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San Francisco 49ers: Simulating the First Two Rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft

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San Francisco 49ers: Simulating the First Two Rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft
Alan Diaz/Associated Press

Imagine, for a moment, it’s May 8, 2014, and you’re sitting in the San Francisco 49ers draft room in Santa Clara, Calif.  General manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh are sitting around the conference table, with pages and pages of information on potential picks. They’re on the clock, and they turn to you.

Who do you pick?

With three picks in the first two rounds of the 2014 NFL draft, the 49ers are in position to add some serious talent to their roster.  There’s nothing more crucial to a team’s success than nailing their draft picks; getting top talent at budget prices has helped propel teams like the Seattle Seahawks to Super Bowl victory.

Those Seahawks had 64 percent of their 2013 starts come from draft picks, including Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner.  While a big, splashy free-agent signing can always help boost a team’s morale, the core of your roster is built through the draft.

Today, let’s look at San Francisco’s top three draft choices, which all fit within the top 61 picks of the draft.  It’s the second year in a row the 49ers have had that much ammunition at the top of the draft, and they have the opportunity to help shape their roster for years to come.

For this article, I went ahead and did a quick-and-dirty mock of the first two rounds, just to get a sense of which players may or may not be available at a given selection.  For the article, though, it doesn’t particularly matter as to the precise order of the selections ahead of them, only the players remaining.

 

Round 1, Pick 30

Possible picks:

 

You can see why re-signing Tarell Brown is such a high priority; the cornerback selection is a bit light at the back half of the first round. 

Just before this selection, the mock had the San Diego Chargers taking Bradley Roby of Ohio State and the Carolina Panthers taking Loucheiz Purifoy out of Florida, further draining the talent pool.  Marcus Roberson is sitting out there—a solid, versatile corner with durability issues—but the pickings are otherwise fairly slim.

John Raoux/Associated Press
Kelvin Benjamin would be a good choice, if you wanted to go receiver at this slot.

Should the team re-sign Brown, it would be free to go pick the receiver of its choice.  The 49ers certainly are spoiled for choice here.  Both of LSU’s receivers are still on the board at this point—Odell Beckham’s more of a small, speedy type, while Jarvis Landry is a bit bigger and tougher over the middle.   Kelvin Benjamin is huge at 6’5” and can battle for balls in the air.  Meanwhile, Davante Adams simply led college football in receptions, yards and touchdowns in 2013.

Back in the secondary, Jimmie Ward is the top strong safety available in a weak class—he’d be a direct replacement for Donte Whitner if he leaves in free agency.  Similarly, Marcus Martin would be a replacement for Jonathan Goodwin at center, who, at age 35, may not be re-signed by the team.

GM Andrews/Associated Press/Associated Press
Ra'Shede Hageman

Based on pure talent alone, Ra’Shede Hageman is probably the top player available at this slot, and would presumably join Tank Carradine as an heir apparent at the defensive end position.  Kony Ealy and Dee Ford join him as top prospects as pass-rushers, which is a moderate need for the team—not something they need to replace this year but for the future when contracts start to expire in a couple seasons.

Without knowing whether or not Brown will re-sign, this is a very tough decision to make.  The 49ers need depth at the wide receiver position fairly badly; the offense sputtered in 2013 when the receiver corps was whittled down by injury and poor play to just one productive wideout, Anquan Boldin.  However, a Boldin-Michael Crabtree-Quinton Patton trio could hold down the fort for a year or two, but a Brown-less secondary weakens the worst part of the defense.

Assuming Brown isn’t squeezed back under the salary cap for 2014, my choice here is Roberson.  He’s capable of playing on an island as a man-cover cornerback and has a decent if not stunning combination of size and speed.  He’s had injury issues in college, but the 49ers have shown a willingness to gamble on recovering players.

It’s a slight drop in the talent scale, but the need at cornerback is too large to ignore.

 

Round 2, Pick 56

Possible Picks:

 

The other reason passing on receiver isn’t the end of the world in the first round is the number of solid prospects who may be available toward the end of the second round.  Assuming Boldin re-signs, one of these receivers could learn as the third or fourth wideout for a year before moving into the starting lineup.

