Even with the re-signing of Anquan Boldin, the San Francisco 49ers haven’t ruled out making a big splash at wide receiver in the 2014 NFL draft. On Wednesday, they met with Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans, one of the top prospects at the position.
Last season, the 49ers made a splash by trading up 13 spots to take safety Eric Reid out of LSU. That has worked out fairly well for the team so far with Reid making the Pro Bowl as a rookie. With double-digit selections once again in this year’s draft, could we see the team making yet another move up to grab an elite player?
It’s easy to see why the team would want Evans. At 6’5” and 225 lbs, he has the size and strength to force his way open, regardless of how tight coverage becomes. With his 37-inch vertical jump, he’s going to be hard to defend on fade routes in the end zone.
Think of the play that ended the NFC Championship Game. Richard Sherman, a 6'3" corner, out-jumped 6’1” Michael Crabtree to tip away the pass in the end zone. Now, add four inches to Crabtree’s frame and three more inches to his leap. Colin Kaepernick throws the ball six inches higher, Sherman never gets his hands on it and it’s either a touchdown or an incomplete pass.
It’s not just fades into the end zone, either. When he gets the ball in his hands, Evans runs hard, bowling through defensive backs. While he’s not going to blow anyone away with his speed, he’s able to make things happen with his pure might and size. The results on the college level speak for themselves:
Evans would be a fantastic addition to any team. He’s an effective deep threat with the potential to become one of the top receivers in the game.
The issue, of course, is that San Francisco isn’t the only team to notice this.
Evans is generally considered the second-best prospect at the position, behind only Sammy Watkins of Clemson. Mock drafts generally have him somewhere between 10th and 17th overall, before trades are considered.
To make matters worse, there are at least seven teams picking before San Francisco who could legitimately take a wide receiver in the first round:
- The Cleveland Browns (4th and 26th overall) needs a second receiver across from Josh Gordon; Greg Little simply isn’t starting caliber in the NFL.
- The Buffalo Bills (9th overall) have a couple good secondary targets in Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods, but no real top receiving threat.
- The Detroit Lions (10th overall) struggled mightily when Calvin Johnson was out of the lineup, and a second threat for Matthew Stafford would make them all the more dangerous.
- The Baltimore Ravens (17th overall) missed Anquan Boldin last season and could look to add a big possession receiver as a replacement.
- The New York Jets (18th overall) could use a pair of wideouts, as Santonio Holmes could soon be cut and Stephen Hill has not shown the ability to step up as a starter.
- The Kansas City Chiefs (23rd overall) could use someone to compliment Dwayne Bowe and complete their offensive arsenal.
- The Carolina Panthers (28th overall) have Steve Smith turning 35, and Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn without contracts for 2014.
If the 49ers really want to have a chance to take Evans, they’re going to have to make a dramatic move upwards. They may need to spring all the way into the top 10 if they want to ensure he’ll be there when they’re picking.
The 49ers have a lot of draft ammunition to work with, but a move of that caliber would still be costly. Recent trades up into the first half of the first round of the draft have not come cheaply:
|2013||Buffalo||1st and 3rd round picks (#8 & #71)||St. Louis||1st, 2nd, 3rd and 7th round picks (#16, #46, #78 & #222)|
|2013||Tampa Bay||1st round pick (#13) & conditional 2014 4th round pick||NY Jets||CB Darrelle Revis|
|2012||Tampa Bay||1st round pick (#5)||Jacksonville||1st and 4th round picks (#7 & #101)|
|2012||St. Louis||1st round pick (#6)||Dallas||1st and 2nd round picks (#14 & #45)|
|2012||Seattle||1st round pick (#12)||Philadelphia||1st, 4th and 6th round picks (#15, #114 & #172)|
The most recent trade involving someone from where San Francisco is picking moving up to the top half of the draft occurred in 2011. Again, it involved the second-highest wide receiver in the draft.
The Cleveland Browns, sitting down at No. 6, made a trade with the Atlanta Falcons. In exchange, they received the Falcons’ first-round selection (No. 27), as well as their second-round (No. 59) and fourth-round selections (No. 124) in that year’s draft. They also received Atlanta’s first- and fourth-round selections in the 2012 draft.
The Falcons then took receiver Julio Jones, who they’re definitely happy with. The Browns, with their new bonanza of draft selections, ended up taking Phil Taylor, Greg Little, Owen Marecic and Brandon Weeden, as well as using some of the picks to trade up to draft Trent Richardson.
That trade does show the cost of moving up, but also the potential rewards. Jones is clearly the best player among that lot, having already made a Pro Bowl in his short career. However, five draft picks, including multiple first-rounders, is a heavy price to pay.
Put it this way—if the Falcons had stayed put, instead of Jones, they could have realistically selected:
- DT Muhammad Wilkerson (went 30th to the Jets)
- WR Randall Cobb (went 64th to the Packers)
- RB Bilal Powell (went 126th to the Jets)
- LB Dont’a Hightower (went 25th to the Patriots)
- WR Jarius Wright (went 118th to the Vikings)
Are they happy with Jones? Yes. Would they have made nothing but perfect selections with their five draft picks? Probably not. It’s still a massive gamble to take.
While the 49ers may not have to move up as high as No. 6 to take Evans, it’s still a lot to ask.
Looking at the recent history of trades, the 49ers would likely have to give up somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,400 points of value, according to the draft trade value chart, to move up to take Evans. That works out to their first-, second- and third-round draft choices this year, as well as a first-rounder in 2015.
That’s an awful lot to give up for a prospect in a draft as deep as this one. In my seven-round mock, that equates to giving up starting cornerback in Jason Verrett, a wide receiver prospect in Jordan Matthews and a potential replacement safety in Terrence Brooks, as well as a top pick next season.
That’s just too much to give up, even for a great prospect like Evans. While he would make a fantastic addition to the roster, it’s probably out of San Francisco’s realistic possibilities to move up and take him.