He is a GM who is always looking for a competitive edge, whether that means taking an overlooked player, an injured prospect or a project with high upside. Whatever yields the biggest payout, Baalke is for it.
This year from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, he was keeping a close eye on a few position groups relevant to this team's needs.
Safety, cornerback and wide receiver are top priorities, but the team may also look to add developmental talent on the defensive line and perhaps a backup quarterback.
So, monitoring the progress of those particular groups, going back to their college careers, into the bowl games and now the combine, it's time to re-evaluate where they're at.
Times and measurables provided by the NFL’s official combine website, unless specified otherwise.
Weight: 189 pounds
School: Oregon State
Officially posting a 4.33 40-yard dash, Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks planted his flag as the fastest wide receiver in this star-studded draft class. And speed is an exceptional quality to ride into today’s NFL, especially with his booming talent level as a pass-catcher.
This is a Biletnikoff Award winner with some serious jets.
On top of the 40-yard dash, his time in the 60-yard shuttle (10.72) was the fastest time ever recorded in the NFL.com combine database, per Kyle Bonagura of ESPN. This dates back to 2006.
Needless to say, both his 20- and 60-yard shuttles were the fastest from Indy this year. Speed really stood out with Cooks. The explosive metrics were outstanding as well, really creating an idea of his ability to use sudden movements to beat press at the line and separate from defenders.
His combination of short-area quickness, stop-and-start ability and top-end speed is second to none this year.
Added to which, he also put up 16 reps of 225 pounds on the bench, which is solid given his measurables. The 6’0”, 204-pound Quinton Patton only managed eight reps a year ago. Cooks is like an ant that carries 10 times its own weight. He’s very dense and strong.
Whether or not he is an ideal fit for San Francisco’s offense is another story altogether. But for a team in desperate need of speed on offense—and one that is also looking for a wideout in the first round—it is important to note that this specific prospect separated himself from the pack.
Brandin Cooks on comparisons to Steve Smith: "He's a cold-blooded killer, and that's what I feel I am."— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) February 21, 2014
Weight: 261 pounds
2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam, who had 11.5 sacks in his last outing for the Tigers, did not have the best showing from Indianapolis, and it may cost him money come May.
The pass-rusher is not very tall but he has a gangly frame that includes arms that are a smidgen over 33 inches long. Teams like that because they can teach edge defenders to use their arm length to keep offensive linemen at bay. And if a player has good balance and can bend, all the better.
That did stand out for Sam.
However, in today’s league, where scouts have zeroed in on pass-rushers by measuring their explosiveness—sizing them up and asking the all-knowing question, “Can you convert speed to power?”—Sam underperformed.
Outside of the length, his speed, burst and strength were all below par. He put down a 4.91 40 yard-dash, which is not ideal, especially for someone with his light frame. Bigger, nastier players moved quicker than Sam did. He was really counting on the 40 to separate himself.
And if you’re wondering what the 49ers might have thought, well, rush linebacker Corey Lemonier ran a 4.6 last year. That time led the group, via NFL.com.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio likes his players to explode off the snap. Moreover, Sam’s 25.5-inch vertical and 17 reps on the bench were underwhelming. So, again, explosiveness and now strength are coming into question.
Sam didn’t do himself any favors in Indy.
Weight: 285 pounds
First off, let’s point out the top defensive tackle in this class: Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota.
No ifs, ands or buts, he is the dreadnought of this position group and likely the first to be off the board. Hageman (6’6”, 310 pounds) notched 32 reps on the bench and stood out in the vertical, coming in seventh among a group that included much lighter prospects in several 4-3 ends:
No one has deviated from the idea of Hageman being a top-25 pick or a fringe first-rounder at the least.
But given the day by the No. 1 DT prospect, it was all the more reason to pile on the praise for Pitt’s Aaron Donald, who has been the 1b to Hageman’s 1a in the draft process. Hageman has been strongly considered as an option for the 49ers if he is still on the board at 30th overall.
So in a roundabout way, that puts Donald in play.
He fell one rep short of leading his group on the bench, coming through with 35. This was no surprise to anyone who watched him trample NCAA lines. He harnesses that amazing upper-body strength and pipes it through a strong first punch. Offensive linemen feel it.
While Donald is a power defensive lineman from top to bottom, he’s also more agile than you think.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about his day was his 4.68 40-yard dash. That was the fifth-best for any defensive lineman, and everyone ahead of him was a lighter 4-3 end. Speed aside, Donald also had to have a quick get-off and ability to get up to top speed in order to achieve that.
Judging his explosiveness here, that translates to a heck of a burst off the line.
He has all the physical metrics to be a penetrating defensive lineman at the next level.
But he just happens to be in the size range that San Francisco likes its ends, which could make him an intriguing prospect in a 3-4 defense. He can be an edge-setting, pass-rushing defensive lineman—one with the versatility and potent skill set to play in both the base and sub packages.
You saw it on the field at Pitt. You saw it on the field at the Senior Bowl. Aaron Donald is too quick for most offensive linemen to handle— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 24, 2014
Weight: 222 pounds
Clemson’s Tajh Boyd is a middle-of-the-road prospect whom most teams figure to draft with the intent of sitting behind an entrenched starter.
With Boyd, it’s tough, because his measurables, style and body of work are all up for debate.
His hands measured out to 9.625 inches, which were larger than quarterbacks Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater, but smaller than Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron. The average hands also correlate with his height, which is 2 to 4 inches shorter than the prototypical size teams are looking for.
