How Top WRs in NFL Draft Would Fit in San Francisco 49ers Offense
Even after inking Anquan Boldin to a two-year extension, the San Francisco 49ers could use another wide receiver to add to their aerial arsenal.
With three picks in the first two rounds of the 2014 NFL draft, the Niners should land at least one of these wideouts.
Boldin and Michael Crabtree are both physical receivers who have no fear making catches in traffic. Neither has the ideal size of a dangerous red-zone option or the top-end speed of a legitimate deep threat.
Of the following nine receivers, some would fill the speed void, while others would fill the size void. A few are more well-rounded like Boldin and Crabtree.
The 49ers could go any which way. Above all—considering Crabtree is entering a contract year and Boldin is 33—they'll want a player who can contribute soon and be productive for years to come.
The receivers are ranked in order of Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller's post-combine big board.
Height, weight and 40-yard dash times via NFL.com. Prospect rankings via Miller's big board.
Sammy Watkins (Clemson)
Weight: 211 lbs
Miller's ranking: 3rd
When I think of Sammy Watkins' college career, I think of big-play ability. Whether it was on punt returns, wide receiver screens or deep balls, Watkins was a threat to score every time he touched the ball.
And that's why he's projected to go in the top 10 by several analysts, including Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com:
A legitimate No. 1-caliber receiver who stepped onto the field as a true freshman and made an immediate, game-changing impact...Has rare speed, soft hands and the big-play ability to challenge NFL defensive backs as a rookie. A top-10 cinch.
Watkins, who ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, would instantly be San Francisco's deep threat at wide receiver. Right now, the 49ers' only consistent deep threat is tight end Vernon Davis.
But it's not like Watkins would be limited to that role of taking the top of the defense. His speed and soft hands should help him become a star NFL receiver.
The 49ers would likely have to trade at least a couple of early-round picks to get him. Though that scenario is unlikely, he may be worth it.
Fit: Future No. 1 wide receiver
Mike Evans (Texas A&M)
Weight: 231 lbs
Miller's ranking: 12th
Both Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree are listed at 6'1". And we all know the 49ers have effectively lost in the last two playoffs on jump balls to Crabtree in the right corner of the end zone.
Maybe it's time the 49ers draft a big receiver who is built for the red zone, like Mike Evans.
The massive playmaker averaged 20 yards per catch and had 12 touchdowns in 2013 for the Aggies. Miller explained his strengths:
[Evans] has a knack for getting open without great open-field agility, and he uses his frame like a forward posting up in the paint. That works because he's strong, has great length and is crazy good at catching contested passes.
Though he's not a burner, Evans could also have value as a deep threat. With Davis, Boldin and Crabtree demanding attention, he would face a lot of single coverage on the outside. With his tall frame and 4.53-second speed in the 40, he'll be difficult for smaller cornerbacks to defend.
It all comes down to what the 49ers are looking for. If they want a taller complement to their top two wide receivers, they'll consider Evans. If they want a speedier option, they'll look elsewhere.
Fit: Go-to red-zone target/possible deep threat
Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU)
Weight: 198 lbs
Miller's ranking: 20th
Odell Beckham Jr. would instantly give the 49ers something they don't have: a dynamic return man.
His ran-after-the-catch ability compares to that of Sammy Watkins, but he didn't catch nearly as many deep balls as the Clemson star. Nolan Nawrocki wrote about Beckham's strengths and weaknesses:
Terrific leaping ability—climbs the ladder to snatch throws. Creates after the catch—shows burst and shiftiness as a runner. Has playmaking ability. Confident and competitive...Could stand to polish the finer points of his route running. Inconsistent making contested grabs—can be out-muscled in a crowd. Has some concentration drops. Can improve as a blocker.
With a 4.43-second 40-yard dash, he'd be the fastest 49er wide receiver, but faster options are available in this draft class. And his height could be an issue against pro cornerbacks.
Beckham's ability to make defenders miss is the biggest reason he's getting a first-round grade. If the Niners use him creatively, he could be worth a first-round selection.
Fit: No. 3 wide receiver / Kick returner
Brandin Cooks (Oregon State)
Weight: 189 lbs
Miller's ranking: 26th
If the Niners are targeting a burner, Brandin Cooks could be their guy.
The Oregon State star ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the combine. But he's not all speed, as Matt Miller states:
Cooks does his damage with the ball in his hands. He's elusive and fast enough to run away from the defense and adds in the wiggle room to make defenders miss in space. But he's not a one-trick pony. He is a quality wide receiver with the route-running ability to get open on his own without schemed touches.
Before you get concerned he's the next A.J. Jenkins, consider that Cooks was more productive in his collegiate career and doesn't have just straight-line speed. His 20- and 40-yard shuttle times were the best in combine history.
Though most dominant NFL receivers are 6'0" or taller, there is a chance Cooks becomes a go-to target like the Pittsburgh Steelers 5'10" receiver Antonio Brown. For 2014, though, he would stretch defenses with his speed and open up for space for Davis, Crabtree and Boldin.
