7 Risky Picks the 49ers Must Consider in 2014 NFL Draft
San Francisco has 11 picks, with six of those coming in the top 100 selections, giving them the opportunity to significantly bolster one of the best rosters in football.
There are few holes in the 49ers roster, which means the general manager may be able to take some risks as he looks to find the players to help San Francisco return to the Super Bowl.
Baalke's main priority will be to boost the 49ers' talent at the cornerback position, while the addition of a speed receiver to help stretch the field is also likely to be high on San Francisco's list of needs.
However, with an aging defensive line and fresh concerns over the future of pass-rush specialist Aldon Smith, it would not be too much of a surprise to see the Niners gamble and use some of their early picks in order to aid their front seven.
A promising young quarterback to develop behind starter Colin Kaepernick could be another avenue for a franchise that has the freedom to flexible in the draft.
The strength of the 49ers roster also enables them to consider players with troubling injury histories, as they did in 2013 when San Francisco selected Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore after each suffered serious knee injuries during their respective collegiate careers.
With the selections at their disposal, the 49ers have the scope to take further calculated gambles in this year's draft, here I look at seven risky picks they must consider come May 8.
With arguably a greater need at the cornerback position, San Francisco may look to try and boost its options at receiver in the mid-to-later rounds of the draft.
One of the better prospects tipped to be selected on Day 3 is Texas wideout Mike Davis.
Davis is an impressive physical specimen with long arms and big hands and has the vertical speed and acceleration necessary to beat defenses deep, which he showcased regularly in his career with the Longhorns.
A recipient of All-Big 12 honors on three occasions, Davis totaled over 2,700 yards and 18 touchdowns through four seasons with Texas.
Yet, for all his natural ability, Davis is ranked by NFLDraftScout.com (via CBSSports.com) as a fourth- to fifth-round pick, and there are a number of reasons for this.
Indeed, Davis has yet to show that he can be truly effective on non-vertical routes and is far from having the most natural hands for a catcher in the class. However, the biggest slight on Davis is his temperament.
NFL.com draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki has been scathing in his assessment of Davis' character:
Inadequate on-field body language and temperament—is usually at the back of the line in practice drills and does not exhibit urgency in his play or leadership traits in the locker room. ... Displays starter-caliber physical traits, yet his playing demeanor and approach turn off many evaluators and could force his draft status to sink.
If NFL teams agree with Nawrocki's evaluation, then Davis' draft stock may be seriously damaged.
However, his skill set is one that's suited to the pro game, and Davis could be a strong developmental option for the 49ers if he is still on the board in the latter stages of the draft.
The 49ers' aging defensive line could perhaps use a revamp, but with the needs they have at other positions, it is hard to see them spending an early-round pick on a player in that area of the field.
Indeed, the holes San Francisco has at cornerback and wide receiver make it difficult to justify selecting a defensive lineman in the opening rounds of the draft.
However, if a player of the calibre of Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt was to fall into their path, then few could blame the 49ers for making the move to shore up the defensive side of the trenches for the future.
Tuitt, who stands at 6'6" and 312 pounds, is the prototypical 5-technique 3-4 defensive end and has the ability to cause NFL offensive linemen any number of the problems.
The Miami-born prospect uses his frame and long arms to his advantage, consistently shedding off blockers and utilizing his power to generate pressure and make plays in the backfield in both the running and passing games.
Through three seasons with the Fighting Irish, Tuitt totaled 126 overall tackles and tied for third in school history with 21.5 sacks.
There are concerns over Tuitt's lack of get-off quickness and intensity, while the hernia surgery he underwent prior to the 2013 season may also be an issue for some NFL teams.
Still, Tuitt is regarded by many as a first-round talent, with CBSSports.com's Pat Kirwan tipping Tuitt to fall to the Niners at No. 30 in the first round.
The only risk surrounding that selection is that San Francisco would potentially pass on some talented receivers and corners to boost a position where it already boasts considerable talent in the form of Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Carradine.
