This week may be a very noteworthy one for Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers franchise. With the 2013 NFL draft at our doorstep, this is the team’s chance to add the final components to a championship-winning team.
Moreover, it is the first draft as the team moves forward into the Colin Kaepernick era. It will be enticing to see how the thinking changes when it comes to building around their new quarterback.
In an unbelievably advantageous position, the reigning NFC champions withhold a league-high 13 draft picks, which almost immediately indicates a trade up. Especially given the density of this roster, the 49ers are on the prowl for quality, not quantity.
Fortunately, GM Trent Baalke has the flexibility to do a lot of different things.
Earlier this week, the 49ers were rumored to trade up as high as No. 13 (Jets) or No. 14 (Panthers) overall, per Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports. This is a report that could potentially materialize this evening.
With position flexibility and capital, the Niners are lined up to win this draft.
In a final attempt to predict the 49ers draft plans in 2013, we release a closing seven-round mock draft complete with trades. It is specific to the team’s draft philosophy, while also considering their needs and available picks.
The San Francisco 49ers are on the clock…
The 49ers’ war room is buzzing with activity on Day 1 of the draft.
In prime time, there are going to be several teams looking to move back, even if that means out of the first round altogether. And with the Niners parked at No. 31 holding a surplus of draft picks, their phone will be ringing off the hook.
This week, NFL insider Daniel Jeremiah amusingly confirmed via Twitter that teams are truly in the market to trade back this year.
With that in mind, the 49ers take advantage and find a trade partner in the Steelers. San Francisco maneuvers their way to the middle of Round 1, trading the No. 31, No. 93 and No. 237 overall picks to the Steelers for No. 17.
In the middle of the first, the 49ers select Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame.
With this pick, not only do they replenish the void left by Delanie Walker, but they add an intriguing wrinkle to a already high-volume offense. At 6’6”, 250 pounds, Eifert is the undisputed No. 1 TE available in 2013.
And this former All-American is not just a tight end; that is simply the designation he’ll be given on the depth chart. His measurables and versatile history make him multifaceted, giving options to offensive coordinators at the next level.
As a player with virtually no limitations, Eifert adds an all-around dynamic receiver to the 49ers offense.
During his time with the Fighting Irish, he lined up at TE, in the slot and outside the numbers. As a natural pass-catcher, he uses his size to go over the top of defenders to secure the ball, no matter the competition.
Whether it is against linebackers or cornerbacks, his athleticism allows him to contribute to an offense in multitude of ways, which makes him a intimidating X-factor for an offense.
Moreover, the ingenuity practiced by Greg Roman, Jim Harbaugh and this offensive staff will also assure the 49ers get the most out of Eifert.
And from a philosophical standpoint, it makes sense to strengthen a position that is emphasized in their system. The addition of Eifert also gives Colin Kaepernick the weapons he needs to really unleash this offense.
With the tandem of Vernon Davis and Tyler Eifert, San Francisco will masterfully dictate looks by opposing defenses on game day.
Early on Day 2, this is going to be a BPA (best player available) scenario for Trent Baalke and the Niners.
They can go a few different directions with this pick, so it will be contingent on how their board looks once they’re on the clock.
Bearing in mind his off-the-field troubles and recent pre-draft controversy (h/t ESPN), there is a very real possibility Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins falls out of first-round consideration.
There is a real mix of talent to be had, and the fact that he’s been red-flagged may make it easier for teams to bypass his possible selection on Day 1. Regardless, this creates a window of opportunity for the 49ers at the top of the second round.
Hopkins has first-round talent and star potential at the next level.
During his time at Clemson, he had unbelievable production, dominating ACC defenses for three years. In a breakthrough junior season, Hopkins caught 82 passes for 1,405 and a 18 touchdowns (second in the NCAA).
Hopkins has No. 1 potential, but he’ll come into a loaded position group as a rookie. This understudy role will help keep him humble, which should, in turn, aid in his maturation process.
