Draft day brings about the next opportunity for the San Francisco 49ers to fortify this perennial Super Bowl contender, adding another tier of players to this team to enhance it right away while building for the long haul. So the 49ers are well into preparations.
Heading into the process, the front office knows it doesn't need to add a lot to the roster.
It's not rebuilding. In fact, the 49ers should have north of 15 of 22 starters returning for the 2014 season, even after considering players expected to test free agency or be released. And those losses won’t be crippling. They’ll still have the foundation of the team, which is easily one of the NFL’s best.
So the positions listed here in this big board are fairly concentrated.
And with an excessive amount of draft picks for a second consecutive year, general manager Trent Baalke can do virtually anything he wants. We've seen how they operate with this kind of capital. Much like last year, when he had just one more pick at his disposal, Baalke can control the tempo on a round-by-round basis and target the hand-selected guys.
And the Niners should have a very detailed list of players they’ll be looking to add, largely because their needs are very specific.
So who are these mystery players?
Well it’s been nearly impossible to gauge where this team has been coming from each year outside the picks of safety Eric Reid and running back Marcus Lattimore in 2013, which both made a lot of sense months before the draft.
That was a strong class because the team found a lot of gold-helmet guys—players who were fits in every conceivable way.
With that in mind, we’ve identified a number of potential future 49ers and put them together in this comprehensive list. Along with a brief summary, players are numbered per round, as the team’s big board would be, with No. 1 on top as the preferred target.
Granted, the 49ers will have multiple picks in multiple rounds and will trade up, so it's a rough outline.
So all of these players are attainable and for some, two in one round. If they acquire both, the order of which doesn’t matter. Bottom line, it will provide an idea of what positions the Niners will be looking to address by round with how this particular class is shaped.
No doubt they’ll be looking to bolster the receiving corps and the secondary, which is quite timely given this wave of incoming rookies. And if the team can find the right players and turn these weaknesses into strengths, then San Francisco will be on another level in 2014, vying for a Super Bowl once again.
Here are a few players who can help get it there.
Needs: WR, CB, SS, C, QB
1. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
This would necessitate a trade up, but it’s not out of the realm of reason. Last year, the 49ers jumped half of the first round for Eric Reid (LSU) because they had a need, and they pegged him as the top player to fill that need.
Think they’re regretting it? No. And they won’t this time either.
Evans is a top-three wide receiver in this class, the team can afford him and his skills would cure would ails San Francisco. He is a big, physical vacuum with run-after-catch ability. He's very hard to disrupt when he's competing for the ball. And with his clean route-running long stride and powerful stiff arm, he's a true No. 1.
The 49ers selecting Mike Evans in Round 1 is the pick that sets the draft world on fire.
Since Mike Evans is the topic, thing I like is he creates late separation with body control, strength. "Even when he's covered, he's open"— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) January 28, 2014
2. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Man-sized receiver Kelvin Benjamin is cut from a similar cloth as Mike Evans, making him the 1b to Evans’ 1a. At 6’5”, 234 pounds, this goliath brings spectacular upside, particularly in goal situations where he has made his name high-pointing footballs and scoring touchdowns.
Remember, the 49ers have been one of the league’s bottom-ranked passing teams for three straight years under the new regime, and they’ve consistently been one of the worst red-zone offenses. In one selection, Kelvin Benjamin potentially changes all that.
And then what does that make San Francisco? A force.
Kelvin Benjamin had 7 rec in red zone this year and all 7 went for TDs. Benjamin had 1 career RZ catch that wasn't a TD (11 Rec, 10 Rec TD)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2014
3. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Outside of being a just a pure athletic playmaker with the ball in his hands, the Cowboys' Justin Gilbert is a tall, perceptive cover corner who runs extremely well.
He has shutdown qualities.
Adding a defender with advanced coverage skills like this will upgrade the secondary and front seven simultaneously because a lockdown corner will provide the pass rush with more time. Philosophically, the Niners have been far too reliant on the front seven to win all the battles for the defense. It could be time for a more complementary approach.
Finalizing game notes on Justin Gilbert (CB-OKState). Would have drafted him over any CB not-named Patrick Peterson in last three classes.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 24, 2014
4. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
At 6’3”, 220 pounds, this is a player who is already drawing a lot of comparisons to All-Pro defender Richard Sherman.
With those measurables, Stanley Jean-Baptiste fits the mold of the Seattle corner. He has the speed, swiftness and mental acuity to run with virtually anyone. And he possesses the length to recover and deflect any ball in his region. The wingspan alone gives him tremendous value, especially if he’s coachable.
