San Francisco 49ers: Analyzing ESPN's Latest First-Round Draft Projections

Joe Levitt@jlevitt16Contributor IIIFebruary 7, 2014

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. sees WR Jarvis Landry as the first draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. sees WR Jarvis Landry as the first draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The adversarial, yet lauded draft pundits at ESPN Insider released their latest first-round projections for the San Francisco 49ers.

And the difference between the two predicted selections at No. 30 overall is as profound as eight drafts worth of salon-quality blowout meets curious accent-filled sports banter.

But not quite to the level of 30 years of incomparable hair helmet.

Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay published their respective NFL Mock Draft 2.0 on Thursday (subscription required). The former projected offense for the 49ers, while McShay had San Francisco targeting a defensive prospect.

The 49ers certainly need additional talent at the skill positions on both sides of the ball.

Let’s now analyze each pick from the venerable draft experts. We’ll offer an alternative option (or two) following the evaluations.

Mel Kiper Jr.

Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, LSU

Here is Kiper’s breakdown posted on ESPN Insider:

Knowing how Jim Harbaugh has raved about the pass-catching ability of Michael Crabtree, I think the coach will like what he sees of Landry when he rolls the tape. It's not Harbaugh's final call to make, but what they'd get in Landry is a really strong hands-catcher who is fluid in and out of his breaks and doesn't care about making catches in traffic. Landry is a competitor, and isn't afraid to throw a block. He's done a good job of building on the considerable base of talent he flashed coming out of high school.

Based off this synopsis, Landry definitely seems a textbook fit for the 49ers.

He is a technically proficient route-runner who brings natural talent and toughness. His willingness as a blocker further makes him a valuable commodity at the receiver position.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh has instituted a no-nonsense blue-collar ethos throughout the organization. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman, meanwhile, makes the calls on a hybrid run-heavy West Coast system.

Landry’s above-mentioned physical and intangible skill set lends itself to a great fit in San Francisco.

The former LSU Tiger enjoyed his breakout season as a junior in 2013.

LSU's Landry reached end-zone paydirt 10 times in 2013.
LSU's Landry reached end-zone paydirt 10 times in 2013.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

He collected a second-leading 77 receptions in the SEC for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns. The latter two categories qualified him for third among pass-catchers in the NCAA’s superior conference.

All that said, there are notable drawbacks.

Landry is relatively unproven. He produced a solid, but unspectacular sophomore campaign in 2012 with 573 yards receiving and five scores after totaling just four catches as a freshman.

His career does reflect a progression. But it’s one that spikes too suddenly without any NFL-caliber statistical success before his junior year.

Landry also stands at just 6’1’’, 195 pounds based off current unofficial numbers on the LSU team website. That frame isn’t exactly conducive for beating press coverage at the highest level.

Dane Brugler of CBS Sports describes his weaknesses in a related light:

Good size and speed, but limited in both areas. Only average height and length for the position. Takes a few moments to get up to his top-end speed and can be slowed in his routes by physical defenders - will struggle at times vs. press. Not naturally explosive and takes a few moments to gear down - doesn't show the burst to consistently separate with his quickness.

The 49ers require a big, physical burn threat on the outside. They need a prototypical height-weight-speed X receiver as a complement to underneath and intermediate weapons Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin (if they can re-sign him) and Quinton Patton.

Landry isn’t that guy—he’s much more similar to the incumbent wideouts.

Many analysts would say that no receiver prospect better catches the ball at its highest point than Kelvin Benjamin.
Many analysts would say that no receiver prospect better catches the ball at its highest point than Kelvin Benjamin.Harry How/Getty Images

The likes of 6’5’’, 225-pound Mike Evans (Texas A&M) and 6’5’’, 234-pound Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State) would better fit the bill. Even though drafting them would necessitate a trade-up in the first round, San Francisco has 11 picks at its disposal, according to CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco.

Penn State’s Allen Robinson (6’3’’, 210 lbs) is also a more pro-ready receiver. He was still available in Kiper’s mock draft.

However, if the positive marks given from the noted authorities hold true, the 49ers will welcome Landry with open arms.

We’ll leave you with Brugler’s ultimate assessment of Landry:

COMPARES TO: Eric Decker, Denver Broncos - Landry is more reliable with his hands and isn't quite as tall, but he projects similar to Decker with their movements, body control and toughness after the catch.

Not too shabby considering Decker has registered consecutive 1,000-yard, double-digit touchdown campaigns since 2011—Peyton Manning or not.

