5 Names Every 49ers Fan Needs to Know Before the 2014 NFL Draft
With the NFL draft just days away, the sense of relief is starting to settle in. After months and months of mock drafts, we can finally see the real deal this Thursday.
Don't worry, this isn't another mock draft. You see, I want San Francisco 49ers fans to get acquainted with prospects who could be on general manager Trent Baalke's radar.
Most fans understand the 49ers' needs at cornerback and receiver, so it shouldn't be a surprise that these two positions dominate the list. Of course, Baalke could definitely veer away from conventional thinking.
As we all know, he somewhat marches to the beat of his own drum.
Regardless, it's a good bet that Baalke has his eye on these five prospects.
Let's get started!
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
While some prefer Justin Gilbert as their top corner, I think that title should go to Darqueze Dennard. In fact, Dennard is a top-10 talent in this draft.
Of course, this is only my opinion.
The former Michigan State product is one of the more complete prospects in the selection process. On film, Dennard reminds me of a younger Darrelle Revis.
If you want a physical press man corner, Dennard is your man. He doesn't have the top-notch physical tools you desire from the position, but his exceptional instincts and intelligence give him the edge over many of his draft peers.
Now, there are some concerns. For example, I wouldn't want Dennard in a zone-based scheme. He has the awareness to play this style of football, but Michigan State didn't really incorporate a ton of zone.
Outside of that, Dennard has no glaring weaknesses that pop out on tape.
No prospect is perfect, but this one is as close as you're going to get. The price of perfection will be steep, however.
The 49ers will have to make quite a leap to secure his services. Sitting at No. 30, Baalke may have to move up 15 or possibly 20 spots in the first round. With the plethora of picks at their disposal, this scenario isn't implausible.
Dennard could also drop in the draft, but I just can't see him getting past the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 15.
Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
While Dennard and Justin Gilbert top my draft rankings at cornerback, Kyle Fuller could be the 49ers' first-round selection come May 8. They may even have to move up in the first round to acquire the former Virginia Tech product.
The 49ers leaped up 13 spots to acquire Eric Reid last season, and we could see a similar move in 2014. Like Reid, Fuller is flying under the radar in the media circle.
Reid was also overshadowed by the flashier safeties despite a rather impressive resume at LSU. Prior to the 49ers selecting Reid, I can't imagine anyone predicted he would land in the top 20.
Fuller has the height, length and experience to be an instant impact player at the next level. He has the versatility to also be effective in both man and zone coverage. Fuller is also a solid run support corner.
Nevertheless, Fuller would still need a season or two before becoming a full-time starter. In the meantime, the 49ers will likely use him in nickel and sub packages. Additionally, he also has special teams experience as a gunner at Virginia Tech.
Like Beckham, I wouldn't move up to acquire his services. While talented, Fuller doesn't have the same ceiling as a Dennard or Gilbert.
Fuller would be a great value selection at the end of the first round.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Odell Beckham Jr.'s draft stock has skyrocketed over the last two months. Beckham is a legitimate top-20 pick in most eyes, and at the very least, he's a definite Day 1 selection.
Now, Beckham doesn't have the size you're looking for in a No. 1 receiver, but he brings everything else to the table. He has great length (32 3/4"), fluidity and explosiveness to dominate either as a slot or "Z" receiver.
Outside of Sammy Watkins, Beckham is the best run-after-catch receiver in this draft. He can take a simple slant play and turn it into chunk yardage. He will also be a major contributor on special teams, as both a punt and kick returner.
I personally wouldn't move up in the draft for Beckham, but if he can be had at the bottom of the first round, Baalke would likely sprint to the podium.
Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
Pierre Desir is one name to watch as the NFL draft approaches. Once considered a late-round prospect, Desir could now easily go as early as the second round.
At 6'1", 198 pounds, Desir boasts rare physical tools at the corner position. He has excellent height, length (33") and athleticism to match up against No. receivers at the next level.
What makes scouts giddy is his versatility in press man schemes or zone coverage. Desir's natural athleticism allows him to flourish in both schemes. Not to mention he's a superb ball hawk.
Desir's straight-line speed is a concern for some; however, it doesn't seem to show on film.
That brings me to another concern: Desir played against inferior competition at the Division II level, which could hurt him in the NFL.
Some players outside of Division I adapt to the level of play in the NFL, while most fold. The question is, into which category does Desir fall?
Regardless, he should be on Baalke's radar as a potential Day 2 selection.
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
Cody Latimer's draft stock has been soaring over the last few weeks. The 49ers in particular have taken notice of the former Indiana receiver.
49ers wide receiver coach John Morton personally worked with Latimer last week, per NFL.com's Gil Brandt. Possible clue?
Like Desir, Latimer has scouts drooling over his physical intangibles. At 6'2" and 215 pounds, he has exceptional athleticism and length to play outside the numbers. His shiftiness and quickness should also serve him well in the slot and at flanker.
Latimer's best attribute? His hands, by far.
Latimer not only has soft hands, but he also possesses the physicality to beat press coverage at the next level; that should serve him well against the more physical NFC West corners.
Additionally, he is also an exceptional blocker.
The 49ers could target Latimer at the end of the first round, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the former Indiana product will be long gone before selection No. 30. However, as a Day 2 pick, Latimer would bring exceptional value.