5 Best-Case Scenarios for San Francisco 49ers in 2014 NFL Draft
Just like last year, general manager Trent Baalke has done a yeoman's job of stockpiling draft picks. As the draft approaches, San Francisco owns 11 total picks, per ESPN.
Even more enticing is the fact that six of those picks fall within the top 100 selections.
We can all deduce what this means for the 49ers and can look back to last season as a perfect example.
Baalke and the 49ers are in a perfect position once again to execute a number of trades throughout the draft. They can also elect to take multiple shots at various positions in and around the draft.
For example, if the team needs one wide receiver, it can draft two and see who wins the competition.
The 49ers may also trade down or even out of rounds in exchange for more picks in subsequent seasons.
San Francisco has plenty of options and relatively few needs this upcoming draft—an enviable position to be in if you are one of the top teams in the NFL.
So what exactly are those needs?
As stated, the 49ers remain one of the NFL's best and do not need a huge makeover. Yet like any successful sports franchise, continued success is entirely dependent upon bringing in new and fresh talent year after year. San Francisco did that in 2013.
It should do so again.
According to Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, the 49ers have four pressing needs that should be addressed in this year's draft: cornerback, inside linebacker, wide receiver and the defensive line. The cornerback position is easy to understand given the losses of Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers during the offseason.
At inside linebacker, San Francisco will likely look to add depth, especially considering All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman's recovery following his knee injury during the NFC Championship Game.
A need for a standout wide receiver has also been well-documented. In fact, five draft experts from CBS Sports.com have all tabbed the 49ers as selecting a wideout with their first-round pick in their most recent mock drafts.
Then, the defensive line could use some younger players to bolster its depth.
These needs, along with others that I shall supply, should dominate the team's thought process in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, let us take a look at five best-case scenarios for the franchise in the upcoming draft. Can the 49ers sit on some players who have high ceilings, or will they be able to trade up to acquire the talent they desire?
All of it is speculation at this point, but given the 49ers' current position, almost anything is possible.
Let us take a look.
Jim Harbaugh Targets Quarterback Logan Thomas out of Virginia Tech
Scenario: 49ers grab Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas with a seventh-round pick or as an undrafted free agent.
The 49ers do not need to worry about drafting a high-profile quarterback in 2014.
With Colin Kaepernick on the verge of receiving a lofty contract and after the recent trade that sent former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert to San Francisco, nobody would expect head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke to look at the 2014 draft class to land the quarterback of the future.
But this does not mean the team will rule out a quarterback at all come the draft.
It is no secret that Harbaugh can mold quarterbacks. It is also no secret that he is unafraid to grab a quarterback late in the draft with the hopes of turning him into something useful. Look at last year's acquisition of B.J. Daniels as a perfect example.
We can assume that the 49ers will employ Kaepernick and Gabbert as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. McLeod Bethel-Thompson is also on the roster.
However, we should not be surprised to see San Francisco acquire another quarterback during the draft.
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News lays out this possibility:
The 49ers are in a different situation, more solid at quarterback with Colin Kaepernick as the entrenched starter and veteran Blaine Gabbert as the presumptive backup after a recent trade with Jacksonville. Holdover third-stringer McLeod Bethel-Thompson is also on the roster. But to follow the Walsh Principle [strongly consider drafting a quarterback every year], the 49ers should also look for quarterback value at some point on draft weekend, if general manager Trent Baalke gets any sort of positive spidey-sense vibes about a prospect.
One player who comes to mind is Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas.
There was a time when he was heralded as a potential top-tier collegiate quarterback, per Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com.
Yet Brugler also points out that the big mark against him is his lack of consistency—an element that has unquestionably influenced the projection of him being drafted in the seventh round or not at all.
Still, there are few questions surrounding his sheer physical build, and the notion of having attributes that "cannot be coached" can be applied here.
Thus, we should not be surprised that Harbaugh attended Virginia Tech's pro day with a close eye on Thomas—a visit described further by David Fucillo of Niners Nation. Fucillo points out that Baalke typically gives Harbaugh the edge when it comes to looking at collegiate quarterback talent. If Harbaugh liked what he saw in Thomas and felt that he could do something with his raw talents, Thomas may be the guy San Francisco ends up targeting.
