As much as teams want to find the next great player for their franchise, they want to avoid the next big NFL bust.
Especially for organizations on the cusp, looking for the final components to a championship-winning team, it is vital to take advantage of the window they have before the wave of personnel making them great now dissipates.
The talent is there, and most analysts would say they are merely two or three players away from a dominant run in 2013. And with a league-high 13 draft picks, they are in the driver’s seat to land those missing pieces.
However, on draft day, general manager Trent Baalke needs to be cognizant of hyped players who might not be a suitable fit with the team. There are several players at positions of need that might be traps, which ultimately set the team back.
In the following, we take a look at four high-profile prospects the 49ers should avoid in the draft.
The 49ers need a safety and Eric Reid of LSU projects to be a fairly good one.
But the evaluation process is slightly more complex than that. It is about finding the right fit. And it is in that regard where Reid and the 49ers should find themselves at a crossroads.
The 49ers need to replace—if not upgrade—the hawking coverage ability of departed All-Pro free safety Dashon Goldson.
Reid is by no means the fluid coverage safety who is going to trigger opposing quarterbacks to hesitate. In fact, the LSU product is built more like a strong safety with an emphasis on coming downhill against the run.
The upside to his game is his ability as a hitter.
From a coverage standpoint, it would be a drastic downgrade from Goldson and would ultimately put the integrity of the defense at risk. This makes them a more primitive defense, limiting any impending growth.
He might be a great fix for Indianapolis or Washington, but as a similar type of player, it is also not difficult to imagine Reid backing up Donte Whitner at strong safety with an eye toward having him replace the veteran in the future.
In my opinion, this is perhaps the most alarming selection the 49ers could potentially make because of how it endangers them come January.
Mike Mayock terms LSU S Eric Reid a “wild card.” Could go anywhere from mid-first round to third. Teams “all over the board on him.” #49ers
—Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) April 18, 2013
If you don’t think the 49ers can miss on a defensive line prospect just because line coach Jim Tomsula is a miracle worker, refer back to the 2008 draft that saw San Francisco use their first-round pick on Kentwan Balmer of North Carolina.
Even though Trent Baalke has superseded Scot McCloughan as GM since then, the draft pitfalls remain.
There seems to be this notion that Southern Methodist’s Margus Hunt is the answer for the 49ers at defensive line. There is even a band of faithful pushing for him as an understudy and potential successor to All-Pro DE Justin Smith.
It is a little difficult to make sense of this given what Smith does.
Justin Smith is remarkable because of his ability to absorb blockers and rush the passer for San Francisco. His build and skill set is perfectly suited for Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense because it allows Smith to lineup inside and use his power.
While Hunt showed versatility lining up in an array of fronts at SMU, he is too tall and too lean to step into San Francisco’s base defense and reasonably fulfill the duties required from the end position.
Hunt went to SMU as an accomplished track and field athlete, boasting the background of a sprinter. His game is based on speed while Smith’s is based on power. They really could not differ more in terms of a stylistic approach to the game.
And their body types support the argument.
Smith is 6’4”, and a thick 285 pounds. Whereas Hunt is a towering 6’8”, 277-pound lineman, who looks more like a 4-3 defensive end. If you’re looking for a comparison, Hunt is like a tall Jared Allen.
His ceiling is not going to be reached as an every down 3-technique lineman.
And, again, he is not multifaceted in the sense that he is going to absorb blockers and rush the passer. Also, with Hunt being relatively new to the game, there is a learning curve for which the team that drafts him will have to account.
So, with a late Day 1, early Day 2 pick, you’d be taking a 26-year-old project player who doesn't fit your system.
To me, there are enough early warning signs to avoid making this move. The 49ers are better off looking for a defensive tackle type player in a later round, like Kawann Short of Purdue or Missouri Southern's Brandon Williams.
While he might wind up being a good player, Margus Hunt is not what the 49ers need at defensive line.
Margus Hunt ran a 4.60 and repped 225 lbs 38 times. That's unreal. Still not sure where you play him.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 25, 2013
To be clear, I believe Robert Woods is going to be a good player, maybe even a 10-year starter when it’s all said and done. Every level he has ever played at, Woods has been a dominant football player on the field.
So, this is not a knock against Woods’ game.
The argument here is that, in a nutshell, Robert Woods is a carbon copy of every other receiver on the 49ers roster right now. The receiving corps lacks a true height/weight/speed threat—all of their receivers are 6’1” or under.
At 6’1”, 201 pounds, Woods will not offer any new element to the Niners offense, which makes it a lackluster pick, especially given how high a pick San Francisco would have to invest to get him. His skill set is not particularly complementary to that of the rest of the receiving corps; it would instead just double up on what the Niners already have.
And considering the depth, there is a good chance he does not suit up on game day.
In the interest of both the 49ers and Robert Woods, they will pass on the USC receiver, allowing him to go to a team like Houston, Minnesota or Tennessee where he will be able to get involved early and potentially thrive.
Robert Woods reminds me of a better version of Mario Manningham. Similar build and ball skills. Woods is tougher and more instinctive.—Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) December 31, 2012
The 49ers should be on the “Tyler Eifert or Bust” campaign.
Going position by position, there is perhaps more separation between Eifert and the rest of the pack than any other group. He has completely taken hold of the No. 1 spot at tight end, with former Stanford Cardinal Zach Ertz trailing.
In his final mock, Todd McShay has Eifert as high as No. 6 to the Cleveland Browns.
Ertz, however, is a projected late-first to early-second-round pick in 2013. Therefore, if the 49ers want him, they would have to select him at No. 31 or No. 34. But looking at the big board at that time, that seems early considering who else might be available.
And, truthfully, because of the Stanford connection and the need at the position, there has been a mountain of speculation linking the 49ers and Ertz.
However, this feels like a forced pick.
In a deep tight end class, and considering the arguments against Ertz, the investment required to attain him does not seem worthy. If Eifert is out of range in Round 1, the Niners can wait until the third round to grab their No. 2 TE.
The knocks against Ertz are fairly alarming, and perhaps none more than his lack of blocking ability. San Francisco requires that from their secondary tight end—its ingrained in its offensive system.
As a receiver-only tight end, Ertz does not have the strength to sustain blocks at the line of scrimmage.
Moreover, his short arms (31 ¾”), and the fact that he was a system player at Stanford should cause concern. A year ago, Coby Fleener received similar praise but was not the game-changer he was hyped up to be.
The truth is that tight ends look good in Stanford’s offense, just like quarterbacks typically look good at USC. But oftentimes collegiate success just doesn’t translate to the NFL.
It is almost a certainty that one or two TEs taken after Ertz wind up being better players in the NFL. For what the 49ers need from their tight ends, a prospect like San Diego State's Gavin Escobar or Cincinnati's Travis Kelce would be better fit and could be gotten later on.
These are two big guys who can get vertical and, because of their large frames, bring more upside as blockers.
Mike Mayock thinks Zach Ertz "may be interesting to the 49ers" at pick no. 31. Says Travis Kelce is the best blocker of his top TEs.
— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) April 18, 2013