San Francisco 49ers' Scouting Guide to the 2014 Senior Bowl
The Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama marks the first big-time scouting event for the San Francisco 49ers,and it will help them transition from a heartbreaking playoff loss to the offseason.
And it's a significant one.
According to the team’s official site, 21 former Senior Bowlers made the 2013 Pro Bowl (16 as starters), including San Francisco’s own linebacker Patrick Willis, tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati. Once upon a time, former coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary drilled one squad, which happened to be back in 2007 when Willis and Staley were both selected in the first round.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick also performed in the game three years ago, representing out of Nevada-Reno.
In 2014, this game will star the guys in the trenches, cornerbacks and a couple of interesting safety prospects who could go high. These are all needs for the 49ers, who need to beef up on both sides of the line and add talent to the secondary.
Granted, it’s a little light on quarterbacks and wide receivers, but that’s fine.
This Senior Bowl will provide the 49ers' scouting department with an opportunity to narrow down its draft needs for a moment and get an up-close look at some of the better prospects. Given their history, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the 49ers took a few players who play in this game.
The following provides a list of competing players who all fit San Francisco from a needs and philosophy standpoint.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
Weight: 220 lbs
Conference: Big Ten
Stanley Jean-Baptiste has all the physical and mental tools to be a complete defender in the NFL.
He redshirted as a freshman but went on to have a productive three-year career for the Cornhuskers, racking up 41 tackles, seven interceptions, two pick-sixes and 12 pass deflections in 28 games played.
Of his seven interceptions, six came in a span of 10 games between the end of his junior year and the beginning of his senior year. That cluster demonstrates the trajectory he is on right now. He has a solid resume in 2013 and shows up as one of the more impressive defensive prospects at the Senior Bowl.
He was also a second-team All-Big Ten selection and impressive student-athlete on the academic honor roll.
But production aside, the predraft rage about him is all physical, and he can be even better as a pro. Much like the recently developed trends at tight end and quarterback, Jean-Baptiste fits the new-model cornerback, as he stands taller than the average NFL wide receiver.
According to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, he has a 32-3/8” arm length and 78-3/8” wingspan.
And at that imposing stature, he still runs around like a slot receiver or scatback. He is a remarkable athlete. If he responds to coaching at the next level and finds himself in the right situation, Stanley Jean-Baptiste could be anything.
Liked Stanley Jean-Baptiste's film quite a bit. Issue was how athletic/fluid he was. This week he's shown well. Rd 1 pick wouldn't surprise— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 22, 2014
Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
Weight: 216 lbs
Odds are the 49ers won’t be able to re-sign or even tag safety Donte Whitner, who is an unrestricted free agent, so they’ll be seeking a player who can step in and play right away. Of the prospects in this year’s draft class, Washington State safety Deone Bucannon is the picture-perfect replacement.
His game even bears a resemblance to Whitner’s, in that he brings a downhill, hard-hitting style and maintains a low center of gravity. He comes in low and explodes into the ball-carrier. But the upside is that his coverage skills are already far more advanced.
He could surpass Whitner as a strong safety in that regard, giving the 49ers not one but two solid interchangeable cover safeties. Ones that can whack people, too.
He was a defensive captain for the Cougars and had one of the most productive careers of any safety in college football. He did it all. Though they didn’t win a ton of games, Bucannon finished his four-year career with 309 tackles, 11.5 for loss, 14 interceptions and 22 pass deflections in 45 games played.
He has predatory instincts on the field.
He came into his own in his final two years. As a senior, he had a team-high 106 tackles and posted double-digit tackles seven times. And coming into the NFL, he has the size and speed to close on the ball and make plays. The 49ers will look to see if he is all over the field again on Saturday.
With their defense, they like their guys to swarm.
No doubt Bucannon will be one of the top prospects at the position. He looks like an early Day 2 pick.
Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State
Weight: 300 lbs
Starting four years for the Rams, Weston Richburg was a three-time Rimington Trophy candidate and first-team All-Mountain West selection. As far as his style goes, he is known for his physical prowess, balance and technical proficiency.
And he can do it at 100 miles per hour.
Anchoring the CSU line in 2013, he recorded 45 knockdowns and blocked for an NCAA-best 28 rushing touchdowns and 202.7 rushing yards per game. And with that kind of grit, he didn't let up sacks or pressures often either. Offensively, the school was the best it had ever been.
The program's top prospect coming out is Richburg, who has brought his game to the Senior Bowl and lit it up.
NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said Richburg had another strong day on Wednesday, exhibiting “quick hands, quick feet and good balance.” Jeremiah also noted that he locked up against other top-tier prospects in Pitt’s Aaron Donald and Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman in one-on-one drills.
