Scenario: The 49ers bolster various positions in the middle of the draft by using mid-round picks with value in mind.
It is no understatement that the 49ers are comfortable acquiring value picks in the middle of the draft.
We can look back at what Trent Baalke did in 2013 as a clear example of this approach. San Francisco grabbed players like Tank Carradine, Marcus Lattimore and Quinton Patton in the middle rounds.
In the case of Carradine and Lattimore—where injury thwarted their draft stock—Baalke was banking on these prospects to have an eventual impact at a bargain price.
Should we expect the 49ers to act similarly in 2014? Absolutely.
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com points out the 49ers' need for an inside linebacker in the wake of NaVorro Bowman's injury. Jeremiah suggests that Ohio State's Ryan Shazier may be the best fit to add depth to this position, and the 49ers may use one of their early picks on him.
Yet it is hard to fathom Baalke using a top pick on a position that is already occupied by two All-Pro linebackers, even if one of them may miss a chunk of the 2014 season.
Instead, why not add a player like Connecticut's Yawin Smallwood?
He is projected as a third-round pick by CBS Sports and compares to Jerod Mayo of the New England Patriots, per Rob Rang. The 49ers have three picks in Round 3, where depth and value can come into play.
Adding to Smallwood's value is the fact that he is coming off a hamstring injury suffered during the NFL Scouting Combine. Despite reports from Ross Jones of Fox Sports that the injury will not affect his draft stock, teams may be leery of pursuing Smallwood in the wake of the incident.
If he falls deeper in the third round or later, a 49ers selection would have great value and provide the necessary depth the team needs.
Jeremiah also looks at Josh Mauro from Stanford to fill a need along the defensive line. Having played under Jim Harbaugh in 2010, the 6'6" and 281-pound defensive end could supply added depth behind Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Tank Carradine.
He is also projected as a late fourth- or early fifth-round pick, further adding value to the equation.
We can also not ignore value and depth at San Francisco's most pressing needs—cornerback and wide receiver. There are notable targets who shall be discussed shortly, but let us focus on more of the value picks at this point.
Since the cornerback draft class is deep this year, the 49ers will not necessarily have to be overly aggressive when it comes to adding depth at this position. They may trade up in earlier rounds, but there exists only speculation at any point thereafter.
Let us focus on one corner the 49ers should consider targeting in the middle of the draft: Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
Projected by CBSSports.com as a third-round draft pick, he possesses elite size at 6'3" and an ability to jam receivers in press-based coverage—the same type of coverage utilized by 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area indicates why the 49ers may be interested in this "Richard Sherman-esque" cornerback:
Long before the Seattle Seahawks had success with big cornerbacks, Bill Walsh found his ideal cornerbacks in the draft than 30 years ago. Love him or hate him—and there’s probably not need to identify your level of affection (or lack thereof) on a site that specializes in 49ers conversation—the new ideal cornerback in the NFL is Seattle’s Richard Sherman. So which draft-eligible player most favorably compares with Sherman? The cornerback in the draft who rates the closest is Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
Value and depth are the name of the game here. As a potential third-round pick, Jean-Baptiste could provide added talent at a position where the 49ers are already thin. Combine that with a potential impact player, and the third-rounder sounds like a bargain.
We can also look at the wide receiver position as a possible source for value targets during the draft.
For this, let us go with ESPN.com's Kevin Weidl (subscription required) (h/t Bill Williamson of ESPN.com) and his prediction that the 49ers will target Clemson's Martavis Bryant in Round 3.
Like cornerback, there are plenty of talented wide receivers in this year's draft class. This takes a lot of pressure off Baalke to hit the proverbial home run with a first-round wideout selection. In short, if Baalke selects another A.J. Jenkins in Round 1, adding a player like Bryant later in the draft would alleviate the mistake to a certain extent.
Weidl argues that Bryant would be a good fit for the 49ers, given his 6'4" and 211-pound frame. He has the ability to stretch the field and would complement San Francisco's incumbent receivers.
So why would he fall into the third round?
Weidl follows up by saying that Bryant's skill set did not fall in entirely with Clemson's offensive scheme, which could be a reason behind his lower draft stock. Off-the-field concerns also raise some questions, but the 49ers have shown willingness to work with such players in the past.
If any of the aforementioned players fell to San Francisco in a position where it was able to obtain value, it would be a tremendous boost at a relatively low cost.