San Francisco 49ers

30 Dream Prospects for the San Francisco 49ers in 2014 NFL Draft

Bryan KnowlesContributor IIIJanuary 30, 2014

30 Dream Prospects for the San Francisco 49ers in 2014 NFL Draft

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Whom will the San Francisco 49ers take in the 2014 NFL draft?  It’s a complicated question, considering how late in the first round they are drafting.  Do they stay put at number 30 and let the draft come to them, or do they use one of their arsenal of selections to slide up in the draft?

    The best way I find to look at things is to create a team-specific big board of all the top players in the draft, sorted according to the needs of the team in question.  For example, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville is considered one of the top prospects in this draft.  He’s much more enticing, however, to a team like the Houston Texans than a team like the Green Bay Packers, simply due to the differing quarterback situations.

    You don’t want to overdraft for need, however. The 49ers don’t find themselves particularly shopping for a running back, but if they suddenly found themselves staring at 1989 Barry Sanders or someone of that caliber, they’d be mad not to take him.  You have to balance talent and team need in order to truly evaluate a draft class.

    With all that in mind, first, we’ll look at the top 30 players in this draft, ranked in the order I believe the 49ers would take them if they were all available.  Then, we’ll go position by position and see which players could reasonably fall to San Francisco’s draft slot, which players sit in spots the 49ers could trade up and grab and which players simply remain out of reach.

The Big Board

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    With the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers would select...
    With the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers would select...Tim Sharp/Associated Press/Associated Press

    First things first: Here’s the initial take at a San Francisco-centric big board.  We’ve got 30 names on this list because the 49ers are slated to draft 30th. Therefore, in the worst-case scenario, at least one player on this list will be available when the 49ers make their selection.

    1. 

    Justin Gilbert

    CB

    Oklahoma State

    2. 

    Sammy Watkins

    WR

    Clemson

    3. 

    Darqueze Dennard

    CB

    Michigan State

    4. 

    Marqise Lee

    WR

    USC

    5. 

    Jadeveon Clowney

    DE

    South Carolina

    6. 

    Loucheiz Purifoy

    CB

    Florida

    7. 

    Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

    S

    Alabama

    8. 

    Mike Evans

    WR

    Texas A&M

    9. 

    Anthony Barr

    OLB

    UCLA

    10. 

    Lamarcus Joyner

    CB

    Florida State

    11. 

    Khalil Mack

    OLB

    Buffalo

     12.

    Jason Verrett

    CB

    TCU

    13. 

    Greg Robinson

    OT

    Auburn

    14. 

    Calvin Pryor

    S

    Louisville

    15. 

    Stephon Tuitt

    DE

    Notre Dame

    16. 

    Jake Matthews

    OT

    Texas A&M

    17. 

    Marcus Roberson

    CB

    Florida

    18. 

    Davante Adams

    WR

    Fresno State

    19. 

    Teddy Bridgewater

    QB

    Louisville

    20. 

    Timmy Jernigan

    DT

    Florida State

    21. 

    C.J. Mosley

    ILB

    Alabama

    22. 

    Kelvin Benjamin

    WR

    Florida State

    23. 

    Blake Bortles

    QB

    UCF

    24. 

    Brandin Cooks

    WR

    Oregon State

    25. 

    Kony Ealy

    DE

    Missouri

    26. 

    Taylor Lewan

    OT

    Michigan

    27. 

    Marcus Martin

    OC

    USC

    28. 

    Dominique Easley

    DE

    Florida

    29. 

    Johnny Manziel

    QB

    Texas A&M

    30. 

    Zack Martin

    OT

    Notre Dame

Quarterbacks

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    The 49ers do have a need at quarterback.  Colt McCoy is a free agent, and they won’t enter the 2014 season with only Colin Kaepernick and McLeod Bethel-Thompson at the position.

    However, that means San Francisco will be looking to sign a veteran backup, one who could step in for Kaepernick if he misses a few games.  The team is not looking for a new developmental quarterback at this time, meaning a pick here would be a luxury selection.

    Furthermore, all three of these players are likely going to go in the top five of the draft.  Even if they wanted to, I don’t think the 49ers have enough draft picks to shoot all the way up there this year.   They’d be worth considering if they dropped, but they won’t, so there’s no sense spending too much time on any of them.

    19. 

    Teddy Bridgewater

    QB

    Louisville

    23. 

    Blake Bortles

    QB

    UCF

    29.

    Johnny Manziel

    QB

    Texas A&M

Wide Receivers

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    Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham are headed for free agency this offseason, making finding a second wide receiver a top priority.  Boldin may well be re-signed, but even if he is, he’s aging, and a replacement to line up across the field from Michael Crabtree over the long run has to be one of San Francisco’s goals in the draft.

    The top receiver listed here, Sammy Watkins, is probably a bit too highly touted for San Francisco to go up and get, as is Mike Evans.  Marqise Lee out of USC, on the other hand, might not be.  No, he won’t fall to the 30th position, but with an extra second- and third-round selection this year, the 49ers could move up to the middle of the first round and take him.

