth bringing to Santa Clara for a closer look.
Note: The 49ers also expect to have two more undisclosed late-round picks when the compensatory selections are distributed.