The ideal scenario would see the 49ers not needing to use any of their draft picks on Thomas; instead, they would pick him up as an undrafted free agent. Harbaugh could then try to mold him into something worthwhile, which would give Baalke the option of trading him away for a draft pick down the road if he develops.
This idea ties in with the previously noted need to keep turning over rosters with a constant influx of talent via the draft. Thomas' best contribution to the 49ers may be as a trade piece to receive a future draft pick in the coming years.
I'd love to hear what Jim Harbaugh thinks watching QB Logan Thomas at Virginia Tech pro day. His 6-6 frame sparked hype at combine— Cam Inman (@CamInman) March 19, 2014
Add Depth with Value Picks in the Middle Rounds
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.
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.
Trade out of the First Round Altogether
Scenario: The 49ers trade the 30th pick in the 2014 NFL draft in exchange for second-round picks and picks in 2015.
I know what you may be thinking when you read the first line. Yes, I am serious about this one.
Why would San Francisco fathom trading out of the first round in 2014? There are so many first-round talents in this year's draft class, and San Francisco has all those picks. It seems asinine to even suggest the thought.
Before you get too upset, allow me to offer my explanation.
First, I am not alone in this suggestion. Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Joe Levitt also makes the case for why the 49ers would be wise to trade out of the first round.
Levitt states that Trent Baalke should trade down and give the Washington Redskins a much-needed first-round pick. This would give San Francisco an immense amount of firepower in Round 2 of the draft.
An evaluation of Walter Football's draft value chart gives us an idea of what Baalke could receive in exchange. In addition, Baalke could potentially pull off a maneuver that grants the 49ers added picks in 2015. Remember, he loves stockpiling picks, and 2015 will be a year that could significantly affect the team when it comes to free agency.
The traditional mindset of an NFL draft dictates that Round 1 prospects are usually those who can start at the NFL level right away.
However, the 2014 draft class is unusually deep—especially at the 49ers' positional needs—which means they could still target impact players in the second round or later. This facet, which is also argued by Levitt, would provide San Francisco with potentially three high-value picks.
Assuming for a moment that this is what the 49ers do, which prospects could the 49ers target?
We have touched on some of their immediate needs already, but let us stick with two—cornerback and wide receiver.
On the cornerback end, Baalke could be eyeballing prospects like TCU's Jason Verrett and Ohio State's Bradley Roby—both of whom are projected by CBSSports.com to be drafted as late first- or early second-round picks.
With the Redskins owning the 34th overall pick in the draft, Levitt's suggestion of trading down from No. 30 to No. 34 makes some sense here.
Or the 49ers could use that No. 34 pick to tab an impact wideout in a class that is equally as deep.
Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin and Penn State's Allen Robinson are both projected by CBSSports.com as late first- or early second-round picks as well, which means they could be on the board when San Francisco is slated to draft with the exchanged pick.
We cannot overlook fellow receivers like Davante Adams or Jordan Matthews—big guys who are also projected to go in Round 2.
It is a creative theory and one that could potentially provide the 49ers with added dividends when factoring in how deep this class is along with the team's future needs.
@TaylorPrice49 Out of curiosity for that contest, what if the 49ers trade out of the first round?— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) April 4, 2013
Sit on the Best Available Wide Receiver in Round 1
Scenario: The 49ers grab the highest-ranked wideout on the Board with the 30th overall pick,
Now that we have chewed on the theory of San Francisco trading out of the first round, let us go back to assuming the team stays put at No. 30.
We have already covered CBSSports.com's most recent mock drafts that all tab the 49ers drafting a wide receiver with their first-round pick.
Rob Rang and Pete Prisco both have Trent Baalke landing USC's Marqise Lee, while Dane Brugler predicts Oregon State speedster Brandin Cooks. Pat Kirwan likes LSU's Odell Beckham Jr., and Will Brinson feels Kelvin Benjamin will fall to San Francisco.
At this point, it is hard to argue with any of the selections, and each one offers a unique set of skills that would benefit San Francisco's offense.
Sure, each player has downsides, but the fortunate aspect is that Jim Harbaugh's offense does not have an immediate need for a first-year wideout to impact the offense. We will likely see plenty of Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree in 2014.
Since we already discussed the possibility of a player like Benjamin falling to the 49ers on the previous slide, let us start with Brinson's mock that San Francisco drafts him with the 30th overall pick in the first round.
