San Francisco 49ers: Weighing Value vs. Need in 2014 NFL Draft

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San Francisco 49ers: Weighing Value vs. Need in 2014 NFL Draft
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
The 49ers drafted Eric Reid in 2013 to fill an immediate need.

With the 2014 NFL draft closing in quickly, the San Francisco 49ers look to bolster an already formidable roster with another vast assortment of draft picks.

Entering the offseason, the 49ers commanded a total of 12 picks per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.

San Francisco sent away one of those picks earlier this week when they acquired quarterback Blaine Gabbert from the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for a sixth-round pick per Adam Schefter of ESPN (h/t Mike Wilkening of NBC Sports).

In addition, the 49ers made another move by trading a seventh-round, conditional draft pick in 2015 to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, also first reported by Schefter.

San Francisco also brought in veteran safety Antoine Bethea from the Indianapolis Colts to replace the recently departed Donte Whitner in the 49ers' secondary.

These moves, among others, paint a pretty good picture of what San Francisco wants to do in the upcoming draft.  Regardless of the free-agent acquisitions and trades, the 49ers will need to weigh value against need in this year's draft class.  

Which targets do they need to pursue and how hard will the 49ers pursue such targets?  Will the team look to mid and late rounds to pick up value and bargain picks, an element they were able to do successfully last season?

In this article, let us take a look at some of the potential needs the 49ers have and compare them against some of the value picks and options available in consideration of the plethora of picks at San Francisco's disposal.


Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
San Francisco replaced Donte Whitner with safety Antoine Bethea this offseason.

 

San Francisco's Situation as of March 12

Gone is Whitner as previously mentioned.  Cornerback Tarell Brown could also follow suit.  The 49ers look as if they have parted ways with veteran center Jonathan Goodwin and have elected to promote backup lineman Daniel Kilgore after extending him a three-year contract.

Kicker Phil Dawson is back for another season and Anquan Boldin returns on a two-year deal.  Cornerback Carlos Rogers has been cut, while cornerback Eric Wright shall stick around likely for another season.

Then there is the deal for Martin.

If we take a look at the 49ers' depth chart—provided by CBS Sports—we can take a look at some of the specific needs San Francisco still has en route to the draft.  

While some of these needs may change over the course of the free-agency period, we can still make some initial determinations regarding what the 49ers will do on draft day.

For a case example, let us look at the acquisition of Bethea to replace Whitner in the secondary—without completely ignoring the role of Craig Dahl in a backup situation.

In 2013, the 49ers replaced a free-agent departure—Dashon Goldson—with Eric Reid via the draft.  That transition worked out seamlessly.  With Whitner's departure then pending following the season, speculation pointed to San Francisco again finding a replacement via the draft.

This author, for one, considered targets like Baylor's Ahmad Dixon as a potential mid- to late-round pick.  Deone Bucannon out of Washington State could have been another viable target.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Signing Antoine Bethea alleviates an immediate need at the safety position.

With Bethea now on the roster, the 49ers' needs at the strong safety position have diminished significantly.  Instead of becoming a position of need, strong safety prospects can now be shifted to potential developmental or value picks.

The 49ers could still target a strong safety in the draft, but they certainly will not place as much emphasis in finding a starting prospect for 2014.  Dahl as an immediate backup also thwarts the need.

Other acquisitions—both current and pending—should have similar consequences and effects.

 

Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Oregon State's Brandin Cooks could fill an immediate need at wide receiver.

Establishing the Need

We can now remove San Francisco's immediate need for a strong safety in this year's draft.  Barring something tremendously odd, we can cross prospects like Bucannon and Dixon off the 49ers' shopping list as well.

The acquisition of Martin also thwarts any need for an immediate, NFL-ready offensive tackle.

So let us establish some of the immediate needs the 49ers have looking forward to 2014.  

Well-documented has been the talk of San Francisco's interest in a rookie wide receiver.  Whether or not speed or size is of the 49ers' approach, the fact is that the team would benefit from a wide receiver addition—an aspect argued by Eric Branch of SFGate.com.

Branch argues that the deep wide receiver draft class is beneficial to a team like the 49ers who have not had much recent success when it comes to drafting wide receivers early—A.J. Jenkins being the most recent failed attempt.

There are probably going to be plenty of wideout options when the 49ers draft at No. 30 in the first round according to the listed projections from CBS Sports.  Brandin Cooks out of Oregon State is one such receiver that has been tied to the 49ers—having already met with the team, per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.

Yet with the recent acquisition of Bethea, which saves a potential early or mid-round draft pick, San Francisco is in an even more powerful position to trade up higher in the first round.

Perhaps this allows the team to target an even higher wideout target in the first round.  Prospects like Marqise Lee and Mike Evans suddenly become more attractive, especially when considering the number of picks the 49ers could use in a trade-up package.

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
With the 49ers addressing an immediate need at safety, they should have more ammunition to trade up for a player like Texas A&M wideout Mike Evans.

