San Francisco 49ers: 6 Players the 49ers Must Avoid in the 2013 NFL Draft
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For starters, the 49ers are already a deep and talented team with relatively few areas of need. Stars like Patrick Willis, Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith and Vernon Davis, among others, figure to be in San Francisco for a while. There are relatively few positions that need significant upgrades.
In addition, the 49ers have 14 picks going into the draft.
Those two factors put San Francisco in a tremendous position. The 2013 49ers are no longer the team that was perennially bad a number of years ago, relying on high draft picks to help build a struggling franchise.
They are good now...really good.
It is also reasonable to assume the 49ers do not plan on using each of their 14 picks on players in the draft. Considering other teams' needs around the league, San Francisco will likely trade up in the draft at one or more points in various rounds to acquire a player they feel is needed.
"The 49ers have the firepower to make more moves and influence the draft more than any team in the NFL," a source told CSNBayArea.com. "With all those draft picks, and half of them who can't truly make the 49ers' roster, they will be the most dangerous player in the draft. They'll shake it up like we've never seen before."
Further complicating the 49ers' projections is their relatively limited involvement during free agency.
Following the trade of Alex Smith and the trade for Anquan Boldin, San Francisco was fairly quiet during free agency. The losses of Dashon Goldson, Delanie Walker, Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois create some needs for San Francisco.
The signings of Craig Dahl, Phil Dawson and Glenn Dorsey helped alleviate some of the 49ers' needs, but San Francisco still has legitimate questions to answer in the upcoming draft (via 49ers.com).
Fortunately, there are relatively few of them.
All things considered, the 49ers do not need to "hit it big" with this upcoming draft class. Yet they also do not want to be in a position where a bad draft may hurt them. Last year's drafting of Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins turned out to be a bust in 2012, a factor that plagued the 49ers during the playoffs and in Super Bowl XLVII.
In Jenkins' case, he may still be a work in progress. Yet the 49ers want to be able to fill their needs in a way that will help them win now and in the future.
San Francisco's front office, including head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke, will have to do their proverbial homework on the upcoming draft (rantsports.com).
With all those draft picks, they can afford a "miss" or two. San Francisco still needs to ensure that they avoid another "Jenkins" situation and draft smart.
Here are six players coming out in this year's draft that the 49ers should avoid.
Running Back Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
Running back Marcus Lattimore is an injury risk.
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The San Francisco 49ers already have tremendous depth at the running back position. Frank Gore, LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter provide a solid trio.
The 49ers depend on their running game, and there is no reason to assume they will not again in 2013.
It is true that Gore is getting older. At 29, he no longer carries the same load that he did back when he was one of San Francisco's lone offensive weapons. Fortunately, the 49ers can spell him with Hunter and the newly emerged James.
As such, it would be a surprise if San Francisco drafted a running back in the first three rounds.
However, it is possible that the 49ers might take a shot during the later rounds of the draft.
He deserves to be slated that high, perhaps even higher. His college accolades are impressive. The 2010 SEC Freshman of the Year has totaled 2,677 rushing yards and 38 touchdowns with the Gamecocks (sports-reference.com).
His unique combination of size and speed makes him versatile and dangerous. Lattimore was even predicted by some to have a legitimate shot at being a Heisman Trophy candidate and potential first-round draft pick (rantsports.com).
Yet Lattimore's story is hindered by a slough of injuries that have plagued him over his collegiate career. He tore a ligament in his knee on October 15, 2011, followed by another knee injury the following year.
Surgeon James Andrews was able to repair the knee and praised Lattimore's recovery efforts. Yet there is no doubt that his injury history hampered Lattimore's college career and high draft potential.
Lattimore may have a solid NFL career. Yet there are no guarantees with running backs coming out of the draft, especially ones with injury concerns. The 49ers got away with drafting Frank Gore, known for collegiate injuries as well, and that has worked out nicely.
That sort of luck might not happen twice.
If the 49ers drafted Lattimore, he would be able to learn the offense under the tutelage of Gore. With the plethora of picks, the 49ers could seriously weigh the option.
The only question is: Why would they?
San Francisco does not need a running back in the middle rounds. Even if they flirt with the idea of drafting one, passing on Lattimore would be an easy choice.
