The 2014 NFL draft is finally upon us, and after months and months of speculation, it is time for the franchises to take center stage and make their first-round selections.
One franchise that has certainly generated a lot of chatter in the pre-draft process is the San Francisco 49ers, who have a total of 11 selections this year.
Six of those picks are in the top 100, meaning that the 49ers are prime candidates to trade up in the first round and add another premier prospect to a team already filled with All-Pro caliber talent.
The 2014 draft class is well stocked with an array of extremely promising players at the wide receiver and cornerback positions, both of which are areas of need for San Francisco, and therefore the 49ers will have a number of impressive prospects to choose from when they make their first-round selection.
But whose name will be called when the Niners decide on their pick? Here I analyze the player I think will be the first drafted by San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke.
The Pick: Odell Beckham Jr. Wide Receiver - LSU
Size: 5'11", 198 pounds
Many would argue that the 49ers have a greater need at the cornerback spot, but even with the departures of Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers further depleting the secondary, San Francisco's defense is still likely to be among the best in the NFL in 2014, just as it was in 2013.
By contrast, the 49ers' offensive struggles were a primary reason for a number of their defeats last season, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick failing to build a rapport with any receivers other than Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis.
San Francisco has added Brandon Lloyd to its ranks in the offseason, but the fact remains that the Niners need a long-term insurance policy at receiver.
And LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. has the talent to add another dimension to the 49ers' passing attack.
Ranked as the No. 3 receiver in the draft by NFL.com's draft guru Mike Mayock, Beckham has been touted as a potential mid first-round pick by a number of analysts.
Indeed, CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler and NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah both have Beckham being selected by the New York Jets with pick No. 18, the same spot that the 49ers traded into last year to grab LSU free safety Eric Reid.
San Francisco has the ammunition to jump into the same position again this year, and there are a number of reasons why it should replicate that move to secure Beckham's services.
Speed and production
One thing that the 49ers' passing attack has lacked in recent years is speed.
Beckham does not possess the electric pace of the likes of Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and Colorado's Paul Richardson, but this a player with magnificent acceleration and terrific burst, which he showcased at the NFL Scouting Combine, clocking a 40-yard dash time of 4.43 seconds.
The 21-year-old used his wheels to his advantage during his collegiate career with LSU, which he finished with over 2,300 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Most of that production came in Beckham's final year in Baton Rouge, La. as he totaled an impressive 57 receptions for 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns while competing in the extremely competitive SEC Western Division.
Beckham was deservedly honored as a third-team All-American for his performances in 2013, and the fact that he was able to put up such gaudy numbers in college football's toughest conference will appeal to a 49ers team that, according to ESPN, has the fourth most difficult schedule in the NFL in 2014.
Yards after the catch
Beckham's speed may be a major selling point, but it is the way he uses his quick feet that makes him such a major potential asset for NFL teams.
An extremely decisive runner, Beckham proved adept at creating yards after the catch, a trait which is evidenced in the film from the games against Georgia and Mississippi State.
In each game, Beckham was able to turn a short-to-medium gain into a big play, creating a touchdown against Mississippi State from a short pass from Zach Mettenberger.
What also stands out about Beckham is his ability to go up and pluck the ball out of the air.
At 5'11", Beckham does not have the ideal height for a wide receiver; however, he was regularly able to out-jump opposing corners for the ball and display incredibly soft hands to make the grab once in position to do so.
An occasional tendency toward dropped passes is a minor concern when evaluating Beckham, but it is plain to see that this is a receiver who has all the tools to succeed in the NFL as a pass-catcher, while his ability to contribute in the return game gives him the potential to be a versatile weapon in multiple facets of the game.
How does he fit in with the Niners' offense?
San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh has openly expressed his desire for a third receiver, per ESPN.com's Bill Williamson, revealing that the 49ers are keen to bring in "a third guy that can get open, make plays."
On the face of things, it is difficult to see where the 49ers will fit in another receiver. As Williamson explains, San Francisco ran the least three-receiver sets of anybody in the NFL in 2013. That is no surprise, though, considering that, with Crabtree injured for much of the campaign, the 49ers did not have the receivers capable of troubling defenses in order to run those sets effectively.
The presence of Beckham would change that, and there is no doubt that he has all the capabilities to be that extra option that Kaepernick so evidently lacked last season.
This is a player that Kaepernick can afford to have immediate confidence in, knowing that he has safe hands, the ability to potentially turn short gains into huge plays and the speed to go deep and successfully compete for the ball in the air.
Simply put, Beckham is an excellent fit for a team looking to add another dimension to its offense and, if he is to be drafted by the 49ers, will have the chance to learn from three players that have been there and done it in the form of Boldin, Crabtree and Lloyd.
San Francisco has already recognized Beckham's considerable abilities, showing significant interest in selecting him in the middle of the first round, according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
It would be wise for the 49ers to follow up on that interest by making the move up the board to acquire this NFL-ready receiver, and with the draft stacked with underrated cornerbacks likely to available in the later rounds, San Francisco should be able to execute such a trade and still fill the other holes in its roster.
Last year, the Niners pulled off a big move to bring an LSU player to the Bay, that proved to be an extremely astute acquisition, and I fully expect Baalke to do the same in 2014 and add this exceptional offensive prospect to their roster as San Francisco looks make the small leap from perennial contender to Super Bowl champion.
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