9 Names Every 49ers Fan Should Know Ahead of 2014 NFL Draft
With 11 selections and six in the top 100, San Francisco has the chance to use its picks to load up on talent or move up or down the board to fill their few needs as they see fit.
Heading into the draft the Niners' need at cornerback has been exacerbated by prospective 2014 starter Chris Culliver's felony charge, reported by Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, following a hit and run incident involving a bicyclist in San Jose last month.
San Francisco should target at least one cornerback in the early rounds and will also be expected to recruit a wide receiver to improve the offense as it looks to secure that long-awaited sixth Super Bowl title.
Luckily for the 49ers the 2014 draft is packed with excellent prospects at both those positions and they should easily be able to improve their situation in the secondary and at receiver.
San Francisco could also look to add depth to an aging defensive line, recruit a kick returner and choose to draft a safety to compete with and develop behind free-agent addition Antoine Bethea.
Furthermore an inside linebacker cannot be out of the question with NaVorro Bowman set to miss time due to the serious knee injury he sustained in the playoffs last season.
But which players could the 49ers target come May 8?
Here I look at nine players San Francisco fans should know ahead of a draft, analyse their abilities and assess the likelihood of them becoming 49ers next month.
NaVorro Bowan's devastating knee injury has perhaps created a need at inside linebacker where there previously was none.
Bowman and Patrick Willis are widely regarded as the best inside linebacker pairing in the NFL, however the former is set to be missing for at least some of the campaign after tearing his ACL in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
That injury has left a void next to Willis, although Bowman told ESPN that he is ahead of schedule in his recovery.
Backups Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody may well feature in Bowman's absence, but there a number of mid-round prospects who could help make up for the loss of three-time first-team All-Pro.
Western Kentucky's Andrew Jackson is one such prospect and, according to B/R's Darren Page, could be available in the final two rounds of the draft.
Jackson, who stands at 6'1" and 254 pounds, has perfect size, is an excellent run stopper and has the ability to make plays in the backfield. He totaled 327 tackles and 6.5 sacks through three seasons with Western Kentucky.
San Francisco, per ESPN.com's Bill Williamson, did show an interest in Brandon Spikes in free agency before he signed with the Buffalo Bills. Jackson is a player who compares well with Spikes, however, his disappointing speed is a potential drawback.
Other inside linebackers of whom San Francisco fans need to be aware include Stanford's Shyane Skov, Connecticut's Yawin Smallwood and Wisconsin's Chris Borland, but it is perhaps Jackson who is the best fit for the Niners as they prepare for time without Bowman.
Defensive line is definitely not the 49ers' top priority approaching the draft.
But with Justin Smith and Ray McDonald both heading into the latter stages of their respective careers, it makes sense for San Francisco to add depth in the trenches.
Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial should be able to contribute following rookie seasons that were hampered by injuries, however, with their plethora of picks, the 49ers have the ability to bring further competition to the defensive line.
And Stanford's Josh Mauro could prove to an ideal fit for Vic Fangio's defense.
Mauro is the prototypical 5-technique defensive end for a 3-4 defense, who gets good push and uses his hands intelligently displays intelligently.
The English-born prospect enjoyed an excellent final year with Stanford, recording 12.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. However, there are some concerns over his lean 6'6", 271-pound build and his limited athletic ability.
Still, Mauro will have familiarity with the San Francisco coaches having played under them during his spell at Stanford.
San Francisco has no urgent need for a defensive lineman in the draft, yet with his upside and prior relationship with some of the 49ers staff, a mid to late-round flier on Mauro cannot be ruled out.
The 49ers have struggled for explosiveness in the return game in recent years, and Kent State's Dri Archer could be just the man to provide the spark they are lacking in that area.
Archer is a versatile playmaker who can be deployed at wide receiver, running back and as a kick return man.
Through four seasons with Kent State Archer totaled 24 rushing touchdowns, 12 receiving scores and found the end zone four times in the return game.
What stands out most about Archer is his utterly electrifying speed. He clocked a 4.26-second time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, and his open-field acceleration and agility make him a prospective asset for any NFL team.
However, at 5'8" and 173 pounds, Archer does not really have the size needed to withstand the punishment of an NFL running back, and there are doubts over whether he has the hands to project as a slot receiver in the pro game.
Archer is considered to be a mid-round pick in the draft, a potential steal if he is able to be placed in an offensive scheme that suits his considerable abilities.
But San Francisco has struggled to find a role for LaMichael James—the speedster running back they selected in the second round of the 2012 draft—and could have the same issue should it opt to select Archer.
Yet the 49ers, who have not scored a return touchdown since Week 1 of the 2011 season, would be well advised to find a specialist in that facet of the game.
