Every NFL draft tends to have a theme. Last season, it was the year of the offensive lineman. In 2014, the throne goes to the receivers and defensive backs.
Luckily for the San Francisco 49ers, they have needs in both areas.
What direction will general manager Trent Baalke go in the first round? The possibility of adding another receiver is enticing, but we all remember the last time the 49ers drafted a WR in the first round.
Baalke has a good track record with defensive backs in the early rounds. Eric Reid, the 49ers' 2013 first-round selection, proved to be a stud in his first season. Can Baalke strike gold once again?
For some, going BPA (Best Player Available) seems like the most logical pathway. While I tend to agree with this thinking, we'll likely see the 49ers balance the BPA model with a need-based formula. So, don't be shocked if Jadeveon Clowney or Johnny Manziel is nowhere to be seen on this list.
Let's take a look at the 49ers' first-round, post-combine big board.
1. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
|Vertical Jump||34 inch|
If Sammy Watkins drops below the top 10, expect the 49ers to be working the phones in the hopes of moving up in the draft. In my opinion, Watkins is a top-three talent in this class.
We could see a run at quarterbacks in the top 10. I expect at least three quarterbacks to go in the top 15, which could impact Watkins' draft stock a bit.
Now, if Watkins were to slip past the Detroit Lions at No. 10, their plethora of picks would give the 49ers a fighting chance at moving up. Remember, San Francisco could possess 13 or more picks heading into the 2014 NFL draft.
As we saw at the combine, Watkins is a speed demon. His straight-line speed is impressive, as his 40 time attests, but once you put on the tape, it's evident that Watkins is fast going east to west, as well.
At just 6'0'', 205, Watkins has also shown the knack of catching jump balls and passes in traffic. His instincts and athleticism allow him to be a home run threat every time he touches the football, including when on special teams.
Watkins would be the perfect complement to Michael Crabtree. If the 49ers somehow land Watkins, this offense could be scary in 2014.
2. WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
|Vertical Jump||37 inches|
Mike Evans put on quite a show at the combine. I don't take huge stock in combine results, but Evans at least answered some concerns with regards to his speed.
On tape, Evans plays like a 6'4'' receiver. He has strong hands, and 50-50 balls are really 70-30 balls when it comes to Evans. However, college competition fails in comparison to NFL defensive backs. Can Evans' physicality transfer to the next level?
Unfortunately, the combine won't tell us this.
The combine is really a barometer for potential. If Evans lines up with the right team and is developed properly, he can easily fill his potential.
That right team could be the 49ers.
Like Watkins, the 49ers will have to find a way to move up to nab Evans, who could go in the top 10. But realistically speaking, he'll likely land somewhere in the mid-teens.
Baalke would have to work his magic, but with a ton of picks at his disposal, I wouldn't be surprised if the Niners land the Texas A&M product.
3. CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
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The receiver and cornerback group in this year's draft class is one of the deepest we've seen in the last five or six years. In my opinion, Darqueze Dennard is at the top of the list.
At the moment, it's more likely that the 49ers use their first-round selection on a receiver. However, if they decide to select a defensive back, Dennard seems like the logical choice.
Dennard's specialty is his ability to excel in press-man coverage. Most young corners rely on their athleticism and speed, but Dennard is such a polished technician when it comes to mirroring opposing receivers.
It also doesn't hurt that Dennard is a high-character football player. Remember, the 49ers place a heavy emphasis on character and leadership.
His official 40 time (4.51) wasn't as good as his unofficial run (4.42), but I'm sure he'll improve during Michigan State's pro day. Dennard should be a top-20 selection.
4. WR Marqise Lee, USC
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Again, I don't take huge stock in the 40 time, but 4.52? Yes, the 5'11'' Marqise Lee is about as fast as the 6'4'' 231-pound Mike Evans.
I'm sure Lee will improve upon his 40 time at USC's pro day, but questions will remain until that number improves. When you're known for taking the top off a defense, speed is something scouts will focus on.
Still, I believe Lee to be the best route-runner between Watkins and Evans. In a West Coast scheme, Lee could be a dangerous weapon right off the bat.
5. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
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Justin Gilbert blew away the competition at the combine, posting a more-than-solid 40 time (4.37) and a surprising 20 reps on the bench press.
