6 NFL Draft Prospects the San Francisco 49ers Can't Afford to Pass Up
The San Francisco 49ers have focused on the draft to build their roster. However, in the past two years, they have added only one impact player, safety Eric Reid, to their roster.
General manager Trent Baalke must have a good draft this year, as the 49ers have salary-cap problems and are losing much more to free agency than they're adding.
The 49ers have six selections in the first three rounds of a very deep draft and 11 picks overall. There are several good players available, especially at cornerback and wide receiver, two positions of need.
Here is a current breakdown of the 49ers' selections:
Round 1: No. 30 overall
Round 2: No. 56 and No. 61
Round 3: No. 77 and No. 94, plus compensatory pick No. 100
Round 4: No. 129
Round 5: No. 170
Round 7: No. 242, No. 243 and No. 245
With so many picks, look for Baalke to make some deals, especially early on, to make sure he gets the players he truly covets.
In this article, we will look at the ideal selection for the 49ers with each of their picks in the first three rounds.
All scouting combine results are courtesy of cbssports.com.
All stats courtesy of sports-reference.com.
Round 1: Kyle Fuller, Cornerback, Virginia Tech
The San Francisco 49ers lost two starting cornerbacks, Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, to free agency. It is imperative that the front office bolster this key position.
Chris Culliver will return from a torn ACL, suffered prior to the 2013 season, but only time will tell if Culliver can stay healthy and perform at a high level.
Look for general manager Trent Baalke to select a cornerback with the 49ers' first-round pick. Kyle Fuller, from Virginia Tech, would be an excellent choice for the 49ers, late in Round 1. Fuller has good size at 6'0" and 194 pounds He ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the combine.
According to walterfootball.com, "At the Combine, Fuller showed surprising speed. With his man-coverage ability, instincts and versatility. Fuller could be a steal late in the first round or early in the second round."
In today's NFL, with injuries and multiple wide receiver sets, a defense needs four solid cornerbacks. If Culliver returns at full strength, the 49ers could also use him or Fuller as the nickel corner.
If Fuller is already gone, an alternative would be Jason Verrett, out of TCU. Verrett, who is only 5'9" and 189 pounds is a tremendous athlete, although he is a bit small and could have problems with the bigger, more physical receivers.
Round 2: Brandin Cooks, Wide Receiver
The San Francisco 49ers can bolster their wide receiver corps with the selection of Brandin Cooks.
There is a good chance Cooks will be available with the 49ers' earlier round-two selection, 56th overall. Cooks had an outstanding career at Oregon State, playing in the Pac-12.
In 2013, as a junior, Cooks had 128 catches for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Pac-12 is a strong league, so these numbers reflect just how effective Cooks was.
The 49ers currently have two proven receivers in Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin. Quinton Patton is currently the third receiver and showed a lot of promise last year. An injury shortened Patton's season, and before we can consider him a solid receiver, he needs to prove that he can stay healthy and produce.
The 49ers will also give themselves some insurance in the event they are unable to sign Michael Crabtree, who's contract is up after the 2014 season.
Although only 5'10", Cooks is elusive and very explosive. He could be an excellent slot receiver for the 49ers.
At the combine, Cooks ran an exceptionally quick 4.33 40-yard dash time. According to cbssports.com, Cooks' weaknesses are that he is not overly strong and could struggle with physical defenders.
However, you can put Cooks in motion to help him get off the line, and his quickness will make him very difficult to defend.
If Cooks is gone by this selection, alternative options at the wide receiver position include Davante Adams of Fresno State and Colorado's Paul Richardson.
Round 2: Deone Bucannon, Strong Safety, Washington State
Although the San Francisco 49ers lost starting strong safety Donte Whitner, they did manage to sign free-agent Antoine Bethea, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts .
Bethea will be 30 years of age by the time the season starts and is coming off a mediocre season. The entire Colts defense was less than stellar last year and Bethea's performance fit into that mediocrity.
The 49ers need to put themselves in a position to get younger at the strong safety position and Deone Bucannon would be an ideal fit.
Bucannon has adequate size at 6'1" and 211 pounds. He ran a 4.49 at the combine and is a hard hitter who will not shy away from tackling.
In a year or two, Bucannon should be ready to take over the starting strong safety job. Teaming him with Eric Reid will give the 49ers their starting safety tandem for years to come.