Archer fits the bill perfectly and, if used correctly, could have a huge impact both on offense and special teams.
The 49ers are pretty much set at the quarterback position with starter Colin Kaepernick.
Despite a season that was plagued by questions over his consistency, Kaepernick led the 49ers back to the NFC Championship Game and, per Comcast Sports Net Bay Area, are keen to tie him down to a contract extension before the start of the 2014 season (h/t Bill Williamson of ESPN.com).
San Francisco added a backup to Kaepernick by acquiring Blaine Gabbert in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But, although they are secure at quarterback, the prospect of the 49ers selecting one in the draft cannot be ruled out.
Jim Harbaugh is a head coach that loves to develop quarterbacks, as he has already displayed with Kaepernick and his predecessor Alex Smith.
And there are plenty of signal-callers in the draft who may be available for San Francisco on Day 2 or Day 3.
Georgia's Aaron Murray could be an option despite suffering a torn ACL in his final season with the Bulldogs, while the mobile Tajh Boyd of Clemson is a potentially exciting dual-threat project for Harbaugh to mold behind Kaepernick.
But if there is one quarterback whose name San Francisco fans should know come the draft, it is one who spent his collegiate career just 11 miles from 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara.
David Fales enjoyed a magnificent spell with the San Jose State Spartans after transferring from Monterey Peninsula College in 2011.
Fales threw for over 8,000 yards and 66 touchdowns in two seasons with the Spartans, with his best performance coming in November last year in a 62-52 win over Fresno State, in which he threw for a career-high six touchdowns and a single-game school record of 547 yards.
An intelligent and mobile pocket passer, Fales shows good touch, accuracy and elusiveness to avoid the rush.
However, at 6'2", Fales lacks the ideal build for an NFL starting quarterback and does not have the arm strength to trouble defenses with his deep ball.
Still, according to Barrows, the Niners were intrigued enough by Fales' potential to attend his pro day, while Harbaugh—per CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco—has said he will attend the private workout with the quarterback.
Fales is projected by B/R's Ryan Lownes as a fifth-round selection, which would be a relatively cheap price to pay for a player who excelled so much with San Jose.
Quarterback is far from a pressing need for San Francisco, yet Fales is familiar with the area and should have a connection with Kaepernick having served as a redshirt freshman behind him at Nevada before his transfer to Monterey Peninsula.
The California native's impressive skill set makes him an ideal mid-round choice for San Francisco, and it would be no surprise to see the 49ers select Fales and keep him in the Bay Area.
The 49ers addressed the departure of strong safety Donte Whitner by bringing in veteran Antoine Bethea, but they still have the flexibility to add some competition at the position.
Bethea will, in all likelihood, be the starter at that spot come the beginning of the 2014 season, however, if San Francisco is looking to develop a prospect behind the former Indianapolis Colt, then Washington State's Deone Bucannon would be a fine choice.
A Bay Area native—he was born in Oakland and grew up just an hour outside of San Francisco in Fairfield—Bucannon is an intimidating hitter who ended his collegiate career with 15 interceptions and seven forced fumbles.
Bucannon's physicality is similar to that of Whitner and will certainly appeal to the 49ers, as should his 6'1", 211-pound frame and strong coverage skills, which allow him to stay with and get the ball away from receivers.
A projected second-round pick by B/R's Ian Wharton, Bucannon is a potential future starter in the NFL, yet that is not to say that there are no kinks in his game. Indeed, Bucannon is not particularly fluid changing direction and has a tendency to lunge at ball-carriers too often.
With Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea poised to line up in 2014, the 49ers look quite secure at safety.
But the 49ers perhaps have the most freedom of any NFL team in the draft and Bucannon is arguably the leading candidate to be the guy should they elect to groom a safety behind the experienced Bethea.
The 49ers issues at cornerback could well result in them looking to select two players at that position in the draft.
There is plenty of depth throughout the class at corner, and San Francisco should be able to find a contributor in that role in the mid-rounds of the draft.
And one player that the Niners have shown considerable interest in is Clemson's Bashaud Breeland, who—per Matt Maiocco—had dinner with San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke following his pro day on March 6.
Projected to go in the second or third round by CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler, Breeland is an aggressive and physical corner who, at 5'11" and 197 pounds, has the ideal size for the position.
Breeland is an outstanding athlete with strong coverage skills, totaling a team-high 10 passes defensed and also snagging four interceptions in his final year with Clemson.
An overriding issue with Breeland is that he is occasionally too focused on his receiver and does not turn his head and locate the ball, leading to penalties and missed opportunities for turnovers.
Breeland's inconsistency was encapsulated in Clemson's 51-14 defeat to Florida State in 2013, where he had an interception but was also called for a pass interference penalty and eventually ejected for targeting Jameis Winston with a helmet-to-helmet hit.