He could be the next building block in the 49ers secondary.
Nebraska CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste has the size (6-2) to play press. Physical at the line today in practice.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 20, 2014
5. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Forty-niners beat writer Chris Biderman suggested that if Donte Whitner leaves, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 49ers go for a “natural free safety in either the draft or free agency and moving [Eric] Reid to strong safety.”
That being the case, Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is now in play.
The 6'1", 207-pound All-SEC selection is arguably the best safety prospect in the class. Physically, he can do it all. And pairing him with his old buddy Eric Reid—a former conference rival at the same position—would give the 49ers defense an elite safety tandem that has the potential to one day rival what Seattle has built.
While it's unlikely that Trent Baalke goes safety in back-to-back years, it's an interesting route the 49ers can consider.
1. Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State
As far as Day 2 goes and maybe as far as the entire draft goes, this is the must-have pick for the San Francisco 49ers.
They absolutely need a long-term replacement for Pro Bowl safety Donte Whitner, whom they can’t afford to pay, and Deone Bucannon looks like a superb fit. He plays low, comes up and whacks the ball-carrier, looking like his legs are powered by hydraulics. The former Cougar brings a mighty presence to the field.
He’s also rangier than most strong safeties in that type of body, which makes him the total package.
Keep an eye on Washington State SS Deone Bucannon. Has size (6-1, 216), will close on the ball with some speed & he wants to compete.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 21, 2014
2. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Buckeyes first-team All-American Bradley Roby might be the best pure cover man in the entire 2014 NFL draft.
Off-the-field issues, character questions and a run-of-the-mill final season will cause him to fall, but when his game is on, he's a rock star.
Moreover, Roby will fit the mold of player they're looking for. The 49ers have a tendency to rotate their corners around, and in 2014, they'll also need someone new who can take the lead at nickelback with Carlos Rogers likely on his way out. He's a shifty press corner who has the quickness to break on routes and make plays.
This is an element San Francisco needs.
With Bradley Roby, the defense lands a potential marquee player on the back end, a true-to-life playmaker and a fresh nickel weapon.
3. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
Mizzou’s E.J. Gaines is one of the most complete-looking cornerbacks in the draft, really demonstrating an ability to run with and cover anyone he’s pitted against. Even though he’s only 5’10”, he brings a lot of moxie to the position and plays bigger than his size would indicate.
In a lot of ways, he is similar to 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown, who has displayed the versatility to run with the quickest slot receivers to the largest prototypes this league has to offer. Adding Gaines to a secondary that is being remodeled would be a great move by the organization.
Can't wait to see what #Mizzou CB E.J Gaines' vertical jump is. Showed serious explosion when defending Mike Evans.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) December 1, 2013
4. Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
The reason to be enamored with small-school product Pierre Desir is because he is a tall corner who can stick to a receiver like glue.
Whether it was at Lindenwood or his week at the Senior Bowl, it didn’t matter who he was covering. Desir takes away options and limits throwing windows, so quarterbacks don’t throw his away. He does not have as strong a body that would help him in press, which will keep him out of Round 1, but he’s very skilled.
If you were to make a comparison, one could look at Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Nnamdi Asomugha.
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
5. Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
Jarvis Landry is one of those guys where if he were a couple inches taller, he might be the top wide receiver in this draft class.
He's gifted. He's a natural. And he's downright productive.
Coming from the SEC, Landry made his case as a strong, fast wide receiver who can do everything and do it well. Hitting everything on the route tree, he can outrun defenders down the field, split coverage and find the soft spot in the defense. Landry can make amazing grabs and run after the catch. His game is as well-rounded as any.
Jarvis Landry is fearless. Whether it’s running over the middle or crack-backing a linebacker, he’ll do it. Shades of Michael Crabtree.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 13, 2013
1. Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Gators cornerback Marcus Roberson has lost some steam heading into the draft process so far, so he might be able to be had later on. Between the middle of this past season, all the way to the Senior Bowl, it seems a lot of corners have jumped this prospect.
Still, the lengthy, physical Roberson is a heck of a talent.
At 6’0”, 195 pounds, with unlimited upside and a knack for press-man coverage, he looks like an ideal fit for this 49ers defense. Roberson can play bump-and-run and would be a great fit with cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver.
Florida’s Marcus Roberson isn’t much of a tackler, but I like his speed, hips in man coverage. He’s patient, too. Doesn’t bite on fakes.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 13, 2013
2. Bryan Stork, C, Florida State
BCS National Champion and Rimington Trophy winner Bryan Stork is the single-most decorated center in this year’s draft.