Quarterback Matt Scott, Arizona
Quarterback Matt Scott has similarities to Colin Kaepernick.
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Colin Kaepernick is the quarterback of the future for the 49ers.
There is no doubting that. Following the emergence of Kaepernick last year, San Francisco's offense became more dynamic than it had ever been under Smith. Kaepernick not only had the arm strength that Smith lacked, but he also had blazing speed; an element that thwarted numerous opponents' defensive game plans.
Kaepernick epitomizes the new breed of "hybrid" quarterbacks in today's NFL. With all of his diverse talents, Kaepernick brings a new face to the 49ers' offense.
Yet with those elements comes a substantial risk.
One must look no further than Robert Griffin III. Griffin is similar to Kaepernick. He has uncanny arm strength, accuracy and speed. He is mobile both in and out of the pocket. He is also prone to injury.
Because of this, San Francisco needs to consider drafting a quarterback this year. Following Smith's trade, the 49ers lose what would have been an experienced and proven backup. While it is probably best to let Smith play elsewhere, his departure opened up the need for San Francisco to bring in a quarterback that would help on the 49ers' depth chart.
Scott Tolzien will compete to be Kaepernick's immediate backup in 2013, but the 49ers may grab another quarterback in the draft, most likely using a mid-to-late round pick.
On the surface, Matt Scott out of Arizona might be a plausible candidate. Scott is similar to Kaepernick in many regards. He has a solid delivery with accuracy. He is also mobile in the pocket and a threat to run (cbssports.com). Coming from a similar offense in Arizona, Scott would fit in nicely with the new style of offense now utilized by San Francisco.
Yet there are reasons why the 49ers should pass on Scott.
First, Scott's size is a concern. At 6'2", he is tall enough, but he's very lean at 213 pounds. (cbssports.com). Given how much he likes to run, his size makes him an injury risk.
More of an issue is his lack of practical experience. He played only one full season in Arizona, spending much of his time backing up now-Philadelphia Eagle Nick Foles for two of his four college seasons (sports-reference.com). True, he could learn quickly under the coaching of Jim Harbaugh and leadership of Kaepernick, but experience is lacking.
Those concerns would be a lot to gamble on if the 49ers were considering Scott. Even if he was drafted, Scott would merely be an insurance policy for Kaepernick and San Francisco over the next few seasons.
There are bigger and more experienced late-round quarterbacks out there and the 49ers would be better suited to explore other options.
Wide Receiver Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
Wide receiver Stedman Bailey lacks size and speed.
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In 2012, the 49ers saw what injuries could do to a deep receiving core.
By the end of the season, both Manningham and Williams were out with knee injuries. Moss made little impact, and Jenkins failed to record a single catch. The only legitimate threat left was Crabtree.
That hurt in Super Bowl XLVII.
There was no doubt that the 49ers needed to get better at the wide receiver position this offseason. The 49ers will likely be in the hunt for a wide receiver this draft.
Barring any blockbuster trade-ups, San Francisco will most likely see prospects like Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin and DeAndre Hopkins go early. But there are a number of solid prospects in the mid-rounds that San Francisco may consider.
West Virginia's Stedman Bailey enjoyed a breakout year in 2012. It was his junior year and Bailey amassed 1,622 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns, a school record, for the Mountaineers over the course of the season (sports-reference.com).
Like Boldin and Crabtree, Bailey has amazing hands and an uncanny agility to pull in errant passes (nflsfuture.com). At 5'10" he is not going to be the large target compared to most other receivers coming out in the draft, but he has the ability to create space with his agility.
Despite the agility, he does not have the greatest speed (cbssports.com). Combined with his lack of height, this may be a significant hindrance at the NFL level.
Bailey also has had a share of on-the-field problems at West Virginia. When he has been involved in the play, Bailey puts forward maximum effort. When he is not involved however, he has the tendency to "give up."
He also has been called for unsportsmanlike penalties during his college career; elements that will not go over well with Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers (cbssports.com).
Entering the draft after his junior year may also hinder his NFL abilities. While he did have a tremendous 2012 season, there is no reason to assume that he would have a similar impact his first year in the NFL (rantsports.com).