But, despite his technique issues and somewhat disappointing speed, Breeland's aggressiveness and athletic ability will make him a very attractive prospect to NFL teams and defensive coaches such as San Francisco secondary coach Ed Donatell, a position specialist who has proven adept at molding cornerbacks such as Culliver and Tramaine Brock in recent years.
Breeland has the raw talent to develop into an excellent corner for the 49ers, who may well strike and grab the South Carolina native if he remains on the board when they pick in the second and third rounds.
San Francisco have long lacked effective size at the receiver position, and Vanderbilt wideout Jordan Matthews could remedy that issue.
At 6'3" and 212 pounds Matthews is a big-bodied, long-armed and physical receiver who came on extremely strong towards the end of his collegiate career with the Commodores, posting consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in his final two years.
Matthews does not have blazing speed, but atones for that limitation with his polished route-running and good hands, ending his time at Vanderbilt with 262 receptions for 3,759 yards and 24 touchdowns.
His figures for receptions and yardage are the best in SEC history. However, despite being named as a first-team All-American and Biletnikoff Award semifinalist in 2013, Matthews may well be selected outside of the first round.
The 49ers, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, were present at Matthews pro day last month, although neither Harbaugh nor Baalke were in attendance.
A cousin of legendary San Francisco receiver Jerry Rice, Matthews is a clear fit for a 49ers organization looking to provide Kaepernick with more weapons on offense.
And if he falls out of the first round, then Baalke could well strike and find excellent value at the receiver position by drafting Matthews.
The departures at the cornerback position and doubts over the future over Culliver have made cornerback an absolute must for the 49ers in the draft.
San Francisco has a strong starter in Tramaine Brock, but there are concerns over the CBs backing up Brock, Eric Wright and free-agent pickup Chris Cook.
The bottom line is that the Niners need a corner who can come in and contribute immediately and shore up a secondary that has quickly emerged as the weakest part of an outstanding defense.
Luckily this draft is deep at corner and San Francisco could find a perfect fit in TCU's Jason Verrett.
There are issues surrounding Verrett's less than ideal build at 5'9" and 189 pounds, but his physical tools and range of abilities more than make up for his lack of size.
Indeed, Verrett has excellent speed, which he displayed at the combine with a 4.38 second 40-yard dash, the second fastest among all cornerbacks in Indianapolis.
Verrett also possesses excellent coverage skills and athletic fluidity, using those abilities to record nine interceptions and 41 passes defensed in his career with TCU.
His small stature may see Verrett struggle against the NFL's biggest receivers, however, with his quickness and aptitude in coverage, he could prove to be a huge asset when lining up against slot receivers and projects as an excellent nickelback for the 49ers.
San Francisco just so happen to have a hole at the nickel spot and, per David Fucillo of SB Nation, sent their director of college scouting to Verrett's pro day.
Like Bucannon, Verrett grew up in Fairfield and, with NFL.com analysts Mike Huguenin and Bryan Fischer both tipping him to fall to the 49ers with the 30th pick of the first round, it is highly feasible that Verrett will be able to return home and become a defensive star for San Francisco.
The 49ers have plenty of ammunition to trade up in the draft, just as they did last year to secure free safety Eric Reid.
And Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans may be their target if they choose to do the same once again.
Evans is widely regarded as one of the premier receiving prospects in the draft and is expected to be selected within the first 10-15 picks.
San Francisco has already displayed strong interest in Evans, with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Charean Williams reporting that it met with the SEC standout during the Aggies' pro day last month.
But what kind of player would the 49ers be getting if they opted to move up and grab Evans?
He is a big, long-framed receiver, who at 6'5" and 231 pounds is a significant threat in short-yardage and red-zone situations, an area where the San Francisco offense continually struggled in 2013.
Evans does not possess great speed by any stretch of the imagination, clocking a 40-yard dash time of 4.53 seconds at the combine.
That disappointing pace may prevent Evans from gaining separation against NFL defenders, but it is his physicality that makes Evans—who ended his Texas A&M career with just under 2,500 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns—such an intriguing prospect for pro teams.
Indeed, Evans uses his excellent size effectively to shield off defenders on inside routes and has the hands to catch the ball over the middle in traffic.
Evans is not a receiver that is going to stretch the field for the 49ers, but his size and strength should be of significant appeal to a team that had problems with its red-zone offense last season and will come up against the Seattle Seahawks' aggressive secondary at least twice a year.
The 49ers are widely anticipated to move up into an earlier first-round spot for a second straight draft, and it is a good bet that it will be Evans who will hear his name called should that scenario play out.
Note: All statistics courtesy of Sports Reference