The local Bay Area media, as well as any observers who witnessed the way their past three Super Bowl runs ended, can tell that the San Francisco 49ers will be in hot pursuit of an explosive No. 1 wide receiver—one bearing a complementary skill set to what the offense has in place.
They need a grade-A player who has the horsepower to stretch the field, coupled with the polished route running and spectacular hands to score in the red zone. That being the case, it seems as if the 49ers will be targeting said wideout in the first round of May’s draft.
They’ve also got the draft capital, singular need and lack of roster space where a trade up even looks like a sure thing at this point.
So, in theory, let’s say general manager Trent Baalke executes a similar move as he did last year for LSU safety Eric Reid, trading his pick at the end of the first with a third-rounder to get in the middle of Round 1. That would enable the 49ers to get their weapon of choice—perhaps Odell Beckham Jr. or Brandin Cooks—while leaving them with nine total draft picks still.
Then, boom, that’s settled. But what happens after that?
The 49ers are in a position to govern the entire draft, even after they secure the highly coveted receiver who has been talked about all offseason. They’ve had quality drafts in 2011 and 2013 from top to bottom, with last year’s standing out because of the plethora of picks and value-based selections by round.
This year should be similar. And frankly, with double-digit picks and no pressing needs, 2014 can be San Francisco’s most dominant draft to date.
Assuming the 49ers hock their 30th and 94th selections for Beckham Jr. or Cooks, settling the receiver spot, their remaining cache of draft picks would then look something like this (via 49ers.com):
1. Round 2 – No. 56 overall (from the Kansas City Chiefs)
2. Round 2 – No. 61 overall
3. Round 3 – No. 77 overall (from the Tennessee Titans)
4. Round 3 – No. 100 overall (compensatory)
5. Round 4 – No. 129 overall
6. Round 5 – No. 170 overall
7. Round 7 – No. 242 overall (from the New Orleans Saints)
8. Round 7 – No. 243 overall (from the Carolina Panthers)
9. Round 7 – No. 245 overall
That’s a heck of a haul.
So despite making an impact move in the first, the real damage to be done by the 49ers will come on Day 2. They have a ton of options. Unlimited flexibility. So their draft plan should be interesting to say the least.
A few things to keep in mind: No. 1, the 49ers had as many picks and more roster spots to hand out entering the 2013 draft; No. 2, they need blue-chip players to compete with their Pro Bowl roster; No. 3, they traded up three times in the top 100 last year and still overdrafted players (see: B.J. Daniels, Marcus Cooper).
Using last year as a barometer, it’s clear to see they’ll have few restrictions in 2014.
Locked and loaded on Day 2, Baalke and Co. should be hunting with reckless abandon, philosophizing around the “best player available” in nearly every round. That exact mindset netted them Florida State lineman Tank Carradine, South Carolina tailback Marcus Lattimore and Louisiana Tech receiver Quinton Patton, all of whom fell further than they rightfully should have.
Here are a few ways the 49ers can go on Day 2, which includes the very critical and formative second and third rounds.
Needs: After Taking a Wide Receiver in Round 1
- Defensive End (3-4)
Option 1: Sit Tight, Take the Best Players Available
There’s been a lot of chatter of the 49ers trading up multiple times early on, but it’s not something they have to do or be overly aggressive about. This isn’t the last draft in the history of the world. And they’ll be well-positioned with four picks in the top 100, even after making the aforementioned first-round trade.
They’d have five total picks on Day 2, which would position them to own the most talent-rich part of the 2014 draft.
This is such a deep draft; great players are going to fall into their lap. Trading back even seems to be a more favorable strategy for some teams this year because they can rebuild a roster in this draft class. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock called this the “deepest and best draft class in 10 years,” via Pro Football Talk.
That’s been reinforced by most of the general managers and scouts I’ve talked to throughout the league. I had one GM tell me the other day that having a Top-20 pick this year is very similar to having a Top-10 pick last year. I think there’s more depth. I think there are certain positions that are stacked this year and you can get a quality player through three or four rounds.
Without moving, San Francisco can take a gaggle of talented players.
