The NFL Scouting Combine, which serves as the final evaluation before individual pro days, is now behind us, which means the San Francisco 49ers are setting their boards for the draft and proceeding into free agency with this class in mind.
After interviewing prospects, watching them compete and reviewing their physical test results, coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke have a lot of new information to go on. If they had any questions on their flight to Indianapolis, they were likely answered by the time they boarded for the return trip back to the Bay.
Media and fans who followed the six-day trial period on NFL Network also came away more informed—both about the prospects and the intentions of San Francisco's front office.
Overall, it makes this a great time for reflection in regard to the direction this team will be headed from here on out. The 49ers still have a full offseason, and now that they are fully informed, this is when things start to get interesting.
With free-agent transactions and the draft on the way, here are San Francisco's key takeaways from the combine.
One interview that the 49ers conducted in Indianapolis gained a lot of attention—and that one-on-one was with Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, who is projected to go in the first or second round. In fact, he might even be the first safety off the board.
Since it was with a player at a position of need, and he fits the hard-hitting thumper that has characterized this stingy defense, the interview got many excited. Right off the bat, Pryor looks like a great fit. However, it came off as a bit unusual for those who understand the modus operandi of this ballclub.
As Trent Baalke reiterated last year to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area after avoiding LSU safety Eric Reid like the plague before trading up to No. 18 overall to select him, “Why would we advertise to the rest of the NFL that we have interest in a player?”
It is unlikely San Francisco’s philosophy has changed in the span of a year. It is also unlikely the team will take a safety in the first round in back-to-back years. Financially, it doesn’t make sense down the road. The 49ers also want to spread the talent around a bit.
So, is Pryor a real player of interest, or is he a smokescreen/No. 2 option they’re doing due diligence on, while they secretly have a favorite safety in mind?
Washington State’s Deone Bucannon and Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon are also out there, and they weren't reported meeting with the 49ers. Florida State tweener Lamarcus Joyner is another option. It’s something to consider with the way this team has played the offseason.
Some players just don’t test well at the combine. That’s the way it is. It is not necessarily degrading to their overall value or ability to contribute once the pads are on, but teams still take note of it.
Prospects can only hope scouts see past the 40 times and bench reps and consider all the factors involved.
For instance, longer-armed prospects typically don’t bench enough, but often, functional strength on the field usually accompanies that length. And rarely do shorter arms get a player anywhere in the NFL, at any position. It’s all about how he uses the strength he has—and some do that better than others.
So while the bench press is great to gauge who is a weight-room warrior, the physical dimensions of a player factor in, as do his performances.
We’ve also come to understand that the fastest player at the combine isn’t always the best. In the last five years, Miami Dolphins Mike Wallace is the only receiver to run a sub-4.4 in the 40-yard dash at the combine and gain 1,000 yards in a season in the pros.
The takeaway here is to not judge a book by its cover.
One of the key takeaways from the combine was just how many pure nickel corners are obtainable in this draft.
They’re available by the bushel.
And this is relative to San Francisco because the team is in the midst of cutting ties with 2011 Pro Bowl selection Carlos Rogers, who has functioned as the team’s inside cover man. His $8 million salary and declining play would make him expendable even if this class were not so well-stocked.
So this spells trouble for Rogers, making his return even less likely.
Given the deep group of players with incredible ball skills, speed and amazing upside—from Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, TCU’s Jason Verrett and Florida’s Jaylen Watkins—it would be a huge surprise if Rogers is not replaced by one of them. It’s not at all feasible to hang onto the 32-year-old.
The 49ers are already demanding that he take a pay cut north of $4 million, and if Rogers refuses, the team will release him, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area. It seems their intention is to force him into a corner, release him carefree and then replace him with one of the intriguing prospects in 2014.
There’s been a lot of banter about the 49ers selecting a wide receiver in the first round—and they very well may.
However, if they don’t or happen to miss out on their top choice, it won’t be the end of the world. Players like Fresno State’s Davante Adams and LSU’s Jarvis Landry are natural gamers who continue to fly under the radar with all of the height/weight/speed prospects.
And that is just to name a couple.