Even though he’s the No. 2 prospect at his position, Richburg is projected as a third-round pick, which is a perfect situation for San Francisco. The 49ers have other needs, and since center is not a game-changing position or one that’s ever in demand, they should be able to get a very good one like him after Day 1.
#ColoradoState Center Weston Richburg has impressed me this week, holding up very well against some talented DTs. Good balance.— Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) January 22, 2014
Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
Weight: 261 lb
Like Patrick Willis did at the 2007 Senior Bowl, man-sized defender Trent Murphy has lined up shoulder to shoulder with the best in the nation and stood out physically. And as a guy who doesn’t possess elite burst or speed, he’s made up for it with his club and rip techniques, combined with a high-motor style of play.
Making a name for himself in Palo Alto, Murphy is built like a dump truck but uses his hands exceptionally well.
His 40-yard time might not wow at the combine, but that's all right. He can play ball.
In four years with the Cardinal (42 games played), he racked up 104 tackles, 34.5 for a loss, 22.5 sacks and two interceptions, both of which he returned for six points. His final season was the most impressive, where he piled up a team-high 62 tackles and notched an NCAA-leading 15 sacks.
He dominated in the trenches.
Murphy also batted six balls and forced two fumbles; in addition, his 23.5 tackles for a loss led the Pac-12 this past year (1.7 per game). That’s insane production for a 3-4 defensive end with the ability to kick out and play on an island.
He consistently gets home, which is reflective of his natural rush ability. He is the kind of disruptive player who will put an offense’s lights out single-handedly.
And as mentioned, he played in a 3-4, so he can make a seamless transition to San Francisco’s system. Being a local product from a school with a compatible defensive scheme, he'll likely pop up on the team’s radar, if he hasn’t already.
As the fourth-rated defensive end in this class, Murphy projects to be taken in the first- or second-round, per NFL Draft Scout. If the 49ers don’t select him, one name to look out for in a later round is his teammate Josh Mauro, who is 6’6” and 276 pounds. He was an underclassman who competed at the East-West Shrine Game.
Stanford DE Trent Murphy has two major assets: height and hustle. Finishes every rep and really understands how to play football.— Phil Savage (@SeniorBowlPhil) January 22, 2014
Bryan Stork, C, Florida State
Weight: 305 lbs
Florida State’s Bryan Stork declared for the NFL as the reigning Rimington Trophy Winner, which is presented to the nation’s most outstanding collegiate center. And since he has 40 career starts, you know what you’re getting with him.
He is no fluke. He was a well-crafted recruit who has been polished over four years, and he looks ready to help a pro team in a big way.
He was also a Consensus All-American and All-ACC first-team selection, which further cements him as tops at his position.
Not to mention, he was the steadfast partner-in-crime to star quarterback Jameis Winston in a memorable Heisman-winning campaign.
In Stork’s final year in 2013—when he led one of the best offensive lines in the country to an undefeated season—FSU set school and ACC records for single-season total offense (7,267 yards), points per game (51.6) and yards per play (7.67).
It was a commanding performance, and he was at the nucleus of it all.
The Noles also had the national record for points (723) and led the entire country with a total of 94 touchdowns. That year, the team captain helped lead his squad to a BCS National Championship.
Breaking Stork's game down, from his ability to his mental acuity and dedication to winning, he is just what San Francisco needs.
With center Jonathan Goodwin’s deal being up—and being 35 years old and having contemplated retirement—the 49ers will likely move forward at the position. With Stork, they can save money, upgrade the position and build for the future simultaneously. It is a win-win-win.
Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
Weight: 206 lbs
Pierre Desir has been a fast riser.
Playing ball at Division II Lindenwood, he didn’t get a lot of press. Lesser corners at bigger schools garnered more headlines. But now the evaluations matter, and as the saying goes: "The cream always rises to the top."
As it turns out, Desir is a tall corner who runs well. He will stick to his guy like glue and take away options, which gives him a shutdown mystique leading into the draft. And frankly, his physical tools place him in the same category as guys like Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who is a top prospect, although Desir has a lighter frame.
Nevertheless, he is strong and skilled enough to redirect receivers.
In regard to his coverage ability, he is also not afraid to break on the ball, which makes him a threat to make a play. Some players at the position are technicians who play it safe; he brings a little bit more to the table. As a senior, his nine interceptions were second among all NCAA levels (he had more than 20 in his career).
His 18 pass breakups that season were also very impressive.
It comes down to his fluid hips. They help him get into the flow of the game and track the ball in flight. He is comfortable in his body, which is lengthy, to say the least. Outside his ability as a technician, his physique is can earn him a big payday.
In a lot of ways, Desir looks like the total package at cornerback.