At best, Bailey might be a great slot receiver. His physique does not allow for much more. Granted, slot receivers can have major impacts at the NFL level. Yet his size and lack of speed are concerns. His on-the-field problems are also potential setbacks.
If the 49ers want to avoid another A.J. Jenkins situation, they should politely pass on Bailey and take a look at Tennessee Tech's Da'Rick Rogers instead.
Tight End Zach Ertz, Stanford
Tight end Zach Ertz figures to be a hot commodity on draft day.
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The loss of tight end Delanie Walker hurts the 49ers.
It's true that he never was, nor ever will be, Vernon Davis. But Walker's value was much more than his big-play abilities.
Walker was unique in that he was San Francisco's "Swiss Army Knife," capable of so much versatility on offense. He was a decent receiving option. Walker could line up in a fullback position as well as play on either end of the line. He was great at both run-blocking and pass-blocking. Like Davis, Walker created mismatches.
After Walker's departure, the 49ers will almost certainly look towards the draft as a means to try and replace him. San Francisco loves to utilize two-tight end formations on offense, and replacing Walker becomes very important.
Stanford tight end Zach Ertz is on their radar (Times Herald).
There is a lot to like about Ertz. In three seasons in Stanford, Ertz totaled 1,434 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns (sports-reference.com). He also played in a system that Jim Harbaugh helped create in his days before signing on as head coach in San Francisco. Ertz has terrific hands and is a good route-runner (cbssports.com).
Ertz should have little problem becoming a solid NFL receiving tight end. Yet he has shown some difficulties in the blocking aspect of his game. Given the 49ers' reliance upon Frank Gore and the running game, would that be something they would want to take a chance on?
If Ertz was projected to be a mid-round pick, drafting him may be smart. Yet Ertz has steadily worked his way up the rankings and will likely go at the end of the first round or early in the second. The 49ers are looking to replace Walker, not Davis.
Instead of Ertz, San Francisco should consider Vance McDonald out of Rice. He is similar to Walker in so many ways and would save the 49ers a higher draft pick that would be best spent elsewhere.
Defensive Tackle Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins struggles with consistency.
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The 49ers are likely going to approach this year's draft with a "defense first" mentality.
They are also going to need a legitimate pass-rusher.
Justin Smith is not going to be getting any younger and the 49ers saw what injury did to him and their pass rush. Smith may have another good year left with San Francisco, but it is evident that the 49ers need to look towards the future.
Fortunately, this year's draft is heavy with defensive tackles and ends, many of whom are projected to go in the first round.
One of those who may possibly drop to the 49ers' 31st overall pick is defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. CBS Sports Draft analyst Rob Rang has the Denver Broncos selecting Hankins with the 28th overall pick, further fueling an already solid Denver defense (via sbnation.com). Yet it is possible that he's still be around when for San Francisco's first-round pick three selections later.
There are a number of reasons why Hankins is ranked to go in the first round.
Hankins has a ton of potential at the NFL level. At 6'3" and 320 pounds, Hankins is a beast of a man. For someone his size, Hankins is surprisingly athletic. He also has keen football awareness and was almost always on the field during his time at Ohio State (cbssports.com).
That ability, combined with his size, has allowed Hankins to become a terrific run-stopper; something the 49ers are known for doing well. It is easy to assume that Hankins would fit right in to this system.
Eric Branch of SFGate.com has Hankins as one of the possible options for the 49ers on the defensive line (sfgate.com).
Yet there are a number of serious concerns that may thwart San Francisco's decision to draft him with a first-round pick.
Hankins was once a top-10 prospect, but there are limitations to his game that have caused him to drop in mock drafts. First, Hankins is great at stopping the run but not a great pass-rusher. His weight and body type are also an issue (bigblueview.com).
Rang reports (via sfgate.com):
He's probably more talented than (Jesse) Williams or (John) Jenkins, but he's got kind of a bad body. He's got too much weight around the middle and he's played very inconsistently through his career. So he's a guy that has the talent to go much higher, but could fall down the board a little bit.
