San Francisco 49ers: 5 Creative Moves Trent Baalke Should Make on Draft Day
Trent Baalke be nimble, Trent Baalke be quick—San Francisco 49ers’ general manager be creative with his draft-day picks?
Notwithstanding questionable extrapolations of Mother Goose nursery rhymes, Baalke will indeed have the benefit of flexibility during the 2014 NFL draft.
The 49ers own 11 selections and only have a couple positional openings on their roster.
A starter-quality wide receiver and cornerback qualify as those minimal deficiencies.
Baalke will likely target them early and often, in addition to acquiring depth along the trenches and at inside linebacker.
But as far as those high-ranking needs are concerned, how exactly will he satisfy them? Will he trade up, trade down, stockpile for a mid-round haul or perhaps do something revolutionary and unprecedented?
In other words, how imaginative can—and should—he be come May 8-10?
Even though last year’s selection process showcased a few exciting maneuvers, we’ll take it a step further for the benefit of the 49ers faithful.
Here now are the five creative moves Baalke should make on draft day.
Viewer suspension of disbelief is advised (said in patented baritone TV announcer voice).
5. Move into the Top 10
While not necessarily falling into the ultra-creative realm, this move would qualify as unusual for one Trent Baalke.
He isn’t averse to trades of any kind, whether they involve moving up, down, present or future picks.
Yet climbing all the way into the top 10 from No. 30 in the first round would demand a substantial package in return.
And one that Baalke hasn’t necessarily shown a propensity toward giving up.
But heck—let’s entertain the notion anyway.
According to Drafttek, the No. 10 overall selection is worth 1,300 points, while the 30th holds a value of 620 points.
If one strictly referred to these valuations as the basis for a trade, the 49ers would have to offer multiple picks worth the 680-point difference (or something close to it).
That would equate to, say, one second-rounder (No. 56; 340 points), one third-rounder (No. 77; 205 points) and one mid-round selection (or two) in the 2015 draft.
So, logistical necessities aside, who would merit such a massive draft-day fee?
It would boil down to either Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert or wide receiver Mike Evans of Texas A&M.
Reasoning that Evans would be available a bit lower in the opening round (more on this later), Gilbert gets the nod.
The 49ers would secure their first true shutdown and playmaking corner since the electric days of Deion Sanders patrolling the gridiron.
CBS Sports ranks Gilbert as the 10th-best prospect and ESPN Insider (subscription required) lauds him as an instinctual ball hawk with elite cover skills would fully solidify San Francisco’s already top-five defense.
The Red and Gold faithful can only wonder if their general manager feels the same.
4. Trade out of the First Round Entirely
Wait, so a Super Bowl-contending team with few positional needs and one that’s already in possession of double-digit draft picks will hoard even more picks?
And it will do so by trading out of the first round entirely?
Despite needing an immediate impact starter, the 49ers would be well served aiming for multiple such players at the top of the second.
Traditional prospect classes would normally dictate that the opening round holds all collegiate athletes capable of starting during their first year in the NFL.
But this class is deep, very deep, especially at the two positions of greatest need for the 49ers—wide receiver and cornerback.
Baalke, then, should execute a two-part maneuver.
The Browns already have two first-round picks. Trading down in the second wouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
Plus, if moving up six spots on Day Two last year only cost San Francisco a sixth-rounder, climbing up 21 places should only require a late-third or fourth-rounder in 2014.
And Baalke would still have another pick in the second and two in the third at his disposal.
In any case, the 49ers would eliminate both roster shortcomings with these trades.
They could acquire Florida State products Kelvin Benjamin and Lamarcus Joyner. The 6’5’’ catch-everything wideout and high-IQ, versatile corner would help boost the team’s red-zone scoring efficiency and coverage abilities, respectively, on the back end.
ESPN Insider has both of these players slotted between No. 33 and No. 39 overall.
They could also grab Penn State wideout Allen Robinson and Ohio State corner Bradley Roby, two pro-ready prospects at their respective positions. The scouts at CBS Sports rank them in the 30s as well.
Either way, two potential game-changers could find their way to San Francisco if Baalke employs the above strategy.
3. Target a Position Other Than WR or CB in Round 1
It is well-documented, oft-cited and simply common knowledge that the 49ers require additions at these two outside skill positions.
They indeed remain just a corner or wideout away from securing their sixth Lombardi trophy.
But if such logic holds, what about achieving that end through BPA? What about taking the best player available?
What would deem this otherwise consistently utilized tactic as creative is that said player might not materialize as either a cornerback or wide receiver at No. 30 overall.
For the sake of argument, let’s say it’s a high-ceiling pass-rusher.
Ealy hails from Aldon Smith’s alma mater and is similarly built and skilled as the 49ers’ No. 1 sack artist.
ESPN awarded the 6’4’’, 273-pounder (Smith is 6’4’’, 265 pounds) with above-average grades in height-weight-speed, pass-rush skills and instincts/motor. He also earned “exceptional” marks in durability, intangibles, run defense and versatility.
He would surely provide tremendous rotational depth behind Smith based on the above qualifications and the 49ers’ defensive staff’s ability to coach players up.