Yet with Smith and McDonald both approaching the latter stages of their respective careers, bringing in a talent like Tuitt to play initially in rotation could help get the best out of those veterans and ensure the 49ers' future on the defensive line.
The latest off-the-field controversy surrounding Aldon Smith has created a prospective hole for the 49ers at the outside linebacker spot.
Smith, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport (via Dan Hanzus of NFL.com), is facing a suspension from the NFL after being charged with a "false report of a bomb threat" following an incident at Los Angeles International Airport, leaving San Francisco in the dark over whether their premier pass-rusher will be able to play in 2014.
And with Smith also set to go on trial for for three felony gun charges and a DUI charge on April 29, it would be wise on the part of San Francisco to start preparing for life without the former Missouri Tiger.
Smith's prospective absence would leave the Niners needing to fill the void left by a player who has 42 sacks through three seasons in San Francisco, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.
But one man who could help atone for the potential loss of Smith is Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence.
Lawrence enjoyed two strong seasons with Boise State, racking up 34 tackles for loss and 20 sacks in his stint with the Denver Broncos, displaying excellent use of his hands and impressive acceleration to help him make plays in the backfield on a regular basis.
Therefore it is no surprise that the 49ers, per CSNBayArea.com's Matt Maiocco, have scheduled a visit with Lawrence.
However, there are many potential concerns surrounding Lawrence, who is widely considered to be a late first- to second-round prospect.
At 6'3" and 251 pounds, Lawrence does not have the ideal build to play on the defensive line, and his lack of straight-line speed could be a concern for teams, such as the 49ers, that may be looking to use him as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Furthermore, there are doubts over Lawrence's character after he received two separate suspensions for a violation of team rules and disciplinary issues in his time with Boise State.
San Francisco has two strong candidates to fill in for Smith in the form of Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta, both of whom performed well in reserve during the 2013 campaign.
Still, there is no such thing as too much strength in depth and, although taking Lawrence early on may require a leap of faith on the part of general manager Trent Baalke, it could be one well worth taking, especially with Smith likely to be on the sidelines.
With Colin Kaepernick safely ensconced as the 49ers' starter, San Francisco has no real need for a quarterback in the draft.
Blaine Gabbert was brought in during free agency to fill the backup role vacated by Colt McCoy, who was not re-signed by San Francisco.
San Francisco will hope that Gabbert can recover from the early struggles that have plagued his pro career, however, with McLeod Bethel-Thompson—who ended last season on the Niners' practice squad—the only other QB on the roster, it would not be a shock to see Baalke provide Gabbert with some competition in the form of a talented rookie.
One such candidate to join the 49ers could be Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo, who is likely to be a second or potentially even third-round selection.
Garoppolo went through a private workout with Jim Harbauagh last month, although Maiocco feels the primary reason behind that exercise may have to help the Niners coach gain "a competitive edge" in case San Francisco comes up against the 22-year-old in future.
There can be little doubt that taking a quarterback on Day 2 instead of filling more pressing needs would represent a substantial risk for the 49ers. Yet in Garoppolo, they would be getting a mobile and intelligent passer with good vision, a quick release and a relatively strong arm.
Garoppolo, who—per NFLDraftScout.com (via CBSSports.com)—ended his collegiate career with 13,156 passing yards and 118 touchdowns, has the potential to be an excellent starting quarterback and could push Gabbert for the No. 2 spot.
Selecting Garoppolo on Day 2 would see the 49ers pay an expensive price for a player who will be, at most, a second-string quarterback in 2014. However, as a dual-threat signal-caller, Kaepernick is often in the line of fire, and therefore making a move to add high-quality insurance at the most important position in football may be a worthwhile risk for San Francisco.
Oklahoma's Aaron Colvin has the potential to develop into a No. 1 starting cornerback in the NFL.
At 5'11" and 177 pounds, Colvin has the ideal size for a corner in the pro game and backs that up with strong coverage skills and excellent instincts.
