They differ notably on what direction the San Francisco 49ers will take with the 30th overall selection.
Kiper sees the 49ers taking Jarvis Landry, the “other” wide receiver out of LSU, as compared to Odell Beckham Jr. McShay, on the other hand, has the 49ers strengthening the interior of their defensive line by taking Ra’Shede Hageman out of Minnesota—a position and player that has been mocked to the 49ers before.
Which pick would be better? How would the two players fit into San Francisco’s scheme? Let’s take a closer look at these two potential selections and break down their potential impact on the 2014 49ers.
Positions of Need?
Wide receiver is certainly one of San Francisco’s biggest question marks entering 2014. Anquan Boldin led the team in receptions last season, but he’s an unrestricted free agent—likely to be one in some demand, at that. With 85 receptions for 1,179 yards, and having been forced to carry the load nearly solo for the first three-quarters of the season, Boldin’s coming off of arguably the finest season in his 11-year career.
He’s joined on the free agent list by Mario Manningham, who wasn’t a major contributor last season as he recovered from injuries. That does leave the 49ers fairly thin at receiver—here’s the entire list of receivers under contract, complete with their career stats.
Suffice it to say, the 49ers need someone to play that number two-receiver position behind Michael Crabtree.
Selecting a defensive lineman would be done mainly to provide depth. The logic behind such a pick would be that Justin Smith, despite playing well once again in 2013, is eventually going to have age catch up with him. He’ll be 35 next season and, while the 49ers attempted to address this need last year, second-round draft choice Tank Carradine never saw the field as he recovered from injury.
More depth is never a bad idea, and the 49ers might relish a bit more of a rotation along the defensive line to keep aging limbs fresh. It doesn’t strike me as quite as big of a need, however.
Michael Crabtree 2.0?
Jarvis Landry is a tough, physical receiver, with great hands. At 6’0” and 195 pounds, he’s not afraid to go over the middle or go up to make tough catches in coverage—a skill set necessary for competing with the physical cornerbacks of the Seattle Seahawks.
Where Landry excels most is on the underneath routes, finding the holes in zone coverage and slipping underneath the defenders to make tough catches in traffic. He’s not the fastest player on the field by any means, but once he has the ball in his hands, he’s difficult to bring down.
The big strike against him is the lack of home run ability. While he’s fine with contact, it does slow him down somewhat, and he doesn’t really have the quickness needed to run past tight press coverage. He's not a huge threat after the catch either, as he’s not going to make guys miss or break a lot of tackles. He could stand to improve his footwork too.
His production has been very solid, notching 137 receptions for 1,809 yards and 14 touchdowns over his college career, and his performance as a junior this season was enough to have him named a second-team All-SEC player. He excelled in big games against Georgia and TCU, as well, showing an ability to rise to the challenge in crucial moments.
Kiper compares Landry to Crabtree in his selection, saying that San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh might see a bit of Crabtree in Landry, in terms of his strong hands and pass-catching ability. He looks to be a fine player out of the slot; a potential possession receiver who can be a safety valve for Colin Kaepernick and help boost the short passing game.
I have two quibbles with the selection.
First, while two Michael Crabtree-quality players certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing to have, it would seem that the ideal complement to Crabtree is someone who possessed the speed to remove the top off opposing defenses. Think someone like Josh Gordon and his big-play ability. Landry would be more of what San Francisco already has, in terms of skill set.
The second concern is value. Kiper mocks Landry to San Francisco as the eighth wide receiver taken, so you have to question whether there are really eight receivers of first-round quality in this year’s draft. Taking Landry down in the second round would seem like a better fit for his talent. Would the 49ers really chase a receiver chain rather than draft a potential starting cornerback in this slot?
With the 30th pick, Ra’Shede Hageman would be a better value selection, but you don’t select a player simply because the mock drafts tell you where his value lies. Hageman is 6’6” and 311 pounds and is a physical freak.
He is arguably the most physically imposing player available in this year’s draft.
With his power and explosion, there are times when it’s simply impossible to stop Hageman—he’s an unparalleled athlete at the position. His skill set allows him to play anywhere along the line—he could either sit in and understudy under Justin Smith at defensive end or come in and play defensive tackle in a four-man front.
He’s still a raw prospect (Hageman arrived in Minnesota as a tight end before switching to the defensive line). As such, there are areas of his game that still need improvement. He plays a little too high—he needs to get his pad level down further for leverage, which is understandably difficult when you’re 6’6”. He also had trouble with double-teams at times—less of an issue in the NFL, where he won’t be the best player on the line. But it's still a concern.
He also doesn’t quite have the speed to run down mobile quarterbacks, which might be an issue with Russell Wilson set up in Seattle for the immediate future. His impressive physical talents, when combined with his lack of experience and question marks about his consistency, make him a bit of a boom-or-bust candidate.
He could become the next superstar defensive lineman in the league, or he could wash out sooner rather than later.
He’s a riskier pick than Landry would be, but some of that can be absorbed by the fact that San Francisco wouldn’t need him to start right away. He could sit and learn behind a terrific Niners defensive line and work his way into a rotation, rather than being forced into the spotlight immediately. In that sense, San Francisco might be a better fit for him than he is for San Francisco.
Players of that size and physicality don’t come around every day. My concern with this pick is simply the risk of taking a boom-or-bust type of player with a team’s first pick. If Hageman didn’t work out, it would negatively impact the entire draft. In today’s parity-driven league, missing on first-round picks is a surefire way to see yourself tumble down the NFL hierarchy sooner rather than later.
Later selections in the draft can be used to gamble—see Marcus Lattimore last year or Frank Gore back in 2005. If they don’t pan out, it’s not the end of the world, but if they succeed, it’s a huge boon to the team. A first-round pick is a dangerous thing to potentially waste.
Still, it’s not like Hageman would be a complete unknown; he was a first-team All-Big Ten player after all. It wouldn’t be a poor selection at all, even though it addresses a position of lesser need.
It’s interesting that both Hageman and Landry are available at the 30th pick in both Kiper and McShay’s drafts. It’s not a scenario where they agree that a player would be a good fit for San Francisco. Rather they disagree on the player’s availability. Both experts looked at the two players and went different ways.
Given the two options, I’d rather take Hageman. It’d be a bit unnerving, since there's a wider range of possible outcomes for the big defensive lineman than there probably is for the more consistent Landry. Nor do the Niners need a defensive end as urgently as they need a number two receiver.
Still, you get bogged down in drafting for need and pass on a great player just because he doesn’t seem to fit immediately. A player with the physicality of Hageman doesn’t come around every day, and he has the potential to be an anchor for years down the line, while I don’t know if Landry has the ability to be the main focus of a passing attack.
Hageman also would sit and learn—an opportunity that wouldn’t be afforded Landry. Giving Hageman an easier transition into the starting lineup could help him iron out some of the technique flaws that evaluators have spotted. Doing so could reduce his bust potential.
Given the choice between the two of them, and despite looking upon San Francisco’s receiver corps and despairing, I would end up selecting Hageman.