There are also issues regarding his consistency. Possibly influenced by his size, Hankins comes with the reputation of being worn down towards the end of games (cbssports.com). He has fallen on projected draft boards in recent months. Via sbnation.com:
Hankins, at one point ranked as a top-ten prospect, measures out at 6'3 and 320 pounds. He ran a 5.31 40 at the NFL Combine, so he would take on the role of run stopper, not pass rusher.
The 49ers already know what it is like to have one of their best pass-rushers unable to play at 100 percent. It hurt them in the playoffs and in the Super Bowl last year.
There are other defensive linemen out there who are more athletic and have stronger abilities against the passing game. That is what the 49ers need.
Hankins does not fit that mold.
Safety Matt Elam, Florida
Safety Matt Elam is considered a possible replacement for Dashon Goldson.
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The 49ers needed help in their secondary last year, especially during the playoffs.
They need it even more after the departure of Dashon Goldson via free agency.
Yet Dahl is probably not the long-term solution for the 49ers at the position. Instead, San Francisco will likely look towards the draft, heavily laden with safeties, to bolster one of their glaring needs.
Florida's Matt Elam has been slated as one of the top safeties available in this upcoming draft (cbssports.com). Projected to go late in the first round, or possibly early in the second, there are a lot of things to like about Elam.
While not the tallest or biggest strong safety in the draft, Elam is very physical. He also is versatile in coverage and has the ability to both jam receivers at the line and provide excellent over-the-top coverage.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports states (via ninersnation.com):
Athletic, instinctive and quite physical, Elam demonstrated the ability to walk up into the box and be a force near the line of scrimmage while also dropping back into coverage as a single-high safety when coaches called for it -- showing off the type of versatility NFL teams are demanding from today's hybrid safeties. Elam shows good vision and anticipation when fighting through blocks near the line of scrimmage and is a reliable, physical tackler.
There is a good argument that Elam would be a solid fit for San Francisco. He is likely to be available at or around where the 49ers are drafting (remember the 49ers currently have the 31st and 34th overall picks) and Elam may fall right into either slot.
James Brady of Ninersnation.com praises Elam by noting (via ninersnation.com):
The 49ers are a team that values versatility, seemingly above all else. While I am extremely against bringing players on with the sole criteria of versatility, Elam is much, much more than that. He's a big hitter and he's able to play just like Goldson, but in a younger, cheaper package with a higher ceiling. He also brings all of the strong play at the line of scrimmage that they get with Donte Whitner. He fits Vic Fangio's defense like a glove.
All of those statements are true. Elam has the potential and ceiling to become one of the best safeties in the league. Yet Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh should not be so willing to use one of those early picks so fast.
A secondary is only as good as their defensive line allows them to be. Considering the 49ers' need for a pass-rusher to eventually take over the role of Justin Smith, San Francisco should be diligent and not draft a defensive back without the evaluation of its other needs.
Obviously the 49ers will be smart in this regard, but there are other reasons why Elam would not be a good fit.
Elam is 5'10" and does not fit the size of the position, especially compared to the physical attributes of other safeties in this class (sports.yahoo.com).
According to scouting reports, he also uses his athleticism unwisely at times. Similar to Goldson in this regard, Elam tends to go for the "big hit" instead of the smart play, which has sometimes lead to embarrassing misses. He may be good in coverage, but at that height, jump balls could be a problem.
Brady also cautions the 49ers' interest by saying (via ninersnation.com):
Elam is pretty undersized and if he can't reign in some of his more aggressive tendencies and his inability to properly tackle at times, the 49ers might not consider him worth the time and effort. They already have a head-case in the secondary and they don't need another person drawing flags and things of that nature.
The 49ers need immediate help in the secondary. Elam, while unquestionably talented, may not necessarily be NFL-ready, especially in San Francisco's immediate future. Given the depth at the safety position in this draft class, the 49ers may be best suited by examining other options.
Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien has been climbing up the draft boards lately and looks to be available in the latter portion of the second round. Rang has Cyprien listed No. 49 overall on the prospect rankings (cbssports.com).
Trading up for Texas' Kenny Vaccaro or waiting for LSU's Eric Reid may be a better option. Both are just as talented but also have the height.
In Elam's case, while he is talented and probably could help San Francisco, the 49ers may be best off with living by a simple statement:
Go big or go home.