He’ll join a rotation of receivers featuring Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and A.J. Jenkins. And while this group looks sharp in the short-term, there is a great deal of uncertainty in the not-too-distant future.
- Crabtree: With the last season of his contract coming in 2014, the 49ers' No. 1 WR is due for an extension (via Spotrac).
- Boldin: A 32-year-old Boldin came via trade wire with one year remaining on his deal.
- Manningham: Coming off an ACL tear and riding a short-term deal, most question the longevity of Manningham and the 49ers.
- Williams: Returning from a season-ending injury and in the final year of his rookie contract, it is a make-or-break season for Williams.
- Jenkins: Entering his sophomore season, this former first-rounder is a complete unknown.
Even though it looks good from afar, the 49ers still have legitimate questions at wide receiver.
As a rookie, Hopkins will add another potent weapon to this evolving passing attack in San Francisco, helping to solidify a position that has plagued the 49ers in their past two playoff runs.
These first two picks in 2013 are centered on adding weapons around rising star quarterback Colin Kaepernick—building for the future and launching this offense into the stratosphere in the short-term.
With a bundle of picks, the 49ers begin to address the defensive side of the ball, hand-selecting players with stirring upside.
The first, and perhaps most provocative selection, is Tyrann Mathieu, formerly of LSU.
A Heisman finalist, Mathieu was an electrifying playmaker in the NCAA, contributing in multiple phases for the Tigers. He played all over the defensive backfield but excelled when shading the slot receiver.
At the next level, Mathieu will provide a first-rate nickel corner, showing the necessary top-speed, agility and metaphysical instincts to hang with the more athletic receivers in the league.
And with his assertive style, he is a fine tackler that has the potential to emerge as a prominent special teams ace. As a defensive back, Mathieu’s game is akin to players like Asante Samuel and Ed Reed.
During his career at LSU, Mathieu demonstrated ball-hawking tendencies and developed the persona of a route-jumper. This ultimately made him a weapon for the nation’s top-ranked defense, which is why he has scouts believing he’ll be an asset in the pros.
With this pick, the 49ers add immediate depth in the secondary and find a long-term successor to Carlos Rogers in the nickel. Mathieu will also reinvigorate the special teams unit, operating as a gunner and return specialist.
Near the top of Round 3, the 49ers hang tight and acquire Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas.
Based on the findings in my past article, I believe the 49ers situate the safety position by allowing Chris Culliver and an early-to-mid rounder to compete at FS. Truthfully, Culliver or Thomas could start in Week 1 and be effective, so this is a concrete fix.
The 49ers get these two in training camp and let them battle it out for the starting gig.
As explained in the article cited above, the idea behind Culliver and Thomas is to emphasize range and playmaking ability at the free safety position. During his time at Fresno State, Thomas had 13 interceptions, including eight as a senior.
Looking at his track record, it’s clear Thomas is on the rise, boasting star potential at the next level.
He sees the ball extremely well and brings the threat of a hawking presence in the defensive backfield. Over time, Thomas will develop into one of those players quarterbacks have to account for on every down.
With the past two draft picks, the 49ers add vast playmaking ability to the secondary. And by waiting to select Phillip Thomas, they strategically circumvent the early-round SS-type defensive backs.
The 49ers orchestrate a second trade to move up, sending the No. 131, No. 173 and No. 180 to the Raiders for the No. 100 pick.
With that selection, San Francisco drafts DT Brandon Williams of Missouri Southern.
A multitalented defensive lineman, Williams can both anchor and pass rush, which gives him value as a hybrid. He can play all along the line and will not be limited to certain downs and distances.
He showed unique versatility with the Lions, lining up in the nose, as well as the 5-technique. Although he is a big physical specimen, Williams is surprisingly light on his feet, exhibiting good lateral quickness.
It was this sort of athleticism that allowed him to slip gaps on his way to setting a school record with 27 career sacks.
For an early-to-mid rounder, Williams brings loads of upside.
