San Francisco 49ers Draft Preview Part 1: Offensive Skill Positions
Every NFL team enters the draft and offseason with a singular mission—to build a team that can win a Super Bowl.
Over the past two seasons, no team has been as close as the 49ers have been to realize that dream only to see the opportunity slip from their grasp in the waning moments of the game. In the 2011-12 season, the 49ers lost in the NFC Championship game in overtime to the New York Giants. The Giants went on to defeat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Last season, the 49ers failed to finish a dramatic comeback against the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII and fell short once again.
To say the 49ers are driven to win their sixth Vince Lombardi trophy is be a understatement. The 49ers fans, players, coaches, general management and owners all know they are that close to winning it all and that their window to win is now, not later. To add more pressure to next year, it will be the 49ers' final season in Candlestick, a meaningful place for 49ers fans during much of the 1980s and 1990s. There would be no better way to to close out the 49ers' reign at Candlestick than with a championship.
But don't expect the 49ers to try and reach for that one elusive player fans believe will take them to the promised land. Instead. the 49ers will approach this year's draft with their business as usual approach seeking players who offer value, address needs and provide impact immediately.
In last year's draft, we saw the 49ers picking talented players and "red-shirting" them for most of, if not all of, the season. I personally believe this was primarily due to the depth of the talent in front of these draft picks more than their lack of ability to make an impact.
While there will certainly be moves made both up and down in the draft by the 49ers, I see GM Trent Baalke, head coach Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the 49ers' brain trust continuing with their proven and patient strategy of looking for players who provide best overall value while addressing current and future needs and attempting to find those special players that can be game changers such as LaMichael James.
Here are some possible candidates the 49ers may select in this year's draft which may or may not be on the radar screen for San Francisco. I have not attempted to predict which players the 49ers will take with each specific draft pick given the dynamic nature of the draft. Instead, I have focused on some talent that the 49ers may have their eyes on by skill position.
In the first part of this article, let's take a look at three offensive skill position players—TE, WR, RB.
A 'Best Value' Tight End to Replace Delanie Walker
Vance McDonald out of Rice University would be an excellent fit for the 49ers to fill the gap left by Delanie Walker's free-agency departure.
At 6'4", McDonald is slightly smaller than both Zach Ertz of Stanford and Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame. However, despite weighing 267 pounds, McDonald is still the fastest of the three in the 40-yard dash, bringing Vernon Davis-type acceleration to the position. He has a better vertical jump ability then Ertz, better arm length than both Ertz and Eifert and is No. 1 in bench press reps than all other tight ends available in the draft.
McDonald is an aggressive blocker and has experience lining up at the wideout position in college making him valuable in terms of positional flexibility for offensive coordinator Greg Roman's pistol offense.
Overall, McDonald is the type of player that GM Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh would love to add to their roster if he is still available at a value pick position in the second or third round rather than trading up for the more "popular" picks of Ertz and Eifert.
Marshall's Aaron Dobson Would Be a Great Understudy to Anquan Boldin at WR
At 6'3", 210 pounds with relatively good speed for his size, Aaron Dobson out of Marshall University would be a nice fit to eventually replace Anquan Boldin when he likely departs after his one-year deal is up.
Dobson's career stats at Marshall were 165 receptions for 2,398 yards and 24 touchdowns in 47 games. He averaged 14.5 yards per catch for his career.
While some mock drafts have the 49ers looking at Markus Wheaton of Oregon State, Wheaton lacks the size the 49ers need to match up against the big cornerbacks of NFC West opponent Seattle Seahawks. Dobson is projected as a second- to third-round pick in the draft.
The 49ers could also be considering Da'Rick Rogers, a 6'3", 206-pound speedster from Tennessee Tech and Tennessee. However, Rogers' well-known character issues may preclude the 49ers' brass from touching this player despite the fact that that many believe he has Julio Jones-like abilities. Rogers is projected by many mock drafts to go in the third round despite having first-round athletic abilities.
Looking for the Next Frank Gore
While I love Frank Gore and believe the 49ers have a nice stable of running backs on their roster, they need to find an eventual replacement for Gore in a power RB with the ability to break away. Notre Dame's Cierre Wood may fit the bill for this role, and he could be available in the late rounds of the draft.
Wood was one of the most heralded running backs in the nation coming out of high school. Only a junior, Wood is raw and will require further development but could be a bargain in the latter rounds of the draft.