Believe it or not, but the San Francisco 49ers’ work on Day Two of the NFL Draft is just as critical as their performance on Day One.
It’s perhaps even more important.
General manager Trent Baalke has the luxury of a five-pick haul at his disposal in the second and third rounds.
He will help dictate the 49ers destiny with the No. 56, No. 61, No. 77, No. 94 and No. 100 overall selections.
Now, staying put and taking a prospect at all five spots simply isn’t practical. San Francisco has starters locked in at all positions on offense, defense and special teams.
There even exists a healthy supply of backups in some areas (e.g. running back and outside linebacker).
But what this Super Bowl contender lacks is a situational game-changer and rotational, starter-worthy depth at key positions.
Acquiring the former certainly involves a first-round endeavor on opening night. Trading up and drafting the likes of wide receiver Mike Evans or cornerback Justin Gilbert would qualify as such a pursuit (yours truly has argued for that move on many prior occasions).
Such draft-day maneuverings would also compel the use of those second-day picks as trade assets (every pick but the third-round compensatory selection at No. 100 is fair game).
Reasoning that Baalke would send two of those four moveable selections (in addition to picks in 2015), the 49ers would then face diminished prospects moving forward in the draft.
They only have one pick in each of the fourth and fifth rounds, and none in the sixth.
To those who would point to the three selections in the seventh, final-round players equate to nothing more than training-camp bodies and practice-squad hopefuls.
Thus, Day Two is the last opportunity for Baalke to bring in high-impact collegiate products. These are the ones who can contribute in 2014 and who might serve as insurance behind contract-needy, big-name incumbents if salary-cap issues arise in 2015.
Remember, the National Football League is a bottom-line business.
Only in a perfect world could the 49ers retain Kaepernick’s most trusted target, top-three positional stalwarts Smith and Iupati, above-average corner Chris Culliver and both running backs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter (likely replacement Marcus Lattimore notwithstanding).
There are only so many dollars available under the salary cap.
Yet, it's team president and cap wizard Paraag Marathe we’re talking about here. We’ll give him some benefit of the doubt in this otherwise doomsday hypothetical.
With that in mind, let’s focus on wideouts and corners, and take a brief gander at five high-ranking options Baalke must target in the second and third rounds.
5. Martavis Bryant, Wide Receiver, Clemson
Luckily for this first selection, gut feelings don’t take precedence over measurable traits.
Martavis Bryant stands in at 6’4’’, 211 pounds and runs a 4.42-40—a mark that ranked fifth-best among wideouts at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Bryant adds a 39.0’’ vertical leap, 32.6’’ arms and monster 9.5’’ hands to his already lengthy frame.
He also registered an incredible 22.2 yards per catch, with 13 of his 61 total receptions going for touchdowns during his time at Clemson.
If Bryant becomes the next Stephen Hill—as CBS Sports compares him to—then the 49ers will have added to the franchise’s unsightly history of early-round receiver failures.
But if he realizes his “enormous potential as a vertical route-runner” and develops into an “over-the-top…man-to-man coverage” beater—as ESPN Insider describes (subscription required)—the Red and Gold will have found a true downfield, red-zone threat.
It’s not like this organization has been looking for such a weapon since Terrell Owens or anything.
4. Keith McGill, Cornerback, Utah
Let us offer a quick disclaimer.
This latest analysis will not fall into the trap of waxing effusive on lean, tall, long-armed cornerbacks.
It will not lose perspective behind the recent love affair with similar NFL players—the one spawned by the Seattle Seahawks’ Super Bowl championship.
That said, this evaluation will highlight legitimate potential.
Utah’s Keith McGill possesses a comparable build to Bryant with his 6’3’’, 211-pound frame. He also recorded an identical vertical at 39.0’’.
The National Football Post qualifies McGill as a corner with rare scores in “ball reactions, awareness in zone [and] instincts.” Rob Rang of CBS Sports believes those same abilities will “project nicely in the NFL.”
Despite his myriad developmental shortcomings and better fit in a press-coverage scheme, McGill would provide the 49ers with enough skill and value at No. 100 overall.
