Now that the 2013 NFL season is officially in the books, the San Francisco 49ers are readying for the upcoming NFL combine, followed by the draft, which they’ll need to run if they hope to get back in the ring and compete with the Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks.
It must be a blend of their 2011 and 2013 classes, where they hit on picks at multiple positions and managed to find value in every round. This last class was also defined by its pro-readiness, as opposed to the 2012 class, which disintegrated.
And as far as the aggressiveness over the three-day span, they’ll be able to maneuver through this draft the same way, heading in with a similar stockpile of picks.
According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, the 49ers are expecting to have a total of 12 picks in the upcoming 2014 NFL draft, which is far more than they need, especially with players from the last two classes yet to crack the active game-day roster.
So who will general manager Trent Baalke be targeting?
How will he prioritize certain needs, optimize the capital he has and find the final pieces that put this team over the hump?
We're mapping out their potential plan.
In the following mock, we have only nine selections since we’re factoring in early-round trades (similar to the 2013 trades for Eric Reid, Vance McDonald and Corey Lemonier, via NFL.com). The front office will inevitably execute these with their few needs and surplus of draft picks.
They’ll be going after some big guns at key needs, while bringing in some physically striking developmental prospects and specialists.
Without any further delay, here is a round-by-round look, complete with player analysis.
Name: Mike Evans
School: Texas A&M
Weight: 225 lbs.
The 49ers trade up here to acquire one of the top wide receivers in the 2014 class. Why? Because they must—the passing attack has floundered for three straight years, and it's all that's holding them back from multiple titles.
All the while, everything else has been topnotch. It makes sense to invest here, especially with several contracts on offense coming up.
For all those reasons and more, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans makes a ton of sense for San Francisco.
Mike Evans is a true box-out receiver who will give this offense a pass-catcher that is open even when he’s covered.
That’s his game. He does an outstanding job using his size to shield the defender from the ball, while using his long frame and arm extension to high-point it. He can provide a tremendous red-zone and third-down weapon, in particular, where San Francisco has had trouble.
His body of work is largely defined by his size, rather than his long speed or burst off the snap. He’s a deep threat, but not in the traditional sense, where he’ll get behind the defense by sprinting.
NFL Comparison: Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers—a tall wideout who can go long but also be a problem anywhere on the field because A) he’s a good route-runner and B) defenders simply can’t go as high as he can.
Name: Deone Bucannon
School: Washington St.
Weight: 216 lbs.
Like it or not, strong safety Donte Whitner is likely to be wearing different colors in 2014.
This is not because he didn’t play well for the three years that he was in the Bay Area. In fact, most would argue that he performed better than expected. No, the separation comes because the 49ers simply don’t have the cap to bankroll him near his value.
Too many other contracts will take precedence over his. Therefore, the front office will dip into the draft for his clone and inevitable successor, Deone Bucannon, a body-rocking safety from Washington State. This will be their second trade.
Bucannon is a big-time hitter—one of the best in college football during his tenure—and brings ideal NFL measurables to the table as a rookie. Outside the broad size and density, he is a lengthy defensive back with a 78" wingspan. As a prospect, teams know he’ll be ready to go from day one.
As for his resume, the All-Pac-12 selection was also a known defensive leader and captain for the Cougars, demonstrating the brainpower to run a defense and the aura to influence those around him. On top of the thumping hits and radiance as a defensive player, natural awareness and closing speed enables Bucannon to cover and make plays on the back end.
He’s a complete safety.
Deone Bucannon is widely considered one of the top overall safety prospects in this draft outside Alabama’s HaHa Clinton-Dix, so there isn’t much to knock about his game, to be honest. He’s got the experience, and physically he can do it all.
But if we’re digging, a lot like Whitner, going for the knockout blow has cost Bucannon a tackle. Lack of balance, being too low and a failure to wrap up has resulted in him whiffing or getting trucked.
NFL Comparison: Donte Whitner, SS, San Francisco 49ers—a true nightmare in the secondary for wide receivers and tight ends going deep or across the middle, as well as running backs on the perimeter.
Name: Jarvis Landry
Weight: 195 lbs.
The 49ers need to continue adding to their stable of wide receivers, which will be in rebuilding mode this offseason. The only two wideouts the team is guaranteed to have for 2014 are six-year pro Michael Crabtree and Quinton Patton, who will be in his second year out of Louisiana Tech.