    Lee can run away from his defenders and runs very crisp routes for someone coming out of college.  He’s almost always precisely where he’s supposed to be, which could help a developing quarterback tremendously.  He’s a threat in the red zone, too, which is something the 49ers lacked this season while Crabtree was out.

    Kelvin Benjamin is another interesting player whom the 49ers would likely have to move to take—a tall, leaping player who can outbox defenders in the end zone.  I’m not sure if he’s worth the capital the 49ers would have to give up to get him, but he’d be a fine option in the back of the first round.

    If you’re looking for a player the 49ers could sit back and take, you’re probably thinking Davante Adams out of Fresno State.  He’s not as explosive as others, but he’s smooth and fluid.  He could also slip down to one of San Francisco’s selections in the second round, meaning he’s someone to look at if the 49ers go a different way with their top selection.  Brandin Cooks, out of Oregon State, would be another potential target in a second- or third-round slot.

    2. 

    Sammy Watkins

    WR

    Clemson

    4. 

    Marqise Lee

    WR

    USC

    8. 

    Mike Evans

    WR

    Texas A&M

    18. 

    Davante Adams

    WR

    Fresno State

    22. 

    Kelvin Benjamin

    WR

    Florida State

    24. 

    Brandin Cooks

    WR

    Oregon State

Offensive Line

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    San Francisco’s one need on the offensive line is at center, where Jonathan Goodwin is a free agent.  He turns 36 in December, meaning he’s not going to be around forever.  Outside of Goodwin, however, the rest of the line is solid, meaning a pick here would be for depth and talent, as opposed to need.

    The only center on this list is Marcus Martin from USC.  I’m higher on him than most—I think he’ll be a solid player anywhere along the interior line, making him great for depth—but a first-round selection seems too early to take him.

    Most other people are much lower on him than I am—CBS has him listed as a fifth- or sixth-round selection, and Matt Miller’s most recent mock draft doesn’t even have Martin listed.  I’d like the 49ers to end up with Martin, but that can wait for a later round.

    It’s a good draft for offensive tackles, however.  If it were a significant need for the 49ers, there are some names they could trade up for and be happy with.  For example, Taylor Lewan out of Michigan is huge (6’7”, 315 lbs) with long arms and a strong base.  He has nearly four full years of starting experience, having taken the role over in 2010, and is a two-time Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year.

    Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews are likely going to be drafted too early for the 49ers to have a realistic shot at taking them, but Zack Martin could be another name in range, depending on how the flow of the draft goes.

    With Joe Staley and Anthony Davis holding down the tackle positions, there’s no need to move up to grab a lineman, but if one of these names slipped to 30, he'd be worth considering.

    13. 

    Greg Robinson

    OT

    Auburn

    16. 

    Jake Matthews

    OT

    Texas A&M

    26. 

    Taylor Lewan

    OT

    Michigan

    27. 

    Marcus Martin

    OC

    USC

    30. 

    Zack Martin

    OT

    Notre Dame

Defensive Line

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    Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are an excellent pair on the outside of the defensive line, and the 49ers already selected the heir apparent in Tank Carradine last season.  However, depth is never a bad thing to have, and if Carradine’s knee injury continues to hamper his career, a draft choice could be used to boost the position.

    Imagining Jadeveon Clowney lining up across from Justin Smith for a few years is an extraordinarily enticing idea, but Clowney’s been discussed as a possible top pick, and there’s no way San Francisco could afford to go get him.  Kony Ealy out of Missouri is another name that looks to go too soon for the 49ers to have a chance.

    Stephon Tuitt out of Notre Dame, however, is another story.  Tuitt seems to be a popular choice for San Francisco in mock drafts, and it’s not hard to see why.  He’s a perfect fit for the 3-4 defense the 49ers like to run, and he’s a great run stopper.  He can pry himself free from blockers to make the tackle or just use his raw power to shove them back.

    Even better, he looks poised to slip back to the 49ers’ slot naturally, meaning they could use their other picks elsewhere—or even trade back up into the first round for another top player.  If the 49ers feel that players at their bigger positions of need would be too much of a reach, they would be more than happy with Tuitt.

    If they passed on Tuitt, Dominique Easley is someone who will likely be available the next time the 49ers find themselves on the clock.  His ACL tear has deflated his draft status somewhat, but the 49ers have shown willingness to gamble on that sort of player before—see Frank Gore and Marcus Lattimore.

    The one true defensive tackle on the list is Timmy Jernigan, who perhaps projects a little better into a 4-3 defense than a 3-4.  That might make him a bit of a square peg for a round hole, but he’s quick and can make tackles in space, so he’s at least someone to consider.

    5. 

    Jadeveon Clowney

    DE

    South Carolina

    15. 

    Stephon Tuitt

    DE

    Notre Dame

    20. 

    Timmy Jernigan

    DT

    Florida State

    25. 

    Kony Ealy

    DE

    Missouri

    28. 

    Dominique Easley

    DE

    Florida

Linebackers

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    San Francisco has three Pro Bowl linebackers, as well as Aldon Smith.  It doesn’t need a linebacker in the draft for this year.  What could be nice, however, is if the 49ers developed a prospect to plug in when all four of those contracts come due one of these days.  It would be hard to keep all four players together on one salary cap, so developing a cheaper player to plug into the spot could be useful.