Todd McShay

Ra’Shede Hageman, Defensive Tackle, Minnesota

Appearing below is McShay’s analysis of the four-year defensive lineman:

…while the 49ers' defensive front seven is outstanding, now is a great time to bring in another young D-lineman to develop, with Justin Smith turning 35 in September. Hageman has some boom-or-bust qualities (he needs to improve his consistency and technique), but he showed improvement last season, is tall, well-proportioned and naturally strong, and not many guys his size move like he does. Landing with a defense like San Francisco's could be exactly what he needs.

This was surely not the sexy glamour pick many 49ers fans would have otherwise envisioned.

McShay addressed as much when he said that no “receiver with the ability to take the top off of a defense…[was] worthy of a first-round pick” at this spot in the mock draft.

He may not be sexy, but Ra'Shede Hageman was a dominant force on the defensive line for Minnesota.
He may not be sexy, but Ra'Shede Hageman was a dominant force on the defensive line for Minnesota.David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

So, what about this Ra’Shede Hageman character? What are his qualifications as a No. 30 overall pick?

If you’re not particularly enthused with the aforementioned description, here’s a portion of McShay’s write-up from his Mock 1.0 in mid-December (he forecasted the 49ers taking Hageman at No. 28):

…had a monster season for Minnesota in 2013, and I think he is one of those guys who will go on to be a better pro than he was a college player. He…can take on blocks against the run and is an effective bull rusher against the pass. Moreover, he's a perfect fit for the 49ers. He is at his best playing as a 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 alignment, and he could come in and not have to be an every-down guy right away…

Now that is a positively attractive set of skills from the perspective of those associated with the Red and Gold.

Ra'Shede Hageman's Sophomore through Senior Seasons
YearTacklesTFLSacksPass Breakups

Hageman would fit in seamlessly with the 49ers' 3-4 system.

He would occupy multiple blockers in the trenches, allowing linebackers Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman to make plays behind him. He would also neutralize ball-carriers and quarterbacks himself with his monstrous 6’6’’, 311-pound frame.

With the help of legendary defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, Hageman would easily become the next Justin Smith.

Hageman (No. 99) causing his usual wreckage in the backfield.
Hageman (No. 99) causing his usual wreckage in the backfield.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

There’s only one problem, McShay—San Francisco already has the next Justin Smith.

Tank Carradine was the 49ers' second-round pick in 2013. The 6’4’’, 273-pounder is Smith’s heir apparent but unfortunately remained on the sidelines last year due to a still-healing ACL tear suffered in his senior season at Florida State.

Even so, Harbaugh maintains great confidence that Carradine “can produce in 2014 after sitting out” as a rookie, according to Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News.

Thus, taking Hageman would seem a superfluous addition. The 49ers already feature Carradine, Tony Jerod-Eddie and Quinton Dial as D-line backups.

Possessing rotational depth is an absolute must in today’s NFL. But despite Hageman’s potentially superior upside to the above three players, San Francisco currently has other glaring defensive needs at cornerback and safety.

To that end, a perfect match was ripe for the taking in McShay’s draft—Jason Verrett.

Jason Verrett would provide the 49ers with an accomplished cover corner.
Jason Verrett would provide the 49ers with an accomplished cover corner.Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

TCU’s three-year defensive back led the Big 12 with six interceptions and 22 pass breakups in 2012. He then followed that up with an even more sensational campaign.

Verrett earned the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award in 2013 for his work as a shutdown corner. Opposing quarterbacks rarely targeted him, but he still managed two picks and a conference-high 14 pass breakups.

Give Verrett 10 career tackles for loss as well for the proficient run defender.

Rob Rang of CBS Sports anticipates the 49ers selecting Verrett in his current mock (2/4/14). Rang’s colleague Dane Brugler effectively endorsed the pick with this approving review:

He has smooth hips to easily turn and adjust, showing the fluid footwork to drive quickly on the ball with very good read/react skills. Verrett’s best traits are his ball-hawking ability to bait throws and the timing and confidence to undercut routes, looking like a magnet to the ball. He also has good toughness and strength for the position, routinely throwing his body around and making plays in run support.

Other first-round-quality corners Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Lamarcus Joyner and Loucheiz Purifoy were all unavailable in McShay’s draft projections.

That left Verrett as the rightful choice for the 49ers’ nickel corner role behind Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver (especially in the case of Tarell Brown walking in free agency and Carlos Rogers becoming a salary-cap casualty).

The tenacious 5’10’’, 176-pound Verrett can cover, play the ball and tackle well in space.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell would certainly appreciate him in 49ers colors.

All told, the reputable Kiper Jr. and McShay projected two formidable prospects moving to San Francisco from the collegiate ranks.

We ultimately disagreed. But then again, the 2014 NFL draft is still three months away.

Here’s to joyful prognosticating until then.

Follow me on Twitter @jlevitt16


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