Most notably, it can get a tall press corner (i.e., Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Pierre Desir or Bashaud Breeland) and a fast route-breaking slot corner (i.e., Lamarcus Joyner or Jaylen Watkins). Adding one of each, on the boundary and inside, would be a huge upgrade for this secondary.
One of each type will fall, and the 49ers will be there to catch them.
Secondary coach Ed Donatell gives the front office the flexibility to not be too picky. This is one of the NFL’s most outstanding defensive back coaches. And in three years in the Bay Area, Donatell has worked wonders with far less talented players, turning water into wine on multiple occasions.
Adding two B-plus cornerbacks at different spots—ones with A-plus potential—may be a more pertinent strategy than trading up for single "A" prospect.
The 49ers also need an interior lineman; a burly center like Travis Swanson or a guard like Gabe Jackson could bode well.
Remember, Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati is in the last year of his contract and is expected to be the odd-man out when the team restructures Colin Kaepernick and focuses on Michael Crabtree and Aldon Smith. Daniel Kilgore can also use some competition at center and a capable backup in case he gets hurt.
By holding pat, the 49ers can settle four positions, adding building blocks for the future.
Option 2: Go Get Another Top-Tier Cornerback
The great part about the NFL draft is the production value—particularly all the glitz and glam of Round 1. The league puts on a show at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and the high-profile players are selected on a night that usually draws the attention of even the most cursory football fans.
There’s also a 24-hour barrier between this lavish opening show and the following rounds, where the real work is done.
Ultimately, this creates a window of opportunity for general managers and coaches to have intensive discussions about the players who are still on the board. This is relevant because every year, players fall. It’s inevitable. And like Mayock alluded to, this draft is deeper than ever, so there should be more players with first-round grades available on Day 2.
This could be very helpful to the 49ers because aside from wide receiver, cornerback is their most glaring need.
In all likelihood, they’ll have an opportunity to acquire a very good one on the second day of the draft. However, since San Francisco’s first second-round pick is No. 56 overall, nearly at the end of the round, it may want to consider jumping up to the top, especially if a top-tier guy is still available.
Who might it take a look at?
Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech
Here are his strengths, via Dane Brugler of CBS Sports:
Physical demeanor with good length. Excellent toughness and energy -- plays like he's 25 pounds thicker. Good vertical leap and smooth hip action to flip-and-go.
Good route recognition and outstanding read-and-react quickness to mirror or plant-and-drive to attack. Above-average anticipation and cover instincts. Studies receivers and does his homework to know what to look for without hesitation.
Physical in run support and works hard to get off blocks. Closes in a flash with a fierce attitude. Heady and opportunistic player. Very good ball awareness and NFL ball skills. Good blitzer. Experience playing inside and outside and at safety, linebacker and special teams.
Bradley Roby of Ohio State
Here are his strengths, via Rob Rang of CBS Sports:
Roby has world-class speed with the click-and-close ability to play tight coverage and mirror receivers all over the field. 4.39-second 40-yard speed and a good fighting attitude to battle for the ball.
Option 3: Go Get the Best Player Available
When defensive lineman Tank Carradine—otherwise a top-five prospect apart from the ACL injury—fell out of the first round, the 49ers were able to move back when many thought they’d take a tight end. They assessed the players available, the teams ahead of them and made a calculated decision, positioning themselves to take who they thought was the best player available early on Day 2.
Instead of reaching for a player they weren’t in love with, they added another pick to the crop and took the best talent left on the board a few spots later, which was Carradine.
This is an example of A) the benefits of separating Rounds 1 and 2 by a whole day; B) the 49ers’ willingness to go “BPA” early; and C) talented players falling in the draft for various reasons.
That said, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman may be one to slide. Scouts and general managers are all over the place on Florida State’s power wideout Kelvin Benjamin. And there’s a chance TCU’s Jason Verrett, who is the third-best CB to many, drops to the second day.
The bottom line is you just never know.
There are only 32 players who can be selected on the first day, and there are far more players with first-round grades.
Overnight, Trent Baalke, Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers scouts can reassess the board and take a player who should’ve been had in the middle of the first round. Any “gold-helmet” prospects who drop, they can trade up for and do so without breaking a sweat. It can be a player at a need position and/or a building block for the future.
Round projections and evaluations courtesy of CBS Sports and NFL Draft Scout.