He missed most of his rookie season with a foot fracture.
The team’s 1,000-yard receiver Anquan Boldin is an unknown, while Mario Manningham and Jon Baldwin are likely headed out of town.
With such a deep wide receiver class, especially with a potential Day 2 run pending when all the first-tier pass-catchers go, LSU's Jarvis Landry could fall right in San Francisco's lap, or at least to the point where they slide up a few spots for him.
Jarvis Landry is a fast, powerful receiver who consistently displays strong hands at the point of the catch.
In 40 games played, he racked up 137 receptions, 1,809 yards and 15 touchdowns (just 12 starts). When he’s on the field, he’s a natural. He can be a real producer. Bleacher Report’s own SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee even made a case for Landry as the best receiver in college football in October, largely because of the consistency and reliability.
As far as his skill set goes, the most unique thing he can offer San Francisco is a quick-footed deep threat. This is an element the Niners don’t have. But don’t be mistaken; tremendous hands and run-after-catch ability also gives him the ceiling to develop into something far more.
Landry is still a bit feeble and could benefit from tacking on five to 10 pounds once he gets to the next level.
Though his swiftness has been his biggest asset, he has to have the strength to complement it at the next level in order to beat press coverage. Everyone is fast in the NFL, so he can’t leave himself vulnerable to being bullied. It’s imperative that he remains physical when making the jump from the NCAA level.
NFL Comparison: Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants—though faster, the quick-twitch ability, knack for finding open space, hands catching and dexterity on the route tree makes him a similar product at receiver.
Name: Jaylen Watkins
Weight: 194 lbs.
The 49ers need to stock up on corners. Fortunately, there are plenty of talented ones in the upcoming draft. On top of that, the Niners' scouting department has hit on the posting, as secondary coach Ed Donatell has been masterful when it comes to developing defensive backs.
When it comes to value and overall talent, cornerback Jaylen Watkins on Day 2 is one of the best picks they can make.
Though Watkins is a lean 6’0”, he has the ability to redirect receivers and be effective in press-man coverage. On top of that, he brings advanced ball skills to the table that could glow with this front seven. With the instincts and pure physical tools, he’s constantly around the football.
Watkins is also very scrappy, never scared to charge the ball-carrier.
He has the ceiling to be a playmaking starting cornerback in the NFL—one that takes away receivers, helps versus the run and baits quarterbacks.
The SEC standout still needs experience and more game situations where he becomes more mentally astute on the back end.
He can execute as well as anyone, but if he catches up in between the ears, there could be no stopping Watkins. He’s also got a light body that could cause him to get pushed around by bigger pro receivers, whether it’s in man-to-man situations or as a run defender.
NFL Comparison: Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland Browns—though taller, the same qualities that define Haden’s game are visible in Watkins, which is a light-bodied, aggressive playmaker with the flexibility to move all over the field and cover anyone outright.
Name: Keith McGill
Weight: 214 lbs.
Like the wide receiver position, the cornerback group will also be in rebuilding mode for San Francisco, which makes this a second position where they double-dip. Obviously, Carlos Rogers is a cut candidate, seeing as how it will save the team north of $5 million against the cap.
Three-year starter Tarell Brown is also unlikely to be re-signed, especially with Chris Culliver returning and the recent extension for rising-star corner Tramaine Brock. The Niners will need at least two more competitors at the position.
Size is clearly a strength here. McGill is one of the largest cornerbacks in the entire 2014 draft. This makes him awfully imposing, particularly at the line of scrimmage in man coverage, which fits this 49ers defense like a glove.
With his physical dimensions, McGill is an absolute savage and is among the top players at his position when it comes to upside alone. In that frame, he’s a long, fluid athlete with good ball skills, fitting the new mega-sized prototype at corner that teams will be looking for.
There are questions about McGill’s quickness, which is not elite. Even if he registers sub-4.5 40-time at the combine, demonstrating the straight-line speed, there will still be questions about his field speed and getting burned. Forties don’t always translate in game situations.
McGill relies a lot on his ability to disrupt routes within the first five yards, and if NFL receivers have the quickness and/or strength to get around him, he might not have the recovery speed to survive.
NFL Comparison: Brandon Browner, CB, Seattle Seahawks—a big bully in press coverage who can establish a physical presence on the back end and make plays on the ball.