Walterfootball.com was very high on Bucannon, noting:
Bucannon has a nice mix of ball skills, run-support tackling and hard hitting ability. In 2013, the senior assembled six interceptions with 114 tackles, three forced fumbles and one pass broken up. He had a solid performance at the Senior Bowl and ran faster than expected at the Combine.
If Bucannon is already off the board, a good potential option at the strong safety position is Baylor's Ahmad Dixon.
Round 3: Brandon Thomas, Offensive Guard, Clemson
The San Francisco 49ers are in the midst of a salary-cap crunch that will only get worse when they ultimately sign Colin Kaepernick to a big contract.
One of the casualties of this cap issue could be left guard Mike Iupati, who's contract expires after the 2014 season. The 49ers have Joe Looney as a backup, but he has hardly played in his two-year NFL career.
It would be a wise move if Baalke brought in a player at guard who could potentially start. Brandon Thomas, at 6'3" and 316 pounds, has played both guard and tackle but projects as a guard in the NFL.
Walterfootball.com had this to say about Thomas' showing at the combine: "At the Combine, Thomas was impressive with his speed and agility. Some teams could consider playing him at tackle even though he's very undersized for that position."
If Thomas is gone by the time the 49ers make their selection, Dakota Dozier out of Furman would also be a solid pick. Dozier did not play against top competition at Furman, but did well at the East-West Shrine game, playing against good players.
Round 3: Will Clarke, Defensive End, West Virginia
Defensive end Will Clarke stands 6'6" and weighs in at 271 lbs. According to cbssports.com, Clarke has the size and speed to be a very solid defensive end.
The 49ers have an aging Justin Smith at one defensive end position. Smith will turn 35 in September and, while he played well in 2013, his best days are behind him.
Smith's contract lasts through the 2015 season, but if he's cut following this year, the 49ers will see over $4.2 million in cap savings.
The other starting defensive end is Ray McDonald, who will be 30 years of age in September. Although his contract is through 2015, the 49ers will save roughly $2.7 million were they to release him after this season.
Although Smith is much older than McDonald, he was the better player in 2013. He has a motor that never stops and is a joy to watch on the field. His hustle and intensity provide motivation for the entire 49ers defense.
With two aging starters, now is an appropriate time to fortify the defensive end position. The 49ers selected defensive end Tank Carradine in the second round of the 2013 draft. Carradine did not play at all last year because of knee surgery he had prior to the draft.
The 49ers recently disclosed that Carradine had another surgery in February to clean up scar tissue in the same knee he had the original surgery.
The hope is that Carradine will be at full strength and can contribute in 2014, however, until he proves that his knee can hold up to the rigors of the NFL, he is a question mark.
With all of these issues surrounding the 49ers' defensive end positions, it's imperative that they add a quality player at this position. West Virginia's Will Clarke is that player.
If Clarke is not available with this selection, Oregon defensive end Taylor Hart would be another good pick at this point.
Round 3: Tyler Larsen, Center, Utah State
The San Francisco 49ers allowed 2013 starting center Jonathan Goodwin to walk away as a free agent.
Goodwin's departure leaves a big hole in the middle of the 49ers' offensive line. In his three seasons with the 49ers, Goodwin did not miss a game.
The 49ers are hoping long-time reserve Daniel Kilgore can handle the job. Kilgore can play center or guard, but he is still a major question mark. Kilgore has not started even one game in his three-year career.
Kilgore actually has more experience as an extra blocking fullback in the 49ers' jumbo package than he does playing on the offensive line.
Drafting a center who can provide depth and potentially move into the 49ers' starting lineup is a must.
Tyler Larsen, out of Utah State, would be an excellent choice with the 100th overall selection. This is the compensatory pick the 49ers received when they lost Dashon Goldson via free agency prior to the 2013 season.
Walterfootball.com had positive comments about 6'3", 317-pound Larsen:
Larsen played well for Utah State. He was a strong run-blocker in 2013. Larsen went to the Senior Bowl and had a solid week to help his draft stock. He clearly was behind by Richburg and Swanson, but Larsen is a scrappy player who could be a nice developmental pick in the mid-rounds.
If Larsen is unavailable with this selection, the 49ers may opt to take the best player available and wait a couple of rounds to select Gabe Ikard, a center from Oklahoma.