As a captain for the Seminoles, Stork manned the nation’s most prominent offense, protecting his Heisman-winning quarterback, blowing open run lanes and calling shots pre-snap.
With San Francisco’s three-year starter Jonathan Goodwin, 35, now an unrestricted free agent unlikely to return this season, the Niners have to look at Bryan Stork as a potential replacement.
FSU C Bryan Stork looked like a rugby house party animal at 6'3 1/2" 306 with relatively short, 31" arms.— Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) January 20, 2014
3. Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Playing alongside a top-five prospect like Sammy Watkins is certainly one way to go unnoticed.
Nevertheless, like his teammate, Martavis Bryant also has the physical tools to be something special at the next level. In 28 games for the Tigers, the 6’4”, 200-pound receiver finished with 61 grabs, 1,354 yards and 13 touchdowns, improving each and every year.
He’s on the rise and looks like he can be molded into an NFL starter.
4. Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State
After a polished four-year career and a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, many were quick to proclaim small-school prospect Weston Richburg the best center in this class. Whether it was practices or game time, he proved that he’s not one to get beat in one-on-ones, and he makes those around him better.
The 6’4”, 300-pounder is very likely on San Francisco’s radar.
Another strong day for CSU center Weston Richburg...Quick hands, quick feet and good balance. Blocked Donald and Hageman in 1-1 drills.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 22, 2014
1. Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida
One of the rawer yet more talented and versatile defensive backs in this year’s draft class is Gators cornerback Jaylen Watkins. It's true, the 6’0”, 194-pound defender logged four years in Gainesville, but he was often hidden behind stars like Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson.
It's hardly a knock on him, though.
Watkins still earned starts at both nickelback and safety and was able to execute within a fast Florida defense. Look at his game; it’s clear to see he is an impressive physical specimen, one with good ball skills and the ceiling to be better than both corners he played behind in college.
Look for Jaylen Watkins as an early- to mid-round steal.
Florida CB Jaylen Watkins showed press-man ability & consistently challenged routes. Made some plays on the ball during practice today.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 21, 2014
2. Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
This former Scarlet Knight will wow you with his size.
At 6’6”, 225 pounds, Brandon Coleman is an in-your-face kind of receiver who will outmuscle defenders in close range or blow the top off the secondary. He had 20 receiving touchdowns in just 34 games played (26 starts), touting a career yards-per-catch average of 19.2, which is well above average.
He also has a remarkably quick first step, making it tough for press corners to get their hands on him at the line. However, inconsistency catching the football and inexperience will make him a mid-round pick. Most teams will view him as a project, even though Coleman may be able to contribute from Day 1.
I compared Brandon Coleman to Marques Colston before the year, so that gives you an idea what he’s like on the field.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 14, 2013
3. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
With Colt McCoy’s one-year stint in San Francisco now up, the 49ers will likely move on and select a backup quarterback somewhere in the middle part of the draft.
During his four-year stretch for the Bulldogs, Aaron Murray threw for over 13,000 passing yards and 121 touchdowns. He’ll leave the college game as one of the most accomplished signal-callers in SEC history.
And while he doesn’t possess elite size, Murray is bright, he executes, does all the little things well and already has worthwhile experience in a pro-style offense. He can transition into a backup role in San Francisco quite seamlessly, and this would then be a position the 49ers wouldn’t have to worry about anymore.
Aaron Murray had 29 games with Adjusted QBR of at least 80. That's 3rd most over last 10 seasons behind K. Moore (35) and T. Tebow (31)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 24, 2013
1. Josh Mauro, DE, Stanford
It was a late go for Cardinal 3-4 end Josh Mauro, but he’s on an ascent right now, and at 6’6”, 276 pounds, he’s got the physical tools to ride it onto the NFL scene. He is a big, bruising rhinoceros of a lineman but still has the versatility to surprise offensive linemen and run down quarterbacks.
He’s coming off a big year too. In a season where he had his biggest role in four years, Mauro piled up 51 total tackles, which included 12.5 for a loss and four sacks. He even had an interception and two forced fumbles. Sometimes it just looked like child’s play to him.
Given his scheme and particular build, Josh Mauro looks like a picturesque fit for this 49ers defense.
Top 100 player flying under the radar right now. Check out this Josh Mauro highlight tape. http://t.co/qmRNWTue00— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 2, 2014
2. Ryan Grant, WR, Tulane
Explosiveness, steady hands and a natural ability to get open will get the 6’0” Ryan Grant drafted in May.