So there’s the size issue, which comes with several inherent questions including the ability to see over the line, throw an NFL ball the way he did in college and take a hit. On top of being pegged as a smaller signal-caller, Boyd also doesn’t offer dangerous getaway speed.
He posted an official time of 4.84, which wasn’t terrible, but it's not a number that is going to jump out at scouts who already question his throwing ability. Boyd would have liked to have posted a better number than that. There are defensive linemen in the NFL who are going to be able to catch him.
Boyd did post a 30.5-inch vertical, but more often than not, coaches want their quarterback to keep both feet on the ground. In any case, hopefully that figure in the vertical at least helps his case as an athlete who is playing quarterback. He can improvise and create.
Overall, Boyd gave a mediocre display, so teams will have to look over the tape again before submitting a draft card with his name on it.
Tajh Boyd really can't drive the ball if he can't take a few steps into his throws. This drill confirmed that.— Darren Page (@DarrenPage15) February 23, 2014
Weight: 231 pounds
School: Texas A&M
Wait, Mike Evans’ draft stock can go up?
Yes, it can. And it did.
First of all, anyone who was present in Indy could point him out at Lucas Oil Stadium. He’s a giant who fits the prototypical height, weight and speed that teams are seeking. Bearing unrivaled length, arms (35.125") and hands (9.625”), Evans is a matchup nightmare.
Then he went ahead and ran an unofficial 4.47 in the 40-yard dash, which scouts have to like at his size (4.53 official). Anything below a 4.5 was a good thing for Evans, and he showed he is right in that range. The long speed stands out on tape, as he covers so much ground per stride.
He also led the pack with a 37” vertical, reaffirming his label as the supreme jump-ball specialist.
Evans then ran though the gauntlet and caught everything with his hands. It was a solid display overall. You couldn’t knock his performance in any event.
The only thing that might have disappointed onlookers was when he topped out 6'4.75”, which was a hair shorter than expected. Most had him an inch taller than that in his last two years with the Aggies, somewhere at 6’5” or above. But it’s all the same. It doesn’t change what he is.
Evans is projected to go in the top 15.
Mike Evans made some $ with his 40-time (4.50 unofficial). Big, fast and physical is highly coveted in most west coast offenses.— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) February 23, 2014
Weight: 205 pounds
It was a bumpy start for LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who measured in less than 6’0” at the weigh-in.
He was still a dense 200-plus pounds, but checking in below the 6’0” marker is tough if you’re not tipping the scales in another metric, like speed. And in that department, he also came up short. His 4.65 40-yard dash was one of the most discouraging of the combine.
Coming in, he was pegged as one of the best quick-twitch athletes and one with perhaps enough top speed to be a deep threat.
He didn’t post a good time, and teams may hold it against him, sticking him with the pesky “slot receiver” label, which infers that he is limited. Granted, his 40 time should have an asterisk next to it, as it was the cause of a hamstring injury that kept him out of physical activity.
He did not run again.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, LSU counterpart Odell Beckham Jr. shined in a multitude of drills, particularly the 40 and the gauntlet.
So everything just sort of smeared Landry’s day. But from the perspective of the 49ers, this is ideal. They were not going to take Landry with their first pick, but on Day 2, he might be on top of their list. This unfavorable showing will ensure that he slips a bit.
Jarvis Landry just became a steal for someone a round or two later than he should go because of 0.10— Bryan Perez (@FirstRoundGrade) February 23, 2014
Weight: 198 pounds
As a tall corner with good speed and standing out to the nation from a small school like Lindenwood, Pierre Desir is a tantalizing prospect.
He picked up steam this year and started to get recognized at the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. When placed next to the corners from LSU, Alabama and Nebraska, he still held his ground. And the combine was his next opportunity to show that.
On top of the length, he showed that he is fast, explosive and agile.
The 4.59 40 time he threw down at 6’1” was pretty impressive (4.52 and 4.53 unofficial). He also has serious ups. His 35-inch vertical was adequate, and his 11’1” broad jump tied him for 12th-best at any position since 2006, per Josh Norris of NBC Sports.
It encapsulates his springy strides.
He was also very astute in taking direction from the coaches in Indy, looking fluid in his backpedal and drills that required him to flip his hips. Overall, Desir showed he has the measurables and natural take to the position to be a real player at the next level.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the 49ers are closing in on a deal that will see wide receiver Anquan Boldin return in 2014.
While there is the common belief that general manager Trent Baalke will select a wideout with the team's first pick, Boldin's return would give him the leeway to go in any direction. He will cement a trio that already has Michael Crabtree and a breakout candidate in Quinton Patton.
Safety, cornerback, defensive tackle and center are all possibilities now.
But again, seeing as how Boldin is 33 years old and the team needs to build for the future while infusing some diversity in the corps, the Niners could still go wide receiver. Just something to think about.
Weight: 240 pounds
School: Florida State
Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin was a bit slower than expected, putting up a 4.61 time in his gigantic body. But that won’t be detrimental to his stock because the game speed is well-documented. He proved he could separate when needed and pull away after the catch.
Besides, his game is almost entirely predicated on beating defenders to the ball even when covered.
And in that regard, his measurables did not disappoint. He was not a centimeter under 6’5” and checked in at a very thick but defined 240 pounds. Scouts giving him the eye test couldn’t be anything but impressed. He looks like an absolute bully as a wide receiver.
The one question about his showing—the only thing that really mattered—was how he looked catching the ball.
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report said his biggest gripe with Benjamin during the evaluation process has been the drops, but those weren’t an issue at all at the combine. He looked confident, tracking the ball well and catching with his hands in the gauntlet.
This will give scouts and GMs the vote of confidence they need to take him in the first round.