Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for 49ers' Top 3 Picks
With the draft several weeks away, it's time we buckle down. The San Francisco 49ers have six picks in the top 100 selections, which makes them a team to watch in the upcoming draft.
General manager Trent Baalke has a host of early picks to work with, but will the former executive of the year use all of this extra ammunition to move up in the draft?
Baalke made a move up in the 2013 draft and we could see a similar move in May.
It'll likely come down to the availability of certain players.
Let's take a look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for the 49ers' first three selections on May 8 during the 2014 NFL draft.
Best-Case Scenario, 1st Round
Pick: Mike Evans (WR), Sammy Watkins (WR) or Darqueze Dennard (CB)
For the 49ers to land the three players mentioned above, some wheeling and dealing must be done. Of the three, Darqueze Dennard is the prospect who would most likely fall out of the top 20; however, I don't envision the Michigan State product escaping the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 15.
Watkins is looking more and more like a top-five pick, and no one would be surprised if Evans is selected somewhere in the top 10.
As is sometimes the case, where the quarterback prospects are selected will largely determine who goes where in the draft. We could see an early run of quarterbacks in the top 10, which could force Evans and Watkins down the draft board.
With Evans, the 49ers get a physical target at receiver. The 6'4'' Evans also gives the 49ers a big-bodied vertical threat. You usually don't see receivers with the size and speed package that Evans brings to the table.
Watkins is a different player at 6'0'', but he would give the 49ers a speed demon to work up the seam. Additionally, Watkins can be a spark plug as a returner. While I think Evans is the better fit long term, Watkins would likely bring the most value in the short term.
Worst-Case Scenario, 1st Round
Pick: Brandin Cooks (WR), Jason Verrett (CB)
I like Brandin Cooks and Jason Verrett as impact players in this draft; however, we must consider value when it comes to specialty players like Verrett and Cooks.
Yes, I said specialty.
Cooks will give the 49ers a much-needed vertical threat, but I wonder if his small frame can hold up against physical teams like the Seattle Seahawks. Remember, A.J. Jenkins was supposed to be the 49ers vertical threat at receiver until Baalke realized his frame couldn't hold up in press coverage.
Jenkins couldn't create separation at the line of scrimmage, and I wonder if Cooks will have the same issues at the next level. Now, the logical solution would be to move Cooks in the slot, but should the 49ers use a first-round pick on a slot receiver?
What happens if the 49ers lose Michael Crabtree to free agency? Can Cooks really handle playing outside against physical cornerbacks?
As a second-round selection, Cooks would be a great addition.
For Verrett, I have a similar opinion. At 5'9'', Verrett is strictly a slot corner. In today's NFL, slot corners play a ton of snaps, so this is nitpicking more than anything else.
This is more about need. The 49ers desperately need a young corner to play opposite Tramaine Brock. Chris Culliver was supposed to be that guy, but his issues off the field might force the 49ers to look in another direction.
Best-Case Scenario, 2nd Round
Pick: Kelvin Benjamin (WR), Jason Verrett (CB)
Wait, what? Jason Verrett was just considered a worst-case scenario for the 49ers.
Again, like Cooks, Verrett would be a perfect Day 2 selection for the 49ers or any team for that matter. Verrett's height limits his role, but as a slot corner, he would be an impact player in the secondary.
Verrett is a very physical corner who can keep up with the quick and shifty slot receivers at the next level. He does have some durability concerns, but for a second-round selection, Verrett would be an absolute steal.
I can't imagine Verrett falling out of the first round, but if he does, the 49ers could be in position to make a move up in the second round. Remember, they have two, albeit late, second-round selections in the 2014 draft.
Kelvin Benjamin is also another name to watch.
Early in the draft process, all the talk surrounded Evans, Watkins and Benjamin. Now, with the emergence of some other receivers like Cooks and Odell Beckham Jr., Benjamin's name tends to get lost in the shuffle.
At 6'5'', Benjamin may have the biggest upside of any receiver coming out. Of course, this usually means you're getting a raw prospect in return; however, if Benjamin reaches his potential, we could see the next big thing at receiver.