Baalke attended Benjamin's pro day at Florida State, per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee. Barrows notes that Benjamin would not be the speedy, offsetting receiver to complement Boldin and Crabtree. Instead, he would likely be the eventual replacement for one of the two when that time comes.
In addition, one cannot overlook his 6'5" and 242-pound frame as a worthy red-zone target.
Other NFL teams are looking at Benjamin's sheer size, which could force a trade-up in the first round. Yet if Benjamin fell to San Francisco at No. 30, it is hard to argue that it would be a best-case scenario here.
Lee is another one of those receivers who could provide the necessary impact that Baalke is looking for at the position.
Similar to Benjamin, Lee may not be available to San Francisco at No. 30, and Baalke may have to move up in Round 1 to grab him. If he does fall, however, perhaps Lee is the guy whom the 49ers target.
Nick Chiamardas of Niners Nation points out why Lee would be a good fit for San Francisco, citing his unique dual-deep-threat receiver skill set as a 49ers need.
Beckham and Cooks are also receivers who utilize speed—an element that the passing offense lacked in 2013.
Given the depth of the wide receiver class, the 49ers are already in a best-case scenario if they choose to sit back and draft a wideout at their current position in the first round.
Be Aggressive in Round 1
Scenario: The 49ers trade up to the 13th overall pick and draft Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.
In a way, this scenario stands in contrast with the previous suggestion that the 49ers stand pat at No. 30.
But let us play fantasy general manager for a moment and consider what the team could do with 11 draft picks in 2014.
Hopefully by this point, we have established a team need at wide receiver. We've looked at a potential value pick as well as the possibility of grabbing the best available wideout at No. 30.
Each of those scenarios would be nice, and given San Francisco's current draft situation, both are likely.
Yet trading up is just as likely, so let us assume that the 49ers go all-out in Round 1 and make a big splash. They did something like this with Eric Reid last year. In 2014, they might do so again to grab Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.
He is an easy first-round projection and is listed as the 13th-best prospect, according to CBSSports.com. Assuming he is drafted right at that point—never a sure thing—we have to figure out a way for the 49ers to move up in Round 1.
Thankfully, all of those draft picks in San Francisco's arsenal give Trent Baalke plenty of ammunition to accomplish this.
By using Walter Football's draft value chart once again, we can gauge a number of possible trade scenarios whereby Baalke could move up from No. 30 to 13. A deal would send San Francisco's own 30th overall pick, plus a second- and perhaps a third-rounder in exchange for the 13th overall pick.
The St. Louis Rams sit at No. 13, and they might entertain the notion of a trade. After all, St. Louis has the second overall pick in the draft (from Washington) and trading down could net the team more intermediate prospects—an approach that may be enticing, given the deep draft and competition within the NFC West.
Once the trade is complete, the 49ers make a no-brainer deal and select Evans—Johnny Manziel's favorite go-to guy at Texas A&M.
Bill Williamson of ESPN.com suggests that this could be the big move that San Francisco makes in the draft even if it would cost the team several picks.
So have the 49ers—which are not typically known for showing their hand—vested any interest in Evans' services?
Eric Branch of SFGate.com thinks so. After the 49ers met with Evans during Texas A&M's pro day, Branch summarized the interest:
Evans, 6'5" and 231 pounds, possesses a rare blend of size and speed. He ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at the combine and also has another measurable 49ers general manager Trent Baalke prizes: He had the longest arms—35 1/8 inches—among wide receivers at the combine. Given his pedigree, of course, Evans could provide immediate help as a rookie. He possesses speed the 49ers don’t have outside and his frame—he’s four inches taller than [Michael] Crabtree and [Anquan] Boldin—could make him an attractive red-zone target. Last year, the 49ers ranked 15th in red-zone touchdown percentage (53.0).
Branch's analysis gives us a detailed look into why Evans would be an ideal fit with the 49ers. Not only could he step in right away and provide a necessary addition to San Francisco's passing game, but he also could wind up being the No. 1 receiver for the 49ers in the very near future.
Sure, any trade-up involving him would cost San Francisco a number of prized picks in a deep draft. But the 49ers have the ammunition to pull this off, so the possibility remains on the table.
If this move could be executed, it would fall into the top slot of best-case scenarios the 49ers could ask for in the 2014 NFL draft.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.