Fit: Deep threat from the slot/future No. 2 option
Allen Robinson (Penn State)
Weight: 220 lbs
Miller's ranking: 28th
Some receivers can high-point the ball in traffic. Others can take a short completion and turn it into a long gain. Robinson is the rare receiver who can do both (as shown above at :30 and 1:10).
Nolan Nawrocki highlighted his strengths:
Excellent size. Good line release—defeats press. Sinks his hips, breaks off sharply and creates separation. Works back to the ball. Climbs the ladder—has elevation and body control to contort and make plays in the air. Turns short throws into chunk plays—gets upfield quickly and shows shiftiness, vision and run strength. Executed a full route tree in a pro-style offense.
Miller suggested the 49ers might take him with their first-round pick in this video.
Robinson's height, weight and strengths compare to those of Michael Crabtree. If the 49ers are expecting to keep Crabtree long term, they may look for a speedier receiver (such as Brandin Cooks) or a taller receiver (such as Mike Evans or Kelvin Benjamin) to complement No. 15.
Or maybe they want a third versatile, all-around-quality wide receiver to pair with Crabtree and Boldin. If so, Robinson makes sense.
Fit: Outside receiver/possible Crabtree replacement
Marqise Lee (USC)
Weight: 192 lbs
Miller's ranking: 33rd
When evaluating Marqise Lee, it's important to remember how dominant he was in 2012 with Matt Barkley as his quarterback.
The prolific wide receiver had 1,721 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns two years ago. Last season, without Barkley, he had only 791 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Miller is not concerned about his drop in production:
When you turn on the film, you see a smooth wide receiver with special route-running skills. He just has to learn to put it all together.
If Lee can improve his concentration and secure the ball better, he has the tools to be special.
Had he been in the draft last year, he might have been the first wide receiver taken. But I think his drop on draft boards is warranted.
He's not an imposing athlete, and his 4.52-second 40-yard dash time is 0.13 seconds slower than that of A.J. Jenkins when the former Illinois star ran at the combine in 2012. Lee is too good of an athlete and route-runner to be a complete bust, but he may not be the speedy receiver the 49ers are looking for.
Fit: No. 3 receiver
Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt)
Weight: 212 lbs
Miller's ranking: 37th
There's a lot to like about Jordan Matthews.
As Vanderbilt's biggest offensive weapon, he consistently performed against SEC defenses. He didn't have as many jaw-dropping highlights as some of the other players on this list, but he also didn't show any glaring weaknesses, as Miller noted:
Matthews has the profile of a starting NFL wide receiver as he leaves the SEC. He has the size, hands, enough speed in the open field and an impressive route tree that allows him to separate from coverage using a variety of tools. He is a finished product, which, in a class dominated by underclassmen, might be the best compliment you can give him.
Though he doesn't have the speed of Beckham and Cooks, he is more polished than both. And he was second among wide receivers at the combine in reps in the bench press with 21.
If the Niners are looking for an instant contributor, Matthews could be their pick. If they're looking for a player with star upside, they might look elsewhere.
Fit: Outside receiver/future No. 2 option
Jarvis Landry (LSU)
Weight: 205 lbs
Miller's ranking: 44th
The combine didn't help Jarvis Landry's draft stock. When a highly touted receiver is under 6'0", he usually makes up for his smaller catch radius with great speed. But Landry ran a 4.77-second 40-yard dash.
He's rated as high as he is because of his knack for catching passes in traffic, as Nolan Nawrocki noted:
Savvy route runner—uses stems and nods and works back to throws. Confident hands-catcher—snatches throws off his frame. Extends and high points. Attacks throws and wins "50-50" balls. Makes some spectacular, acrobatic grabs. Good concentration and toughness over the middle. Does not go down without a fight after the catch.
Landry reminds me a lot of Quinton Patton, though the former LSU star is slower. He has the winning intangibles NFL teams want, but he's not as explosive as Beckham, Cooks or Lee. The Niners could take him on Day 2—should they miss out on the other top receivers—to compete with Patton for the No. 3 receiver role.
Fit: Future No. 3 receiver in the slot
Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State)
Weight: 240 lbs
Miller's rankings: 47th
He's unpolished and lacks top-end speed, but Kelvin Benjamin may be the most intriguing wide receiver prospect on the 49ers' draft board.
In 2013, he caught 15 touchdown passes, and the majority of them were totally unguardable. That's because Jameis Winston threw the ball to a height that only Benjamin could get to...and he did repeatedly.
Miller wrote about his draft range:
Based on his on-film traits, you'd think he's a third-round pick. But when you look at his eye-popping potential, he's a top-15 player. Where he's drafted may fall somewhere in the middle, but in a height, weight and speed league, Benjamin's length and strength are attractive.
If the 49ers are interested in a red-zone target, they'll likely target Benjamin and Mike Evans. The former Florida State star's potential may be too difficult to pass up at the end of the first round.
Fit: Go-to red-zone target