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General manager Trent Baalke honed in on key prospects, utilized any form of trade for their acquisition and received optimum value while doing so.
Free safety Eric Reid and defensive end Tank Carradine were prime examples of such draft-day maneuverings. Landing receiver Quinton Patton—a second-round talent—at No. 128 overall in the fourth showcased Baalke’s acumen for late-round steals.
But what purpose would post-draft analysis hold if we couldn’t honor our natural skepticism and second-guess the decision-makers?
Let us now make acquaintance with our inner detractor and explore four key prospects that the 49ers passed over in this year’s draft.
4. Justin Hunter, Wide Receiver, Tennessee
Justin Hunter would have given the 49ers a deep vertical threat in the passing game.
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San Francisco originally held the second pick of Round 2 (No. 34 overall).
It traded that selection to the Tennessee Titans and moved back six spots to No. 40 overall.
Tennessee grabbed wideout Justin Hunter with that initial draft slot.
Hunter possesses great height and length at 6’4’’ with 33.2’ arms. Ideal top-end speed and the requisite skills for winning 50-50 balls make Hunter a phenomenal downfield, red-zone and third-down target.
Appropriately enough, he would enhance the vertical passing game of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Hunter would provide Kaepernick with the Randy Moss that never materialized in 2012—a blazing deep threat with “big play waiting to happen” written all over him.
Pound defenses into submission with a powerful run-first attack, and let the former University of Tennessee product take the top off opposing secondaries when they least expect it.
The 49ers could have stayed put at No. 34. They may have finally landed their ever-elusive viable receiver standing more than 6’1’’ tall.
Just think what this kid could have accomplished in the Kaepernick-led read-option.
3. Johnathan Cyprien, Safety, Florida International
Johnathan Cyprien tracks down ball-carriers like a lion hunts its prey.
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Johnathan Cyprien represents another stay-put acquisition.
The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Cyprien with the first pick of the second round. Trent Baalke could have scooped up this ferocious defensive back two spots earlier at No. 31 overall.
ESPN Scouts Inc rates Cyprien as the No. 3 safety behind Kenny Vaccaro and Matt Elam, and slightly ahead of Eric Reid, the 49ers’ first-round selection.
The Florida International star is an intelligent, hard-hitting safety both down in the box and in deep coverage. He plays with a nonstop motor and fears nothing.
Cyprien is capable of manning both the free and strong safety positions.
Now let’s incorporate him into the 49ers defense.
A wrap-up tackler who sheds blocks and intimidates the opposition? Harbaugh and Co. would welcome Cyprien with open arms.
More interesting, however, is a scenario where San Francisco executes its original move by trading up and taking Reid at No. 18. It then takes Cyprien with the No. 34 overall pick in the second.
The 49ers would have acquired two of the top-four rated safeties in a safety-rich class.
Reid would operate at free safety while Cyprien held down the strong side. The latter would replace coverage liability Donte Whitner, with Reid filling Dashon Goldson’s vacated position.
It would have been an unlikely hypothetical to be sure, but certainly one with substantial upgrade at the very heart of it.
2. Tyler Eifert, Tight End, Notre Dame
Catching the ball at its highest point much?
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Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert is by far and away the stud of this 2013 tight end class.
Standing at 6’6’’, 251 pounds with 33’’ arms, Eifert produced the highest scores at the combine for all drills among his positional counterparts.
He ran a 4.68-second 40, put up 22 reps on the bench and recorded a 35.5-inch vertical, among other leading marks.
Eifert translates that elite athleticism onto the football field.
The former standout on the Fighting Irish is a dangerous weapon on all areas of the gridiron with the versatility to operate in-line, out wide and everywhere in between.
He runs crisp routes and never misses a contested catch in traffic, always snaring the ball at its highest point.
Eifert matches his proficiency in the passing game with in-line blocking skills that are constantly improving. He’s much more of a tenacious warrior than what people would normally think.
When we picture Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers, who possibly could better mesh with and elevate this offensive system than Eifert?
He’s a versatile do-it-all tight end who blocks, catches and assists in the run game—a sort of Delanie Walker on steroids, if you will.
Instead of moving up to No. 18 for Eric Reid, the 49ers could have grabbed Eifert and transformed their offense into one of the most dynamic in football.
Say goodbye to one heck of a luxury pick—but one that would have paid some unimaginable dividends.
1. Dee Milliner, Cornerback, Alabama
Dee Milliner—True. Cover. Corner.
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Bear with us for just a moment. We realize this would require trading into the top 10.
Coverage instincts, vast football intelligence and all the right measurables—Milliner is a high-impact defender that makes life easier for the rest of his gridiron compatriots.
Yes, we understand that coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense operates a little differently.
The 49ers’ dominant front seven is the central focus.
Justin Smith controls the line of scrimmage while Aldon Smith wreaks havoc on the quarterback. Inside backers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman cover sideline to sideline, owning the middle of the field.
These dynamics take pressure off the secondary and help maximize its less-than-elite skill set.
Imagine, then, that by inserting an elite corner with the likes of Milliner, all levels of this defense become devoid of weakness. A top-three unit would evolve into the league’s unquestioned best.
And worry not—San Francisco could still have satisfied its other needs with its numerous picks and a class rife with starting-caliber safeties and enough talented pass-rushers.
Oh, such titillating possibilities exist in a hypothetical selection process.
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