With the San Francisco 49ers' NFL season coming to an abrupt end at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, it's time for Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke to look toward the draft. We all love the early rounds, but front-office personnel in the NFL make their money on late-round prospects or sleepers.
With 13 potential selections in this draft, will the 49ers combine their resources to make a mark in the first few rounds?
If so, we could see limited picks in the later rounds, which means bye-bye to potential sleepers. Of course, many of us are heading into the draft blind, as Baalke kept his information close to the chest in previous years.
With the 49ers, you never know.
Regardless, let's say the 49ers have a healthy amount of late-round selections. With those picks, here are seven sleepers who would be perfect for the 49ers.
I've been previously high on Zach Mettenberger as a potential backup to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. My opinion hasn't changed, as I believe Mettenberger has all the tools to develop into a quality NFL starter.
If you're looking for another Colin Kaepernick, good luck. Mettenberger is nothing like Kaepernick. In fact, Mettenberger is probably the most slow-footed quarterback you'll ever witness in the pocket.
Hey, if it works for Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, it can work for Mettenberger.
At 6'5'', Mettenberger has the size and arm strength to make all the necessary throws at the next level. Mettenberger's accuracy, which was inconsistent in his first three years at LSU, improved greatly over the course of his senior season.
I can't envision the 49ers bringing back Colt McCoy, so securing a backup quarterback this offseason will be crucial for Harbaugh.
Will Martavis Bryant last past the fifth round? If he does, the 49ers should pounce on Bryant.
At 6'5'', 200 pounds, Bryant is a physical specimen at receiver. Bryant can stretch the field with his speed, and his long arms give him a huge catch radius, especially in the red zone.
When we think of a Clemson receiver, Sammy Watkins comes to mind. Watkins was excellent in 2013, but so was Bryant. In 2013, Bryant recorded 42 catches for 828 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
Bryant was second on the team in receiving behind the standout wideout.
Now, Bryant has some troubles with drops. He also isn't that physical at the line of scrimmage, which could hurt him when the 49ers play the Seattle Seahawks' imposing secondary.
Nevertheless, Bryant would still be worth a flier in the later rounds of this draft.
In the fifth or sixth round, a player like Kenarious Gates would be an outright steal for the 49ers. If you like big offensive linemen, Gates—6'5'' and 327 pounds—fits the description perfectly.
Gates played left tackle at Georgia, but at the next level, coaches will move him inside at guard. His pass protection is shoddy for a starting-caliber tackle in the NFL.
In all honesty, I can't see Gates making the necessary improvements in pass protection. His best role, especially early on in his NFL career, will be at backup guard.
Gates has excellent strength at the point of attack and surprising agility and quickness for a man of his size. He also has the ability to get into the second level, which is crucial for a team like the 49ers.
If the 49ers take a chance on Gates, he could be an excellent situational guard. Since the departure of Leonard Davis, the 49ers have struggled mightily in short-and-goal situations.
Gates could be quite the solution if selected.
In the NFL today, teams value versatility. The 49ers put a premium on versatile players, and Jimmie Ward fits the bill.
Ward showed off his versatility in the Senior Bowl. Dan Durkin of CBS Chicago highlighted Ward's versatility in practices at Mobile:
Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward was very active in practice. Ward (5-11, 192 pounds), showed versatility, playing as a box safety, a single-high safety, and a slot corner, breaking up a few passes over the middle.
Now, his progress at the Senior Bowl could mean Ward's ascension up the draft ladder. However, a player's draft stock tends to come back to earth once teams go back to the tape.
Ward was a very good talent at Northern Illinois, but how will his production translate to the big leagues in the NFL?
Like every NFL team, the 49ers could use some depth along the defensive line. For starters, the 49ers should look at Taylor Hart as a valuable addition.
Hart won't make his mark as a pass-rusher with the 49ers or any NFL team for that matter. His expertise is stopping the run.
Usually with run defenders, they can be rather large and heavy-footed. While I wouldn't call Hart a premier athlete at defensive end, he does have excellent quickness and agility off his first step.
Hart also has long arms, which helps him with swats and even screen plays.
Even more intriguing is his versatility. At 295 pounds, Hart has lined up everywhere along Oregon's defensive line. He has played nose tackle and outside linebacker in the Duck's 3-4 scheme.
For a late-round selection, Hart could prove to be a steal.
While Devin Street won't satisfy the 49ers' need for a deep-threat receiver, he could give Kaepernick a instant reliable target. For a rookie receiver, what more could you ask for?
Now, if the 49ers were targeting Street in the early rounds, this wouldn't be a great selection. However, because Street will likely be a third-day selection, he could bring great value.
Street is a physical receiver at 6'3'', but it's his hands that will intrigue scouts. With those big mitts, Street catches everything and anything coming his way.
In addition, Street is a developed route-runner. Again, this should help him see the field early for the 49ers or any team smart enough to select him in the later rounds of the draft.
Bashaud Breeland isn't the biggest safety (6'0'', 185 lbs), but his physical play and athleticism make him an outstanding late-round prospect.
I'll let Mike Huguenin of NFL.com take over from here:
He runs well -- he has been clocked as fast as 4.42 in the 40 -- and is versatile enough to play safety. He also is physical and should be comfortable in press-man coverage. Had he returned, he would've been in the mix for "best corner in the ACC" laurels and might have been the best cover corner in the league...Breeland is likely a third-day draft prospect who has a good upside because of his physical attributes.
Breeland might be making a mistake coming out this year, but if he can realize his potential, a team like the 49ers could have a steal on their hands.