Though, he’s not perfect. Admittedly, he lacks the ideal size and is at risk of being pushed around at the next level, but there’s a ton of upside if his ability to create space transitions. If he can find the soft spots in coverage, quarterbacks will love him, and he’ll prove to be quite a steal.
With nearly 2,200 yards and 15 touchdowns in his last two seasons, Ryan Grant is on the right track.
4. Ryan Grant (Tulane) looked very smooth again. @joelklatt is a big fan. Wide reciever who makes things happen.— P. Schrager (@PSchrags) January 23, 2014
3. Keith McGill, CB, Utah
Given their needs, the 49ers are likely going to be looking at corners at the beginning and end of the draft.
The 6’3”, 214-pound McGill is the largest cornerback in the 2014 draft but also runs a low 4.38, per NFL Draft Scout. That’s freakish. Unheard of. So clearly there’s a lot to work with. And acquiring a talent like this for esteemed secondary coach Ed Donatell, who is as influential as any, would be a wise investment.
All in all, Keith McGill is an imposing player with terrific size and ball skills. And if he develops like any one of the undrafted or mid-round corners the 49ers have spit out in the past few years, he could actually become a key cog in the secondary.
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
1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
There’s no guarantee he’ll still be here, but the 49ers likely won’t be taking a backup quarterback much earlier. They’re still selecting contributors in Rounds 1-4, so this is probably the right time. That being said, if Boyd slips, this is a good match between prospect and pro team.
A highly productive ACC quarterback, Boyd is athletic, he can sling it and his skill set enables him to run the majority of the 49ers offense. The reason teams won’t be after him earlier is because he is undersized, he played with the best receiver in college football and he is a player who could use some tutelage.
The Niners taking him on as a No. 2 wouldn’t be the worst thing.
2. Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton
Lugging a 6’2”, 301-pound body, Caraun Reid has a big NFL body, and having played for Princeton, he also has a big Ivy League brain.
He’s productive, smart, a hard worker and just the type of player the Niners could justify investing a mid- to late-round pick on, even if it's not an immediate need. San Francisco relies on its ability to coach and mold, particularly on the defensive line, and there’s a chance a bright-minded Reid takes to it.
He’s also been productive on his own right. Reid had 168 tackles in his NCAA career, which included 41 for a loss (negative-176 yards) and 20.5 sacks, per the school’s official website. Not to mention, he was Princeton’s first two-time All-American honoree in 20 years.
Made a note of the way #Princeton DT Caraun Reid's body quickness/explosiveness was evident as soon as I saw him in Sr. Bowl practice.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) January 26, 2014
3. Richard Rodgers, TE, Cal
Despite the lack of size, Golden Bears pass-catcher Richard Rodgers is the type of hybrid tight end that San Francisco needs to look at in the draft. While it’s not a pressing need, the Niners did not get a ton of receiving production out of Vance McDonald in his first year and may need more of a joker/H-back to deploy in 2014.
The 6’4”, 245-pound finesse tight end is a player who can come in and compete with 49ers No. 3 man Garrett Celek.
If he keeps injury-related weight down, Cal H-back/TE Richard Rodgers will be highly intriguing. Hands + movement. Shades of Jordan Reed.— Dion Caputi (@nfldraftupdate) January 10, 2014
1. Dri Archer, WR/RB, Kent State
The seventh round is a good time to change gears and target specialists. And for the 49ers, they’d be wise to look at a return man. In that regard, Kent State’s Dri Archer is among the most prominent, bringing serious jets. He can really fly.
And at 5’8”, 175 pounds, running the way he does, he’s tough to get hands on.
He really began to hit his stride as a kick returner in his past two seasons too, where he brought four kicks back for touchdowns.
2. Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor
Tevin Reese had a four-year career with the Bears that saw him earn starts to some capacity every year. By the time he was midway through his sophomore year, though, it was hard to deny the big-play explosiveness, so he was on the field more and more.
According to the team’s website, 14 of Reese’s 16 career TDs went for 40 yards or longer (51.8 average).
By the time his college career was up, he posted a whopping 187 receptions, 3,102 yards and 24 touchdowns in 47 games. It was an impressive run and one that will inevitably get him in an NFL training camp this year. With three seventh-round picks, the 49ers might as well make sure Tevin Reese works out in Santa Clara.
He could be the next Marvin Jones, the standout for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Sr. WR Tevin Reese is an absolute burner. Among the nation's most explosive vertical targets, looks to have legitimate 4.3 speed. #Baylor— Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) November 8, 2013