At 6'0'', 202 pounds, Gilbert is the type of player Baalke covets. The size and speed are nice, but what separates Gilbert from the pack is his arm length (33 1/8"). For comparisons sake, Darqueze Dennard's arm length reaches about 30 1/4 inches.
Gilbert has Dennard beat in the physical department, but on tape, the Oklahoma State product can be maddeningly inconsistent at times.
I'm torn with Gilbert.
In terms of potential, Gilbert has every other corner in this draft class beat. He can play effectively in man and zone, and his ball skills are superb. Gilbert is also a top-notch returner on special teams.
However, I wonder if Gilbert can play up to his potential on a consistent basis. With Dennard, those concerns aren't as prevalent.
6. DE/DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
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Ra'Shede Hageman is one of the more intriguing prospects in this 2014 draft class. While the risks are pretty evident, if selected, Hageman can make a GM look very smart.
If you want to talk about physical traits, Hageman has it all. The large frame (6'6''), the long arms (34 1/4") and explosive athleticism have general managers salivating.
The 40 time he posted (5.02) was solid, but I expected a better workout from the Minnesota product. On tape, he just doesn't show enough consistent production for you to ignore the average combine numbers.
Really, the NFL combine was Hageman's best bet in moving up draft boards. I expected a performance similar to what Dontari Poe showed in the 2012 event.
With the 49ers, Hageman would serve as the eventual replacement for either Justin Smith or Ray McDonald. San Francisco could use Hageman as a 0-technique lineman in nickel situations, but even that position is crowded with Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams manning the middle.
Nevertheless, I still feel his potential is better than any prospect below. With a fantastic defensive line coach in Jim Tomsula, Hageman would be in good hands with the 49ers.
7. CB Marcus Roberson, Florida
Now, some might believe Marcus Roberson is too high on my big board, but if you put on the tape, this guy looks like a Darrelle Revis clone.
Yes, you read that right.
Of course, I understand Roberson has a long way to go before being compared to one of the best corners in the NFL, but his playing style reminds me of a young Revis.
Roberson's combine performance was underwhelming. He posted a disappointing 40 time (4.61) and his eight bench reps only confirm previous concerns about his strength.
His best attribute by far is his instincts. Roberson has great vision and quick feet to keep up with agile slot receivers. At 6'0", he has ideal height, but at times he can struggle covering bigger receivers, though, I expect him to improve in that area at the next level with better technique.
Roberson should be available at the end of the first round, so the 49ers could get a great player without giving up valuable picks.
8. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
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At 6'5'' 240 pounds, Kelvin Benjamin is the Jadeveon Clowney of receivers. They just don't make receivers like this, and if developed properly, the league will be at his mercy.
Now, with such high praise, why is Benjamin the fourth-best receiver prospect on my big board? Well, red flags tend to follow players with a boom-or-bust label.
Benjamin is still a developing prospect. He can stand to improve his route-running and concentration, as he did have the occasional drop.
While a big leaper, Benjamin doesn't have the breakaway speed you're looking for in a No. 1 receiver. In addition, he isn't a great blocker, which will quickly put you in Jim Harbaugh's doghouse.
Yes, Jim Harbaugh desperately could use a big-play receiver like Benjamin to complement Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. However, he just isn't a natural fit in the 49ers scheme, meaning playing time could be tough to come by early in his career.
9. DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
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Kony Ealy is one of my favorite prospects coming out of the 2014 draft. At 6'4'', 273 pounds, Ealy is a mound of clay ready to be molded.
Like Aldon Smith, Ealy hails from the University of Missouri. Mizzou has a great track record of spitting out quality defensive lineman with Smith and Sheldon Richardson being the prime examples.
In terms of fit, the 49ers could go two directions with Ealy. They can add weight to his frame and convert him to a 5-technique defensive end in their 3-4 scheme.
If so, it could take Ealy a few years to develop into the player we all envision. An alternative idea would be converting Ealy into a 3-4 rush linebacker and using him on pass-rushing downs.
The 49ers used the same approach with Aldon Smith in his rookie season. With his long arms (34 1/4") and natural athleticism, Ealy would be a scary rotational player in Vic Fangio's defense.
