Entering May’s draft with a league-high 12 picks and few real positions to tune up, the NFL world should fully expect San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke to be wheeling and dealing, as soon as Day 1 even. This is a man with resources, leeway and motive.
Feeling the pressure from a Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl victory and a 2012 draft class that vanished into the abyss, Baalke has got to make a dent.
As far as war room activity goes, the 49ers may have the most buzz, as well as open-mindedness. No team has more picks, and no team has less spots to fill. So for clubs seeking trade partners or draftniks curious as to who will move up, San Francisco is as sure a thing as any.
They’ll go in with the mindset to part with picks in order to move up to select higher-quality players, as opposed to overdrafting several middle-of-the-road prospects who they don’t even wind up keeping past training camp.
It’s a more proficient way to take advantage of the draft.
Last year, the 49ers moved up three times in the top 94 picks, including leaping 12 spots in the first round, and still overdrafted. They have roughly the same amount of draft choices and far less roster space this year, since they’ll still be looking to add bodies from past drafts to the active 46-man roster.
That is an indicator of them drafting even less players (which equates to making bigger and/or more frequent trades up).
So, whenever Baalke isn’t holding a cup of coffee during his three days at Radio City, expect him to have a phone in hand and a draft value chart in the other. ESPN’s draft value chart is a comprehensive look at the estimated values of each draft pick by round, predicated on a point system.
The further teams go down on the board, the less value is assigned to each pick, so when trading up, GMs need to pull picks that add up to equal the spot they’re attempting to trade up to. Here is a visual mock-up of the board, courtesy of Pro Football Talk:
But the draft chart only matters so much. Like NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said this past week in a pre-combine conference call, this is the deepest draft class he’s seen in the past 10 years.
This very well could affect how teams view trading out. Any team willing to move back may really be the one winning in the deal. It may cost less to trade up as a result, just because teams may prefer a different style player and don’t mind adding an extra draft pick or two in the meantime.
Moreover, the draft value chart should mean far less after Round 1, as general managers will be less finicky.
Having said all that, the question now becomes who makes the most sense for the 49ers in terms of a trade up? They have needs at wide receiver, cornerback and safety, which may all be tackled in the first few rounds. These are positions where they’ll need starting-caliber players.
Mind you, cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver will positively be returning to the lineup. And it’s a deep class here at a position this team knows and develops well.
So all signs point to the 49ers pursuing speed at wideout in the first round, while coveting a top-tier safety to supersede Pro Bowler Donte Whitner shortly after. They can make a hard push at both position groups early. A player worth a trade up also has to be a “gold-helmet” prospect—one that fits this team from a physical, schematic and character perspective.
Two players in particular stand out, both of which are attainable in the first two rounds of the draft, per round projections from Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller.
Scenario 1: Mike Evans, Round 1
Weight: 225 lbs.
School: Texas A&M
- Extraordinary combination of height, leaping ability and wingspan provides him with an unparalleled catch radius
- Boxes out defenders from the ball, helping advance the offense while limiting big plays by the opponent
- Great body control and focus
- Long speed helps him gallop behind defenders, both before and after the catch, making him a complete receiver
- Imposing size and large hands
- Lacks top speed and short-area quickness, which restricts his ability to consistently create separation
If you step back and look at the 49ers offense, it’s easy to see that at full strength, with receiver Michael Crabtree and everybody, they have no issue driving the length of the field. They’re resourceful, balanced and innovative, and very rarely do they turn the ball over.
But when they enter the red zone, they lock up.
Settling for field goals when they have a myriad of opportunities to score touchdowns is one of the featured issues that hurts them in games. While play-calling is also at fault, this is an offense that has continually lacked size and speed, which can be helpful in tight spots.
Mike Evans gives this team a much-needed element to help them evolve as a unit to overcome their one deficiency, while providing a staple in this offense. Making sense in the short- and long-term, the 49ers may be able to justify trading up inside the top 15 to acquire him.
In order to secure Mike Evans, the 49ers will target a hot spot just outside the top 10, where there are a few key teams that could be looking to trade back given their current situation.
No. 12 (New York Giants): Wideout Hakeem Nicks is on his way out and Big Blue is starting fresh with a new offensive coordinator. With how atrocious that passing attack was, it’s very likely they look at Evans. The 49ers will want to move here to prevent the Giants from taking Evans or even the St. Louis Rams, who may do it at 13th overall.
No. 14 (Chicago Bears): Heading into the second year under coach Marc Trestman, the new regime has gotten a read on what they’ll need to compete going forward. Continuing to build—and having several vets to replace without much cap—they’ll likely be looking to add multiple starting-caliber players in the draft.
No. 15 (Pittsburgh Steelers): The Steelers need players in the form of draft picks because they’re rebuilding and they have no cap space. They should be very open to trading back. The 49ers will also want to get ahead of the Baltimore Ravens, who could be looking to Evans to replace the void left by Anquan Boldin.