Fred Beckham/Associated Press/Associated Press
You could do worse than selecting a 6'6" receiver like Coleman.

Jordan Matthews would be an interesting pick—a cousin of Jerry Rice, Matthews is a big and strong target who can fight through coverage to make tough receptions.  Brandon Coleman isn’t going to outrun anyone, but at 6’6”, he’s a huge target in the red zone. 

Bruce Ellington was also a member of South Carolina’s basketball team, and has a great first step and burst.  He has great vision and good elusiveness, though he’s still a bit of a project.  Allen Robinson also played basketball in high school, meaning he’s another one of those top athletes at the position.  He lacks elite speed, but has a good combination of size and acceleration.

If none of the receivers particularly grab your eye, there are a couple solid centers to replace Jonathan Goodwin around this pick.  Russell Bodine is talented enough to play anywhere on the interior offensive line, while ESPN lists him as the second-best draft-eligible center (subscription needed).  CBS prefers Weston Richburg out of Colorado State.  They’re impressed with his frame and athleticism, enough to ignore the lower level of competition.

Deone Bucannon continues the quest for a strong safety to replace Donte Whitner.  The Washington State defensive back would be a good physical match with Eric Reid in the secondary. 

Finally, we have a trio of draft picks for the front seven, based mostly on skill rather than need.  Jim Harbaugh recruited Trent Murphy to come to Stanford, so there could be a connection there.  Chris Borland might be a safety net in case NaVorro Bowman’s ACL recovery takes longer than anticipated.  Finally, teams usually don’t want a big Ego, but they’d make an exception for Ferguson, an All-SEC honorable mention.

Bucannon is really tempting, as I like the fit across from Reid.  Still, it’d be hard to draft two players in the secondary with the first two picks when receiver is such a need, which brings me back to Matthews.  I’ve had my eye on him since November, when I first fell in love with his size and strength.  Maybe he doesn’t have blinding speed, but he’s a tough receiver, and that’s what the team needs to combat Seattle's Legion of Boom. 

Matthews would be my selection here.

 

Round 2, Pick 61

Possible Picks:

 

It’s definitely possible to outthink yourself over the course of a draft, taking players at positions of need and ignoring talented players regardless of position.  Getting towards the end of the second round, some of these players might end up dropping.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
Drafting a player like Thomas would be a pick based on talent, not need.

No, the 49ers don’t need a running back, but De’Anthony Thomas has a chance to be an offensive weapon, given his ability to line up at multiple positions.  Vernon Davis is just fine at tight end, but Troy Niklas is a matchup nightmare. 

Either Thomas or Niklas would be a major weapon to add to an offense which was limited at times in 2013.

The other new names on the list come from the front seven.  Dominique Easley is coming off an ACL injury after being a highly touted prospect; the 49ers could take him and essentially redshirt him for a season.  Will Sutton sits right between a defensive tackle and a defensive end in terms of size; he’d probably be an end in the 49ers’ 3-4 system.  Telvin Smith might make the move to safety in the NFL, thus fitting a larger need for the team.

Again, Deone Bucannon would be tempting, and a little more of a justifiable selection with the receiver spot taken care of with the previous pick.  However, on the whole, I’d prefer to boost the interior offensive line with this selection; when deciding between equivalent players on offense and defense, I tend to lean offense when trying to improve this team.

J Pat Carter/Associated Press
Pick a center, any center.

I prefer the big-school experience of Russell Bodine, so he’s my pick over Richburg right now, but that might change after the combine.  If Richburg really wows in the individual drills, I might be willing to push him over Bodine as my preferred center prospect.

 

Remaining Needs

The one big need this mock leaves out is safety; if the 49ers can’t keep Donte Whitner, that void across from Eric Reid will need to be addressed.  In this scenario, that’s something the team would have to take care of in the third round.  Bucannon isn’t likely to fall too much further, so perhaps a player like Craig Loston out of LSU would be an option and would reunite a pair of LSU safeties in San Francisco.

One way or another, the NFL Scouting Combine is likely to shuffle draft boards significantly.  We’ll revisit San Francisco’s draft options once that event is over and done with.  For now, though, the aforementioned picks would be a solid opening for the 49ers’ 2014 draft class.

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