As a second-round selection, Benjamin would be a slam-dunk pick.
Worst-Case Scenario, 2nd Round
Pick: Travis Swanson (OC), Jordan Matthews (WR)
With two second-round selections and three third-round selections, the 49ers will have several options to improve this team after the first round.
We could see Baalke move up in the draft to acquire a top-shelf talent that slipped out of the first round. Baalke may also decide to stay pat and acquire more picks for the 2015 NFL draft.
Whatever the 49ers decide to do, they should avoid selecting Travis Swanson and/or Jordan Matthews in the NFL draft.
Selecting Swanson this early in the draft could be seen as a no-confidence vote for Daniel Kilgore, whom the 49ers signed to a three-year extension. Jonathan Goodwin was the 49ers starter at center for the last three seasons and indications were the Niners were counting on Kilgore to take over at the center spot.
If the 49ers want competition, they should bring in a veteran or draft an interior lineman with a late-round selection. This is not a deep draft for centers, so some team will likely reach for Swanson early in the draft.
At best, Swanson is a third- or fourth-round pick in any other draft.
Matthews is another guy that I believe is also overrated. At 6'3'', Matthews brings all the physical traits you want from a receiver.
He has solid speed—NFL.com has him down for a 4.46 40 at the combine—and looked fluid as a route-runner. Matthews also has big hands and long arms.
However, Mathews has issues creating separation. He struggled in the Senior Bowl against bigger cornerbacks, and in the NFC West, that's a problem.
Best-Case Scenario, 3rd Round:
Pick: Allen Robinson (WR), Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB)
Allen Robinson is one of my favorite players in the NFL draft. Yes, he doesn't have the upside of a Watkins or Evans, but he is probably the most pro-ready receiver of the bunch.
Remember, Robinson was considered a first-round selection in the early draft process. His draft stock has fallen quite a bit since, but I still believe in the Penn State product.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a popular pick among 49er fans. At 6'3'', many believe Jean-Baptiste is a spitting image of outspoken cornerback Richard Sherman.
While Jean-Baptiste and Sherman have similar physical traits, I think the former Husker reminds me more of Brandon Browner. Both guys are physical at the line of scrimmage, and flourish in press-man schemes.
Now, Jean-Baptiste isn't as physical as Browner. Also, Browner was a better tackler, but Jean-Baptiste does have the speed edge over the former Seahawks cornerback.
I don't see Jean-Baptiste worthy of a second-round selection, but I fear some team will overvalue him in the draft. However, as a third-round selection, Jean-Baptiste would be an excellent pickup for Baalke.
Worst-Case Scenario, 3rd Round:
Pick: Craig Loston (S), Shayne Skov (ILB), Ed Reynolds (S)
Craig Loston is someone that should be on the 49ers' radar. He plays so much like 49ers safety Eric Reid. It also doesn't hurt that both Reid and Loston played together at LSU.
Loston is a prime candidate to be overvalued in the draft. Like the center position, this isn't a deep draft at safety. Outside of Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the safety position is pretty thin in this draft.
Even with Antoine Bethea replacing Donte Whitner, some fans believe the 49ers should draft a young safety in the first three rounds. That is a logical option, but again, this draft isn't that deep at safety.
In a normal draft, Loston is a fifth-round selection.
Loston has all the tools to play safety at the next level, but he is still very raw. That pick could go to a player who could help the 49ers in the short term.
Bethea will lock up that safety spot for at least the next two years. Why not find a better prospect in 2015 or 2016?
The same can be said for Ed Reynolds, though I think Loston is a better fit with this current 49ers defense.
Some fans and analysts also believe the 49ers should draft an inside linebacker to temporarily replace the injured NaVorro Bowman. Do the 49ers really need to use one of their top three selections on an inside backer?
Losing Bowman to injury is concerning, but the 49ers have solid depth at the position. Michael Wilhoite did a solid job in replacing the injured Patrick Willis last season. Also, 2013 fifth-round pick Nick Moody deserves a shot at some extended playing time.
The 49ers would do well in looking in house for a temporary replacement.