Secondary coach Ed Donatell extracts talent and transforms it into on-field production like few other positional coaches. Why couldn’t he do the same with this prospect?
Many will claim that McGill is “destined for Pete Carroll’s defense,” as NFL.com’s Nolan Nawrocki asserts.
But if the 49ers already signed the 6’2’’ Chris Cook in free agency, why not let a similarly-built McGill also learn Vic Fangio’s system and develop in time for 2015?
It’s a considerable risk, but a risk worth taking with Donatell in the fold.
3. Allen Robinson, Wide Receiver, Penn State
We reckon it’s time this article transitions from prospects with lofty potential and moves toward players with a guaranteed stamp of approval.
Two-year starter Allen Robinson of Penn State broke school records for receptions (97) and yards receiving (1,432) in his final collegiate campaign in 2013.
He led the Big Ten in receiving both years and compiled 177 catches, 2,479 yards and 17 touchdowns all told.
What makes the beastly 6’2’’, 220-pound wideout so intriguing is his experience in an NFL-level system.
NFL.com’s Nawrocki notes that Robinson “executed a full route tree in a pro-style offense.” He can separate, beat press coverage and “offers possession skills, playmaking ability and red-zone utility.”
Better yet, this sure-handed and proficient route-runner resembles a player that is very near and dear to the 49ers: Anquan Boldin.
Dane Brugler of CBS Sports states that “like Boldin, he is a good-sized athlete with…strength at the catch point to be both a possession target and big-play threat.”
A valuable antidote to the 49ers’ red-zone ills in the short term, and Boldin’s replacement down the line—Robinson is a sure-fire score for Baalke on Day 2.
2. Jaylen Watkins, Cornerback, Florida
Let’s evolve from strong wide receivers, to strong and fast defensive backs.
Jaylen Watkins is one of three prominent corners emerging from the University of Florida in this year’s draft.
Watkins, however, is the most NFL-ready among the Gators trio.
The 5’11’’, 194-pounder ran the fifth-fastest 40 at the combine (4.41 seconds) and led his positional mates with 22 reps on the bench press. Long-armed athletes generally have problems with this exercise, but not Watkins.
This notable combination of strength and speed will come in handy when matched up with both physical and quick-twitch wideouts at the next level.
The same goes for his versatility (outside, slot and safety), “fluid movement skills” and “strong overall football instincts,” as cited by the scouts at ESPN Insider.
San Francisco’s coaching staff can harness Watkins’ “selflessness and maturity” as a student of the game, per CBS Sports, and develop him into a quality nickel corner. He is already mentally and physically capable.
And for the time being, the Niners’ cornerback depth chart certainly received a necessary reinforcement on the back end.
1. Donte Moncrief, Wide Receiver, Mississippi
The preceding scenario would have achieved max efficacy if Baalke had also traded up and secured the 49ers’ downfield weapon by drafting Mike Evans.
This latest projection will find similar success if Baalke lands cornerback Justin Gilbert via first-round trade or stays put at No. 30 and takes Jason Verrett (I may have endorsed this move once before).
In any case, make your acquaintance with Donte Moncrief, an unheralded size and speed wideout from Mississippi.
Overshadowed by other SEC standouts, Moncrief has quietly averaged over 60 catches for 900-plus yards and eight touchdowns since 2012.
He amassed a 15.2-yard average and 20 touchdowns over his three collegiate seasons.
During the scouting combine, he registered the third-best 40-time (4.40 seconds) and vertical jump (39.5’’). He also showcased his lower-body explosion by posting the top mark in the broad jump (11’0’’).
Here is how a few reputable talent evaluators grade Moncrief.
ESPN Insider awards him above-average scores in separation skills, ball skills and big-play ability.
NFL.com, from its perspective, projects the 6’2’’, 221-pounder as a “big, physically gifted ‘X’ receiver with deep speed, ‘above-the-rim’ potential and playmaking ability.”
The 49ers, for their part, say, yes please.
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