If the 49ers are able to nab one of the second-tier options after the first day, it’d be a huge deal to bring him in as a talented No. 4 behind Michael Crabtree, Quinton Patton and Anquan Boldin, who is nearing a deal, per ESPN insider Adam Schefter. That would give the receiving corps depth and a contingency plan for the future.
A notable position to be filled in San Francisco is at center, with the aging and unsigned Jonathan Goodwin likely out. Management will also be thinking forward at guard, with Pro Bowl mauler Mike Iupati presenting a bit of enigma as he approaches the end of his contract.
This equates to the team bringing in a talented interior lineman to develop and compete.
More than likely, the 49ers will be proficient with their picks, adding a large tweener who can immediately push Daniel Kilgore at center. And if said prospect loses the battle for the job, hopefully he’s big and versatile enough to operate as a swing tackle as a rookie before competing for the left guard position in 2015.
There is a lot of beef in this draft, and the 49ers have to feel good about the players they can mold within their line.
Knowing the 49ers are stacked at the running back position, museum rules applied at the combine: Look but don’t touch. There were so many tantalizing backs running, cutting and showing their stuff—albeit no first-rounders—it is almost a shame that the team doesn’t have a spot for one.
“Almost” because the reason the 49ers aren’t in the market is because they’re expecting to have Marcus Lattimore this year, who is far better than any of them.
In fact, the all-purpose hammer from South Carolina—who would have been a lock for the first round had it not been for a ghastly ACL injury—says he’s now close to 100 percent, via Pete Iacobelli of The Associated Press. Those that know of his exploits understand this is huge for San Francisco.
He's another starting-caliber back with franchise potential.
Lattimore spoke out about his status in the AP article, saying, “The left knee, it feels like nothing ever happened. The right knee, it feels great. Both feel balanced. I’ve got my speed and I rarely get any soreness [after workouts].”
He’ll be full-go in training camp and could take the No. 2 job from Kendall Hunter.
After getting an up-close look at all of the prospects, the talent level and depth became overwhelmingly evident.
Skipping past all of the individual praise at each position group, the bottom line is that somebody will fall in the first round. Somebody whom the 49ers didn’t expect to be there will be there at the end of the first night at Radio City.
With that being the case, the team can stand pat at No. 30 and possibly take Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor or even LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr., if he falls.
San Francisco won’t have to unnecessarily auction picks to move up in the first round when it’s the priciest.
Instead, the strategy could be geared toward dominating the second and third rounds, which will feature a load of talent. The 49ers can take a litany of players in those rounds. They already have four picks and can add a fifth or sixth if they choose to trade up.
Needing corners, safeties, receivers and linemen, they can also maneuver up toward the front half of those rounds to secure their gold-helmet prospects. They'd be able to net high-caliber players at several needs positions while adding incredible depth and developmental talent for the future.
It’s time to reconsider whether trading up on Day 1 is really the best idea.
There's been a lot said regarding the status of the 49ers front office, particularly the relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke—and whether or not CEO Jed York will be able to retain the coach for the long term.
Right now, it's speculation at best, but this ripple could end up being a distraction as San Francisco proceeds through the offseason.
During the week of the combine, it was all anyone could talk about. This sort of topic resonates in the NFL community, and if a fraction of it is even remotely true, it could place even more strain on the working environment in San Francisco.
The 49ers can't afford to let this be an issue while the Seattle Seahawks are reigning world champions.
Well, to the surprise of literally no one, the quarterbacks were not very impressive in Indy.
Surveying the market for a backup, the 49ers were keeping an eye on second-tier prospects who might at least be serviceable behind starter Colin Kaepernick. Unfortunately, none put forth a defining performance. No one looked comfortable throwing to stand out from the pack.
One in particular, Clemson's Tajh Boyd, had a so-so day, which could lead the Niners to reconsider drafting their next No. 2 QB.
Boyd appeared to be the most logical fit in San Francisco, given Kaepernick's skill set, the offense and the fact that the 49ers brought in South Florida's B.J. Daniels last year. The Niners can always consider LSU's Zach Mettenberger or Georgia's Aaron Murray, but honestly, experience may trump the tools they bring.
Don't be surprised if the 49ers give Shaun Hill a call.