Furthermore, if you like comparisons to current members of the Red and Gold, Ford also merits consideration.
Rob Rang of CBS Sports places him in the mold of Corey Lemonier—the former Tiger and now backup outside linebacker for San Francisco.
Ford possesses comparable speed, arm length and underrated strength that Niners’ coaches Jim Tomsula and Vic Fangio prefer. He certainly would fit in well as another defensive-end-turned situational edge-rusher from the linebacker position.
Again, said personnel stalwarts have worked wonders converting both Smith and Lemonier in the early parts of their respective careers.
Yes, the 49ers are flush with a backfield-wreckage crew in their front seven. And yes, the same asset supply cannot be said about receiver and cornerback.
But as the Seattle Seahawks proved in the Super Bowl, teams with dynamic pass-rushing depth are the perfect antidotes to the ubiquitous aerial assaults in this modern NFL game.
As they say—secondary units are only as good as the pass-rushers who operate in front of them.
Both Ealy and Ford fit the bill.
2. Swap CB Chris Culliver for No. 24 Overall Pick
Okay, so now we’re trading established NFL commodities for high-potential, yet unproven collegiate products?
Please bear with us.
Next up on the insane and inventive docket for Baalke is swapping the embattled Chris Culliver for the Cincinnati Bengals’ No. 24 overall selection.
The 49ers would move up six draft slots from No. 30 in the first round with this trade.
Culliver was arrested in San Jose last Friday, March 28 for felony hit-and-run and weapons possession, according to the KTVU news outlet. He posted bail at the Santa Clara County Jail later that evening.
This disturbing behavior comes after Culliver underwent extensive efforts toward rehabilitating his image following his anti-gay comments in a radio interview before Super Bowl XLVII in 2012.
CSN Bay Area’s Scott Bair notes his involvement in LGBT outreach groups, in projects promoting animal welfare and even his own “Chris Culliver Foundation.”
Now, the 49ers survived last season when Culliver was out with a torn ACL. And even though Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers signed with the Oakland Raiders, they can successfully move forward without them and their presumptive No. 2 corner.
Of course, that’s if Baalke executes this hypothetical trade.
The Bengals are in need of a cornerback. CBS Sports’ Rob Rang, Dane Brugler, Pete Prisco, and Will Brinson all project them taking either Roby or Jason Verrett of Texas Christian University in the first round.
Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller ranks Verrett as the 24th-best prospect as well.
Cincinnati also has a track record of signing defensive backs with off-the-field issues and harnessing their skill set. Look no further than Adam “Pacman” Jones.
Culliver isn’t as talented as Jones. But he’s talented enough to earn starting status on a Super Bowl-quality club, once receiving a top-21 grade by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) for his work in pass coverage.
Notwithstanding his meltdown on the biggest stage in the playoffs, he ranked 11th among 113 cornerbacks with a 49.3 completion percentage allowed in 2012.
They would free themselves of a troubled player and still retain a third-round pick that they traded away when moving up for Eric Reid in the 2013 draft. Baalke could then set his sights on the likes of Florida's Jaylen Watkins, Utah's Keith McGill or Lindenwood standout Pierre Desir, among others.
Is this move unlikely, outrageous and implausible? Perhaps.
But is it not also original, innovative and resourceful?
Well, only time will tell.
1. Trade Up Twice in the First Round
Moving up not once, but twice in the first round is fairly bold.
Securing those draft slots by trading with not one, but two NFC West rivals is straight thinking outside the box to the nth degree.
It might even defy all logical considerations vis a vis the draft.
But we’ll proceed anyway for the sake of conjectural entertainment.
In this scenario, Baalke would exchange one of the 49ers’ second-round picks in both 2014 (No. 61) and 2015 for the St. Louis Rams’ No. 13 selection in May.
He would then move up from No. 56 and acquire Seattle’s first-rounder at No. 32 for a collection of picks in both this and next year’s draft (we’ll let you take a gander at the trade value chart and devise the appropriate package).
The Rams would accept such an offer because they already own 12 picks worth of prospect-yielding capital, including two in the first round.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, just won a Super Bowl and only have seven selections with which to bolster their roster for another championship run. They could use the additional draft ammunition.
As for the 49ers, they would finally get their game-breaking wideout in Johnny Manziel’s go-to weapon Mike Evans at No. 13.
The 6’5’’, 231-pounder with the 4.5 speed, 37.0’’ vertical and unreal 35.13’’ arms would cure all downfield and red-zone woes. He and Colin Kaepernick would indeed form an incredible quarterback-to-receiver connection.
And at the bottom of the first round, Baalke could select any number of weakness-eliminating players.
He could pounce on the aforementioned Ford or versatile defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman from Minnesota. He could also potentially grab speedy Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks or Notre Dame's athletic d-end/tackle Stephon Tuitt.
If he targeted the team’s second-greatest need, he could draft cornerbacks Roby, Joyner or possibly Verrett if his stock declined because of his 5’9’’ stature.
Ultimately, Baalke would only employ such a risky and multifaceted approach if he believed these two first-round prospects would all but guarantee a Lombardi Trophy.
It’s not in his draft-day nature, but greater mysteries have prevailed (see: A.J. Jenkins).
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