Colvin's superb route recognition and ability to react to the ball was showcased regularly in his career with the Sooners, which he ended with a total of the 26 passes defensed and five interceptions, twice earning All-Big 12 honors.
The 22-year-old is excellent in man-to-man coverage, but his stiff hips and overall disappointing movement in transition is an area where Colvin will need to improve if he is to be a success in the NFL.
However, the main issue that will severely damage Colvin's stock come draft day is the torn ACL he sustained during practice for the senior bowl back in January.
Colvin has a lot rehabilitation ahead of him but, per NFL.com's Chase Goodbread, indicated that he will be ready in time for training camp and the preseason.
Even if that is not the case, the 49ers are likely to still be interested in Colvin and should not be deterred by his setback, especially considering that San Francisco did use a high draft choice on Carradine last year while fully aware that he would be unlikely to feature at any point in the 2013 season.
A player with early-round-level talent, Colvin's unfortunate injury will likely see him slip into the late rounds.
But Colvin could easily be moulded into an excellent pro corner, and the 49ers should not think twice about selecting him if he is still available on Day 3.
A rare combination of size and speed, Martavis Bryant has the physical attributes to become a premier downfield target in the NFL.
Standing at 6'4" and 211 pounds, Bryant's sheer size makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenders, as was demonstrated during his impressive collegiate career with the Clemson Tigers.
Bryant recorded over 1,300 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns through three seasons with Clemson, although his contribution was somewhat overshadowed by that of teammate Sammy Watkins.
Still, with his acceleration—he clocked a 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine according to NFL.com—and ability to compete for contested balls, Bryant could prove to be an excellent fit for the 49ers as they attempt to add another dimension to an offense that was inconsistent at best in 2013.
And with Bryant tipped as a potential second-round selection by NFLDraftScout.com (via CBSSports.com) and Bleacher Report's Ryan McCrystal, he could represent excellent value for a franchise that arguably would be better-served by spending its first-round choice on a cornerback.
However, there are a variety of reasons why Bryant is a gamble for NFL teams. He has inconsistent hands and is far from the most polished route-runner, but perhaps the main issue with Bryant is his mental capacity in regard to learning an NFL playbook, something which scouts, according to Scouts Inc. (via ESPN) (subscription required), have expressed concerns over.
Yet, despite those questions surrounding his ability to assimilate a playbook, the 49ers have already shown interest in Bryant who, per Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, visited with San Francisco last week.
Bryant is a raw talent who still needs to learn the finer points of the game. However, if the 49ers staff can get him up to speed quickly, then he could prove to be an astute selection for San Francisco.
To describe arguably the best cornerback in the draft may raise a few eyebrows.
Darqueze Dennard has all the abilities required to be a huge success in the NFL and will undoubtedly be on the 49ers' radar come draft time.
Playing in a Michigan State secondary known as "The No Fly Zone," Dennard ended his career with the Spartans with 10 interceptions and 26 passes defensed and earned the Jim Thorpe Award that recognizes the best defensive back in college football in 2013.
An aggressive corner who is physical at the line of scrimmage, Dennard's awareness, coverage skills and consistent ability to make a play on the ball make him one of the premier corners in the class.
And San Francisco, with its plethora of picks in the top half of the draft, is in a position to potentially trade up and acquire a player who has been tipped by NFLDraftScout.com's Dane Brugler (via CBSSports.com) and Sports Illustrated's Don Banks to go inside the top 20.
Yet, there are some concerns over Dennard's talents. His less-than-elite speed may be an issue, as could his lack of upper-body strength, which has seen him struggle against bigger receivers.
However, according to B/R's Matt Miller, NFL teams see Dennard's durability as the biggest red flag, citing the two hernia surgeries he underwent between the 2012 and 2013 seasons as a problem that could hurt his draft stock.
If Dennard does tumble down the board because of his injury history, then that will play right into the hands of San Francisco.
Indeed the 49ers, as I mentioned earlier, have rarely been averse to drafting previously injured players, and the doubts over Dennard's durability should not prevent them from seriously considering adding him to their already elite defense.