Ealy could go as high as the top 10 in May, so the 49ers would have to be active in trading up if they want the Mizzou product.
10. WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
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Allen Robinson closely resembles 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin, which makes his disappointing 40 time irrelevant in my eyes.
A 4.60 40 time is subpar to say the least, but, like Boldin, Robinson isn't going to win the speed battle. On tape, you can see that Robinson is clearly a possession receiver.
With Crabtree and Boldin etched in as possession receivers, why draft a similar player? Well, possession receivers aren't the flashiest prospects, but in terms of NFL readiness, they tend to be ahead of the curve.
Robinson is such a great route-runner, and his hands are among the best in this year's draft class. At 6'2'', Robinson will also give the 49ers some red-zone and goal-line help.
If the 49ers miss out on Watkins, Evans, Lee or even Benjamin, Robinson would be a nice alternative. Also, the 49ers probably wouldn't have to move up to grab a player like Robinson.
11. S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
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Will the 49ers select a safety in the first round for the second consecutive year? It worked pretty well last year with Pro Bowl rookie Eric Reid.
If drafted in the first round, Pryor could make a similar impact in his first year.
With Reid entrenched at the free spot, it makes sense opting for Pryor over Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Pryor is a natural strong safety, while Dix will make his money being a roamer at the next level.
Dix is the better athlete, but I think the Pryor is a more complete player. Pryor has great range and instincts but also brings a linebackers mentality with his ferocious hits.
Pryor is also a better tackler and run-defender. Dix is the better coverage back, but the 49ers demand their safeties also be factors stopping the run.
Now, if the 49ers re-sign Donte Whitner, their first-round pick will either be a corner or receiver. I firmly believe the 49ers will re-sign Whitner, but there is no guarantee at this point in the offseason.
12. DT/NT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
|Vertical Jump||29.5 inches|
While Hageman has the bigger upside, Timmy Jernigan is a natural fit in the 49ers 3-4 front as a 0-technique nose tackle.
When we think of nose tackles, the image that comes to a mind is a 330-pound behemoth clogging up the middle of a defense. For defensive coordinator Fangio, he tends to favor lighter athletic lineman in the middle of his defense.
Just look at the two players currently atop the depth chart. Glenn Dorsey is 297 pounds and Ian Williams weighs 305 pounds. Both guys give you the strength of a 330-pound nose tackle, while also exhibiting the athleticism of a much lighter lineman.
Jernigan fits the mold perfectly. At 299 pounds, Jernigan is one of the strongest lineman at the point of attack. He can push the pocket and has shown to be a tenacious run-defender.
This isn't a need pick, but Jernigan has the talent to be a difference-maker in the near future for the 49ers.
13. WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
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Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top performers in the NFL combine this past weekend. His 4.43 40 time was good for sixth place in his position group, while his performance in the 20- and 60-yard shuttle drills left scouts impressed.
Typically, combine performances will vault a player up draft boards, but I still think Beckham is a fringe first-round selection. Beckham is a good player, but is he truly a No. 1 receiver?
I have my doubts.
At just 5'11'', Beckham isn't a burner who can stretch the field. While he can jump out of a gym, taller cornerbacks like Richard Sherman can match his athleticism in the air.
In addition, Beckham isn't a great blocker. At best, he looks like a solid No. 2 option at the next level, which is something the 49ers already have.
In fact, I would say Beckham closely resembles something the 49ers already have in receiver Quinton Patton.
14. WR Davante Adams, Fresno St.
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With Jarvis Landry falling down my draft board, someone had to move up to take his place. That guy is Davante Adams of Fresno State.
Now, Adams didn't have a exceptional combine, but his tape shows a player ready for the rigors of the NFL. At just 6'1'', his 40 time was so-so; however, Adams is the type of player who is football fast.
What do I mean by that?
Well, when you put him on a football field with pads, his speed is distinguishable. Jerry Rice, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin were all players who fit this category.
Adams has great length and huge hands. His playing style is similar to Michael Crabtree, but I feel Adams can be a far better contributor in the red zone because of his knack for coming down with 50-50 balls.
Like Robinson, Adams can likely be had at the end of the first round.