It is not out of the realm of possibility that the team targets a second receiver in the draft, but let us evaluate that in the value portion of this article.

Perhaps even more pressing is the need for San Francisco to target a cornerback, or two, in this year's draft.

Following the departure of Rogers—and possibly Brown—the 49ers' depth at the position is thin at best.  While the team can count upon the return of Chris Culliver from injury, the fact is that San Francisco needs to target a corner early in the draft.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation broke down SB Nation's Mocking the Draft for 2014 and went into detail about San Francisco's 56th-overall pick Marcus Roberson out of Florida.  He writes that Roberson is the type of player who could step in and fill a need at the position right away.  

Fucillo also mentions the team targeting cornerback Aaron Colvin out of Oklahoma with the 77th-overall pick and discusses how his torn ACL could mean a redshirted rookie season.

More on the value of that type of pick later.

At any rate, the need for the 49ers to select a cornerback is established, and expect general manager Trent Baalke to address this early in the draft.

The only other pressing needs the team has would be to supplement depth—an overall need to be certain, but one that can be diligently addressed via the use of value picks as the draft moves on.

 

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Drafting injured running back Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round of the 2013 draft is the perfect example of value.

Finding the Value

For starters, it is no secret that Baalke and the 49ers have taken close looks at players recovering from collegiate injuries entering the draft.

Look at last season's acquisitions of defensive end Tank Carradine and running back Marcus Lattimore as perfect examples.  Both missed the 2013 season due to injuries sustained in college which dropped their draft value.  With San Francisco not having an immediate need at both positions, Baalke could sit back and use later draft picks to select such players that other teams had passed on.

Thus, those two picks receive high marks in terms of overall value given the fact that each player was developmental in the wake of their respective recoveries.

Just like their situation in 2013, the 49ers do not have a substantial need to fill numerous positions on the 53-man roster.  So should we expect San Francisco to take a similar approach and target injured and/or developmental players in 2014?

Absolutely.

Fucillo already described the possible drafting of Colvin, fully expecting the team to redshirt him his rookie season.  His need would not be immediate and the value would be determined over time.

Bill Williamson of ESPN also goes into detail about how the 49ers targeted injured players last season and expects them to do the same in 2014.  He writes:

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the 49ers—with few immediate needs and a projected [11] draft picks—to again show interest in injured players to develop.  But unlike last year's draft, there aren't many top rated players recovering from an injury this year.  The best prospect coming off an injury may be Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley.  He was a first-round talent, but had a torn ACL.  He is now projected as a late-second or early-third round pick, according to ESPN draft analyst Steve Muench. 

With all three starters of the 49ers' defensive line returning in 2014, plus the additions of players like Carradine and Quinton Dial, San Francisco does not have a pressing need to add another defensive lineman like Easley.  

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Dominique Easley would likely be redshirted if the 49ers drafted him in 2014.

Yet if he is available when the 49ers pick late in the second or early in the third round, do not be surprised if the team takes a flier on him.

That sort of approach adds value above anything else.

Moving away from injured players, let us consider value picks that the 49ers could consider developmental in nature.

We have discussed the need for a wide receiver already, but if San Francisco is looking to add a value pick later in the draft, they could do worse than drafting Ole Miss receiver Donte Moncrief, who could fall into the third round.

Rob Rang of CBS Sports proclaims that the 6'2" and 221-pound Moncrief has the skill set that could eventually make him better than receivers like Lee or Clemson's Sammy Watkins.

If the 49ers were able to grab him in the third round, it would be an extremely valuable addition at a relatively low draft cost.

As far as value picks in the cornerback position, the 49ers could also look to further selections.  We have discussed the plausible drafting of Colvin, whose stock drops because of injury.

Yet Baalke could also consider drafting 6'3" and 218-pound corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste out of Nebraska—a player who NFLDraftScout.com's Dane Brugler said could be the next Richard Sherman.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Stanley Jean-Baptiste would be an excellent value pick if the 49ers could grab him in the third round.

Jean-Baptiste is currently slated as a third-round pick, which gives the 49ers an added shot at a value pick with a very high ceiling here.

As always, San Francisco could target value picks that are to be used in a developmental situation throughout the draft.  What eventually transpires is yet to be seen, but expect the 49ers to use the same type of approach that worked so well in 2013.


John Froschauer/Associated Press
General manager Trent Baalke has more draft picks than immediate needs at this point.

With 11 picks remaining in the 2014 draft, the 49ers are in an excellent position to acquire talent both of need and value.  

While the ongoing free-agency period may have further repercussions on San Francisco's draft plans, we can assume the 49ers will enjoy a mixture of immediate needs in the draft along with players who are to be developed over time.

In terms of the latter, the individual value pick's worth shall be determined over time.  With an already loaded roster, San Francisco can afford to take chances throughout the draft.  

Expect some trade-ups as well.

Regardless, the difference between need and value is a relatively easy one to disseminate given what the 49ers need to acquire.  

Now San Francisco just has to find the right players at the right time.

 

Accolades and player information courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.

Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers.  Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.

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