Name: Weston Richburg
School: Colorado St.
Weight: 300 lbs.
Thirty-five-year-old Jonathan Goodwin will be without a home this offseason and is unlikely to return. That being the case, the Niners need a center but won’t have to reach too far for one with Daniel Kilgore developing the past few seasons, whom some figured to be the long-term replacement.
However, he will need legitimate competition and perhaps someone to come in and take the job.
Richburg comes into this draft as one of the more polished players at his respective position group. CSU’s success was directly related to his tenure there, where the team had its best offense in school history. As a smart but still top-tier physical specimen, Richburg proved that he could anchor a line.
Whether it’s a powerful bull-rusher inside or a speed coming inside from a dog blitz or TE stunt, he could pick it up. And when it comes to the rushing attack, he still has the nimbleness, force and timing to hit his blocks and get to the second level uninterrupted.
With all that, he plays with a chip. Richburg is eager to engage and plant defenders in the ground.
For a mid-round center, this is a pretty solid piece of marble the 49ers will begin chiseling at. He is also one of two or three centers that most project to be able to come into the NFL and start right away. There isn’t too much wrong with Richburg that pro coaching couldn’t solve.
NFL Comparison: Nick Hardwick, C, San Diego Chargers—a similar sized and balanced interior linemen who can evolve into the lynchpin of the offensive front.
Name: Josh Mauro
Weight: 276 lbs.
After their primary needs are settled, the 49ers will look to add depth to the defensive line group. Nabbing a raw understudy for defensive tackle Justin Smith in Stanford’s Josh Mauro seems like the ideal plan. He’s similarly built, and being on the rise, he would make for a solid project player for this stable in San Francisco.
Brute force on the edges is something the 49ers covet for their 3-4 defense, and Mauro has that in spades. He is a large, powering heavyweight who simply plows his way into the opponent’s backfield. It’s not meant to be pretty. But he’s got a lot of fight in him, and it yields results.
That high motor, upper body strength, physical dimensions and work ethic could take him a long way. He’s also moldable within this scheme.
Granted, with Mauro there’s not a lot of speed to work with. Most teams nowadays are avidly looking for that edge talent that coverts speed to power in order to generate a consistent rush. That’s not his game. Whichever club takes Mauro will be hoping that his strength translates to the next level and that he becomes a model of technical proficiency.
If not, he could be average at the next level, if that.
NFL Comparison: Brett Kiesel, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers—a titanic grinder on the end that proves power and a high motor still wins in the NFL.
Name: Caraun Reid
Weight: 301 lbs.
The 49ers will be looking to remodel the defensive line for the long haul with guys like Justin Smith and Ray McDonald getting up there in age and coming to the end of their respective contracts. Still, they have time left, so this won’t force the front office to draft high in 2014.
Reid is a wide-bodied lineman who brings a great deal of power at the point of contact but also has the quick, meticulous footwork to slip lanes and be a presence in the opponent’s backfield. If he reaches his ceiling in the pros, Reid can potentially become one of the better interior disruptors in the league.
Coming out of Princeton, Reid did not see a great deal of high-level competition, so the body of work can be difficult to gauge. However, it is worth noting that he showed up at the Senior Bowl and turned some heads.
NFL Comparison: Brandon Mebane, DT, Seattle Seahawks—a powerful interior lineman who can stop the run, push the pocket and shoot the gaps.
Name: Dri Archer
School: Kent State
Weight: 175 lbs.
There expects to be a shakeup at the running back position, which could impact the return game, since that’s where LaMichael James has made his contributions thus far. If his role is somehow altered for one reason or another, the Niners will need a more permanent fix on special teams.
Speed, elusiveness and the capacity to deliver a kill shot any time he touches the ball makes Dri Archer a sought-after prospect. Whether he’s operating on offense or special teams, the threat he has to advance the ball and potentially get loose for a score is just the kind of dynamic the 49ers need.
While his tiny build has been an asset to him, at the NFL level, he may find that he is at more risk of getting de-cleated. If that translates into ball-security issues, Archer may never see the field. There are also limitations regarding what he can do on offense, and if a one-dimensional player—albeit a filthy one—is worth a roster spot.
NFL Comparison: Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Kansas City Chiefs—a multi-tooled speed demon who can be a factor on special teams, while being utilized like a chess piece on the offensive side of the ball.