15. CB Jason Verrett, TCU
|Vertical Jump||39 inches|
Standing at just 5'9'' 189, Verrett will strictly be confined to a nickel or slot role at the NFL level. The question is how much does his height bother scouts?
On tape, Verrett plays like a taller corner, but you have to wonder about durability issues. Verrett is one of the more physical corners despite his size, but with shorter DBs, they tend to get hurt more often.
Verrett turned in a fantastic combine performance, posting a superb 40 time (4.38) and vertical jump (39"). At 5'9'', he outperformed taller cornerbacks like Justin Gilbert in the vertical jump.
The 49ers could be losing two starters in the secondary in Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, so adding a player like Verrett is definitely possible.
16. DT/NT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
Wait, what? Didn't I previously say the 49ers like lighter nose tackles rather than the 330-pound monsters clogging up the middle?
Well, Nix is a prospect for whom the 49ers could make an exception. At 331 pounds, Nix isn't the most nimble player, but his power up the middle as a run-stuffer reminds many of New England Patriots nose guard Vince Wilfork.
Like Wilfork, Nix's massive size alone will cause double-teams, which should free up Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks even more.
Nix does have some stamina issues, but in the 49ers' base defense, he could provide immediate relief as a run-stuffing nose tackle. As many 49ers fans know, Vic Fangio's run defense was not as stout this season.
At times last year, the 49ers could be had on the ground.
Dorsey filled in admirably for Ian Williams, but he didn't command double-teams. At his best, Nix is the type of player who could make others around him better.
17. WR Jarvis Landry, LSU
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Landry has slipped down my draft board after a terrible showing at the NFL combine. However, I still believe in the LSU product.
To be fair, Landry did suffer a pulled hamstring, which likely affected his performance.
At just 5'11'', why would I be so high on Landry after criticizing both Cooks and Beckham? Despite his unexceptional height, Landry brings a physicality to the game that Cooks and Beckham lack.
Over the middle of the field, Landry is absolutely fearless. He has great hands and can outright win 50-50 balls over much taller corners.
Landry is also versatile; he can play both on the outside and in the slot. Compared to Beckham, Landry is also a better blocker on the edge.
With Landry on the outside, the 49ers could allow Boldin to play his more natural slot position. In Baltimore, Boldin made his mark as a slot receiver.
18. OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
Now, the 49ers don't particularly need a franchise left tackle, but who could pass on a talent like Greg Robinson. The true question is: Will Robinson drop in the draft? More on that later.
So, why Robinson?
Well, I think the Auburn tackle could flourish both as a tackle and guard at the next level. His combine results all but solidified the idea that Robinson can play left tackle in the NFL. However, I think he'll be an even better prospect at guard.
Some might say Robinson would never make it out of the top 10, but I disagree. While his tape looks impressive at times, Robinson is still very raw from a technical standpoint. He has all the physical attributes to dominate defensive linemen, but his technique needs some work. That's why I believe he can make a instant impact at offensive guard, especially with a run-heavy team like the 49ers.
The 49ers are also quite strong at both guard positions with Mike Iupati and Alex Boone leading the way. However, I question whether Iupati will re-sign with the 49ers.
With Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith and Michael Crabtree and other key players coming up for extensions, someone is going to be left without a chair. I think that person is Iupati.
Robinson would have to fall in the draft, which is entirely plausible despite his impressive combine numbers. Crazier things have happened, but you want to talk about a more perfect fit?
19. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
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As expected, Brandin Cooks posted one of the fastest 40 times this past weekend. At 5'9'', Cooks is projected to be a slot receiver at the next level with limited upside as an outside threat.
On any other draft board, Cooks is probably the fourth- or fifth-best receiver. With the 49ers, Cooks' below-average height, arm length and strength make him a risky prospect.
Don't get me wrong, Cooks can be a home run player in the right offense. His speed and elusiveness are top notch, but how durable will he be at the next level?
For a second-round selection, Cooks would bring great value, but I just can't envision the 49ers spending a first-round pick on a 5'9'' receiver.
20. OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Anthony Barr will likely be long gone before the 49ers make their first-round selection. Of course, that's if Trent Baalke decides to stand pat at No. 30.