The 49ers gave the Cowboys the No. 30 and No. 74 picks in the draft to move up to No. 18 to select LSU safety Eric Reid. They did this without breaking a sweat, too. If you remember, it was a pretty normal draft following that headlining Day 1 trade. In fact, they even traded up two more times in the top 100.
The 49ers can easily leap half of the first round again.
They can offer up their No. 30 overall pick, a second-rounder (No. 56) and a third-rounder (No. 77) to get up to the Giants' spot at No. 12. Or instead of that extra third-rounder, they might even be able to get away with a first, a second and a fourth, plus a seventh-rounder.
Scenario 2: Deone Bucannon, Round 2
Weight: 216 lbs.
School: Washington State
- A banger that sets the tone on the back end and helps in run support
- Rangy, with good awareness and ball skills
- Explosive at the point of contact, bringing above-average closing speed
- Creates turnovers
- Good hustle
- Wide base restricts fluidity in his backpedal, may struggle on the rare occasions he’s in man coverage
- With a thirst for contact, tends to whiff on occasion
Forty-niners safety Donte Whitner is about to be former 49ers safety Donte Whitner. With other more pertinent deals to distribute, and the figure he’ll deservedly be up for, San Francisco can’t afford to pay him. And from where Whitner is sitting, it's “all business” in 2014.
There will be no hometown discounts.
He’ll be looking for his first and likely last big contract at 28 years old. The Niners won’t be able to give it to him.
This will be a big loss too, seeing as how Whitner is coming off his best season as a pro, really hitting his peak. His turnaround from 2012 to 2013 was unparalleled on the team, as he went from liability to asset. All in all, the former first-rounder played like one of the best safeties in the game:
|Donte Whitner's Resurgence (2012-13)|
|Year (incl. playoffs)||Catch Rate||TD Allowed||Opposing QB Rating||PFF Grade|
|Pro Football Focus|
This past season, Whitner had the fifth-highest coverage grade of any safety in the NFL, via Pete Damilatis of Pro Football Focus. Combined with the hitting and fear factor he instills on the back end, he brought a lot of value to the 49ers defense. It might not always look like it, but he did.
If the 49ers are going to let him get away, they have to replace Whitner with somebody who is pro-ready.
And with that being a big part of the criteria, Washington State’s Deone Bucannon looks like an ideal candidate. From his build, to his ability to both hit and cover, he’s a plug-and-play prospect. Not to mention, the defensive captain for the Cougars has the cerebral skills to run the back end of the defense.
Questions like the size of Florida State tweener Lamarcus Joyner and the control of Louisville’s Calvin Pryor may give the Niners the inclination to secure one of the most balanced and sure-looking prospects in Deone Bucannon. That may necessitate a move up from the middle of the second round to play it safe.
No. 42 (Tennessee Titans): The 49ers will want to get in the top third of the second round, and one of the first potential landing spots that looks good is with the Titans. This club is typically neutral and could do well to add picks. Two of their biggest stars last year, cornerback Alterraun Verner and running back Chris Johnson, both have uncertain futures with Tennessee.
No. 45: (Detroit Lions): The Lions need defensive ends, linebackers, corners, safeties and wide receivers, so they’re going to need as many picks as possible. After they spend their first-rounder, they’ll only have five draft choices remaining. That’s a little light for what they need.
The cost here should be minimal.
A year ago, in order to secure Rice tight end Vance McDonald in the mid-to-late second round, the 49ers traded up from the No. 61 to the No. 55 spot and only had to give up an additional sixth-rounder (No. 173 overall). It was the second trade by the front office at the front end of the draft, and they got their man.
Picking at No. 56 in 2014 and looking to get into the mid-40s, they can feasibly skip seven to 10 spots in Round 2 without giving up much more than a late-round pick or two, likely sixths and sevenths.
Of course, if they give up their 56th pick to get Mike Evans in Round 1, they can offer up their other second-rounder (No. 63) and perhaps a fourth, paired with another late pick.
It’s clear they have plenty of ammunition and plenty of options. Forced to get a starter-caliber player here, Trent Baalke can’t settle for a guy who his scouting department has had even modest concerns about. They have to acquire their safety of choice.
These appear to be two of the most practical trade-ups Trent Baalke and the 49ers can execute. They can potentially do one or both, as they really have the capital to do so.
Depending on whom they like at safety, the Niners can still move to that spot in the middle of the second round to lock down their guy. Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner, Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward are all options, depending on which they view as the best fit.
As for TAMU's Mike Evans, the 49ers need some diversity in their offense.
Few other receivers meet San Francisco’s needs in terms of complementary fit and overall caliber. He and FSU wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin stand out as the two picturesque selections in the first round, simply because of their long speed, box-out ability and catch radius.
They’d enhance this team’s scoring output, which is all the 49ers need to do at this point with how well this defense is put together. Trent Baalke’s No. 1 goal should be to make up for the A.J. Jenkins selection and provide coach Jim Harbaugh and the offense with that final piece they need to become a prolific scoring unit.