3. Pierre Desir, CB out of Lindenwood, played very well today. Scout told me they watched 2013 tape. "There is none...no one threw at him."— P. Schrager (@PSchrags) January 23, 2014
Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida
Weight: 181 lbs
Another corner? Yes, guys, another corner.
The 49ers will be taking a hard look at this position and may bring in a couple of guys via the draft. Both Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown—the starters all three years under the new regime—are both likely to be moving on this offseason. One’s contract is up, and the other is the team’s most notorious impending cap casualty.
One of the mid-to-late round steals of the draft may be Florida’s Jaylen Watkins, who is a performer to look for on Saturday.
Over four seasons, he played 48 games for the Florida defense (28 starts), exhibiting his versatility as a defensive back in particular. He played cornerback and safety for the Gators, making 125 total tackles in his last three years.
He also had three career picks—all in 2012 as a junior—and 12 total pass breakups.
Watkins is an athletic player from a prestigious program who can develop into something if he responds to coaching. Every Saturday, he competed with the best athletes in the nation. The NFL scouts and coaches have been able to get their hands on him this week, so his performance in the Senior Bowl will be something to watch.
Against North wide receivers like Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin), Robert Herron (Wyoming) and Shaquelle Evans (UCLA), he’ll get an opportunity to man up and show he can cover all types of different receivers. His ability to run with them and make acrobatic plays on the ball will bode well for somebody who is viewed as raw.
After all, he wasn't one of the regular starting corners; those were Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, whose name value may get them selected before Watkins.
But he is just as worthy of a look. His tools are equal, if not better, and since he's underdeveloped, he doesn't have any bad habits. And in fact, superb athleticism runs in the family, as Jaylen is the half brother of top-10 prospect Sammy Watkins, the highly coveted wide receiver from Clemson.
Florida CB Jaylen Watkins has lived around the ball today. Give me him over the other two Gator corners.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 21, 2014
Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
Weight: 335 lbs
With how injury-prone they were this past season and how shallow they are at the position, the 49ers need to address the interior offensive line. It’s a must.
And for a team entering contract purgatory, not only will the Niners need a backup guard for 2014, but they will likely need a new starting one by 2015. That being the case, San Francisco could choose one in the first half of the draft, perhaps in Rounds 2 or 3.
Enter Gabe Jackson.
He is a big bubble of a man, tipping the scales at 6’4”, 335 pounds, which makes him a polarizing prospect. He looks pro-ready. Not only is he built for the game, but his quick, deliberate hand movements enable him to keep the rush in front of him.
He can sit back in his stance and pass protect, even against the best.
But with that size, don’t think he hasn’t learned to heave it at defenders and open lanes for his running backs. Jackson is quite nimble, showing functionality as a pulling guard. San Francisco prides itself on having an expansive gamut of runs, and it needs capable linemen to help execute them.
Gabe Jackson looks like a 49er already and a ripe target for one of the team's second- or third-round picks in 2014.
I've had several scouting buddies rave about Mississippi St OG Gabe Jackson. Just finished 1st game...big, powerful base and explosive hands— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) July 16, 2013
Best of the Rest
If you're curious to follow more Senior Bowl players whom Jim Harbaugh might deem "gold star" prospects—and who fill a need in the process—here are a few names:
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Weight: 225 lbs
Note: The 49ers are looking for a backup quarterback and Tajh Boyd fits the mold.
Tajh Boyd measures in at 6006, 222. Well under 6'2 ideal height. Release point is high, but he'll need to play that Russell Wilson card HARD— Eric Galko (@OptimumScouting) January 20, 2014
Keith McGill, CB, Utah
Weight: 205 lbs
Note: Another long-bodied prototype at cornerback the 49ers could use.
Utah CB Keith McGill has the skill-set to be an exceptional press technique player. He is built to disrupt at the line & showed why today.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) January 22, 2014
Tyler Larsen, C, Utah State
Weight: 312 lbs.
Note: Tyler Larsen is one of the few centers who looks ready to start on Day 1.
Tyler Larsen/C/Utah St holding his own. One of the few players Aaron Donald has not torched.— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) January 21, 2014
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
Weight: 222 lbs.
Note: He is a draft riser, and as a pocket quarterback, somebody the 49ers could try to develop.
EIU QB Jimmy Garoppolo has to be improving his draft stock down here in Mobile. Quick release + ball placement.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 21, 2014
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Weight: 285 lbs.
Note: The 49ers are preparing for the loss of Justin Smith after 2014, and adding Aaron Donald to a group that just drafted Tank Carradine isn't a bad move.
It seems, from talking to scouts, that Pittsburgh’s DT Aaron Donald is one of the best, if not the best, player at the Senior Bowl— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 23, 2014