Now, the likelihood that Anthony Barr slips past the top 10 is slim to none; however, crazier things have happened. I hate repeating that statement, but it's true.
Remember, Sharrif Floyd of the Minnesota Vikings slipped out of the top 10 and landed at No. 23 in the 2013 NFL draft. Many expected Floyd to be a surefire top-three selection.
If Barr slips, need completely goes out of the window. In terms of talent, Barr is one of the best outside linebacker prospects to come out in the last five to seven years.
Barr has the athleticism to do it all. As a pass-rusher, he can get to the quarterback effortlessly. His most reliable move is his speed rush, but Barr has the frame to bulk up and be a factor as a power-rusher.
On the 49ers, Barr will likely be regulated to a situational role, but, as the Seattle Seahawks showed last season, you can never have too many pass-rushers.
21. DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
Stephon Tuitt isn't high on many people's draft board, and for good reason. While you can check all the boxes when it comes to his physical attributes, it seems Tuitt doesn't play to his potential.
Tuitt has the sack numbers, but is such a limited pass-rusher. At the next level, offensive linemen will be just as physically gifted as Tuitt.
However, few defensive linemen can match his natural athleticism. In today's NFL, you need defensive linemen with the movement skills necessary to match up with mobile quarterbacks.
Tuitt is also very versatile. He can play the 5-technique in the 49ers' base defense, while also moving inside to play tackle.
The 49ers could also stay at No. 30 and select Tuitt. I don't envision Tuitt going anywhere in the top 20; however, it's still to early in the draft process to be fully certain.
22. S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
|Vertical Jump||33 inches|
While it's obvious that I prefer Louisville safety Calvin Pryor over Clinton-Dix, I still believe the Alabama product will become an instant starter at the NFL level. With these two safeties, it's more about preference.
If you need a more finesse safety who can defend today's tight ends, Clinton-Dix is your guy. His range should make him a fantastic ball hawk in a NFL defense.
However, I question if Clinton-Dix can be an effective run-defender in the NFL. He isn't a big guy, and in the 49ers defensive schemes, stopping the run is priority No. 1.
23. CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
|Vertical Jump||38.5 inches|
Kyle Fuller would be an interesting addition to this 49ers' secondary. If drafted, he should give them a presence against the bigger receivers in the NFL.
Fuller, who ran a 4.49 at the NFL combine, is actually pretty fast with pads on. Again, he doesn't have great speed, but his agility, instincts and smarts more than makeup for his deficiencies.
In a way, Fuller reminds me of a more disciplined version of current 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver. If Fuller could improve upon his 40 time at Virginia Tech's pro day, he could solidify himself as a first-round corner.
Regardless, Fuller should be available for the 49ers at the bottom of the first round.
24. CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
|Vertical Jump||38.5 inches|
Bradley Roby is a prospect to watch for. After a great showing at the combine, I expect Roby to be ascending up draft boards.
Now, Roby isn't a player that everyone will love. On tape, he can look like a surefire first-round pick; however, there are times where you're left wondering if Roby can transition to the NFL.
While Roby plays a physical brand of football, he tends to make too many mental mistakes. At 5'11'', he should be able to hold his own against bigger receivers, but at times his lack of strength shows.
At best, Roby would be in line for a nickel role in his first year. He is not an immediate starter like some of the corners higher on this list. However, he does bring special teams value, which should help.
In all likelihood, Roby is an ideal second-round choice, but the first round is still in view. If you want a comparison, his playing style is similar to 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown.
25. OG David Yankey, Stanford
Like Robinson, Yankey is a prospect who could make immediate contributions early in his career. Now, the 49ers won't bench either of their starting guards, but as a reserve, Yankey can make his presence known.
The 49ers running game was rather inconsistent in 2014, especially in short-yardage situations. I wouldn't place the entire blame on the 49ers backup guards, but their play was not impressive to say the least.
Yankey's combine numbers were unimpressive, especially his 40 time, but his play on tape showed me all I need to see. I tend to value game tape more than the "underwear bowl" that is the NFL combine.
In a power scheme, Yankey could be a big addition in short-yardage situations. Jim Harbaugh could use Yankey in a situational role until he's ready to serve as a starter.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com.
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