At 6’1”, 335 pounds, he supports a large upper body, but uses his size well to be an effective penetrating defender. He is adorned by scouts for his disruptive nature, which is exactly what San Francisco needs.
As a rookie, Brandon Williams gives the 49ers a dynamic rotational weapon along the defensive line. He projects to be a player that impacts the nickel package, but can also spell all three starters in the base.
Midway through the draft, the 49ers continue to focus on adding pieces to the defense, primarily in the front seven.
With their second selection in Round 4, San Francisco selects Western Kentucky DE Quanterus Smith.
In the NCAA, Smith made his mark as an edge weapon, showing a natural ability to get after the quarterback. As one of the most prolific pass-rushers in the draft, Smith piled up 24 career sacks in 34 games at Western Kentucky (2010-2012).
At 6’5”, 250 pounds, Smith is a lengthy developmental pass-rusher with a high ceiling at the next level. But given his late-season ACL injury in 2012 and small school marque, he’s a talented player that’s likely to fall.
The 49ers get a steal here.
With the roster depth and acumen of the coaching staff, Quanterus Smith can re-acclimate at his own pace and eventually reach his potential in the long-term. This is a great situation for both Smith and the Niners.
In the first two drafts under the new regime, San Francisco showed a fancy for mid-to-late round offensive linemen. There appears to be the belief that they can find developmental players in that range with upside at interior line.
In the past two seasons, Daniel Kilgore and Joe Looney are the notables to make the roster. On the other hand, the 49ers missed on and had no problem cutting sixth-rounder Jason Slowey of Western Oregon.
Now, with Jonathan Goodwin entering a contract year in 2013, the 49ers stay on course and bring in another OL prospect (via Spotrac).
In the fifth round, San Francisco takes Dalton Freeman of Clemson. As a rookie, he’ll be able to come in and contend with Kilgore and Looney, officially kicking the tires on the competition for Kaepernick’s center of the future.
This way, in an ultra-competitive environment, the 49ers will be able to find a top-notch interior lineman that is both cerebral and physical.
McCoy will fulfill the No. 2 role behind Kaepernick, but it will not stop Jim Harbaugh from bringing in players to compete. With one of their compensatory seventh-rounders, the 49ers select QB Ryan Griffin of Tulane.
Even though the Green Wave fielded a losing team, Griffin managed to show good ability.
At 6’4”, 221 pounds, he has the adequate size for the position, able to step in as a rookie and push McCoy. At the NCAA level, Griffin demonstrated the ability to hit a catalog of throws.
Despite being subjected to lower level competition, it’s clear to see Griffin has the sufficient velocity and accuracy to compete at the next level. This is a late-round prospect that—with the proper coaching—can find a role in this league.
In the short-term, he can be a No. 3, but perhaps Harbaugh molds Griffin and flips him for picks in a couple years.
With their last pick of the 2013 NFL draft, the 49ers are simply looking for a football player.
More often than not, a team is not going to find a starter in the seventh round. However, for teams that know what they’re looking for, there is depth to be found. And every now and then a special teams dynamo materializes.
On Day 3, Trent Baalke caps off the draft by selecting DE Travis Johnson of San Jose State.
During his time with the Spartans, Johnson displayed stout productivity as a pass-rushing presence off the edge. In his last two seasons as a collegian, he racked up 37 tackles for a loss, getting in the opponent’s backfield with some frequency.
Johnson would declare for the NFL ranked fifth all time in NCAA history in sacks (32), trailing the likes of Bruce Miller, Von Miller and Ryan Kerrigan.
To break it down, Travis Johnson is just a guy that is wired right. As a blue-collar prospect, he can come in and legitimately compete at camp in Santa Clara, which is all you can ask of a seventh-rounder.
Dylan DeSimone is the San Francisco 49ers' lead columnist for Bleacher Report. A former NFL journalist and fantasy football writer for SB Nation, Niners Nation and SB Nation Bay Area, Dylan now writes for B/R.
To talk football with Dylan, follow him on Twitter @DeSimone80