    However, all three linebackers listed here will likely be gone before the first round is half over, and it’s not worth spending too many picks to move up and grab one of them.  While it would be nice to groom Anthony Barr to take over for Ahmad Brooks one day, it’s not a very realistic possibility in the first round, barring a huge free fall by one of these players.

    9. 

    Anthony Barr

    OLB

    UCLA

    11. 

    Khalil Mack

    OLB

    Buffalo

    21. 

    C.J. Mosley

    ILB

    Alabama

Cornerbacks

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    The defensive backfield should be San Francisco’s top draft priority.  Carlos Rogers may be released due to his large salary-cap figure, and Tarell Brown is a free agent.  Even if the team brings Brown back, it needs depth—badly.  It’s the one weak link on the defense.

    Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State would be my choice for the 49ers if I could take any player in this year’s draft.  He’s fast, big and a playmaker with the ball—he’s the perfect all-around cornerback package.  He’s also highly in demand, and it would be surprising to see him fall anywhere near San Francisco’s slot come draft day.

    That does leave Darqueze Dennard available, though.  He’s not as much of a threat with the ball in his hands as Gilbert is, but he might well be the best lockdown cornerback in the draft.  He’s a true one-on-one man-coverage sort of player, able to match up at the line of scrimmage and physically disrupt opposing receivers.

    He’s not going to run with the fastest in the NFL, but he attacks the ball and forces opposing quarterbacks into making mistakes.  He’d be a fantastic addition to the team and is the highest-ranked player on this big board whom the 49ers have a real shot of taking.

    The other four cornerbacks listed could likely be taken without moving around in the draft.  Loucheiz Purifoy had a few injuries, which hampered his production this year, but according to one report, he runs a 4.37 40-yard dash.  That could be useful on special teams, as well as in the secondary.

    At 5’8”, LaMarcus Joyner is too short for my liking, but he’s incredibly explosive and a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands.  I just wonder how he’ll line up against some of the taller receivers in the league—he feels like a nickelback more than a starting corner to me.  San Francisco needs a nickelback, so that’s not all bad, but there are other possible directions to go in.

    Jason Verrett’s also a little on the small side, but he’s a physical bruiser of a cornerback who will jam and press with the best of them.  He’s also more polished than some of the other names, meaning he’s ready to start right away.

    If Marcus Roberson were a better tackler, he might be my choice for top cornerback on the list.  As it is, he’s physical, patient and fast enough for most work.  One of these cornerbacks should end up on the 49ers roster, be it with their first pick or one of their second-round selections.

    1. 

    Justin Gilbert

    CB

    Oklahoma State

    3. 

    Darqueze Dennard

    CB

    Michigan State

    6. 

    Loucheiz Purifoy

    CB

    Florida

    10. 

    Lamarcus Joyner

    CB

    Florida State

    12. 

    Jason Verrett

    CB

    TCU

    17. 

    Marcus Roberson

    CB

    Florida

Safeties

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    With Donte Whitner looming as a free agent, the 49ers need someone to start next to Eric Reid.  Perhaps it will be Whitner, but with the salary-cap situation the way it is, a cheaper rookie might be an option instead.

    HaHa Clinton-Dix, other than having my favorite name in the draft, is a quick, smooth free safety.  He’s overly aggressive but changes directions quickly and is able to accelerate to make up for some overzealous plays.  He’s also got excellent hands and can make moves with the ball when he gets it.  He’s someone the 49ers would likely have to move up to get, but he’s within striking range.

    If they sat and waited, Calvin Pryor of Louisville could find his way into their slot.  He’s a better tackler than Clinton-Dix is and has great range, roaming all over the field.  He’s got speed and instincts for days.

    The issue with both players is that they are really in a classic free safety mold, which is where Reid plays.  While the distinction between free and strong safety isn’t as sharp as it used to be, the 49ers may hesitate at taking a player similar to Reid to play across from him.

    7. 

    Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

    S

    Alabama

    14. 

    Calvin Pryor

    S

    Louisville

The Dream Scenario

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    This scenario sees Davante Adams join the team.
    This scenario sees Davante Adams join the team.Gary Kazanjian/Associated Press

    The 49ers have a number of options here and could reasonably get multiple players from this list.  The ideal, dream scenario would be something like this:

    • San Francisco trades up to the mid-20s to take cornerback Darqueze Dennard out of Michigan State.
    • With the two second-round picks—perhaps having to trade back into the second round thanks to the Dennard trade—the 49ers come away with defensive end Stephon Tuitt of Notre Dame and wide receiver Davante Adams of Fresno State.
    • With the one remaining third-round selection, the 49ers grab cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy as a nickelback and return man.
    • Sometime on the third day, they select center Marcus Martin out of USC to shore up the interior offensive line.

    With two new bodies in the defensive secondary, a strong rotational player on the defensive line, a new receiving threat to develop behind Crabtree and Boldin and an eventual replacement for Goodwin at center, the 49ers would be ecstatic with this outcome.  We’ll have to wait and see what actually occurs on draft day.

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