San Francisco 49ers: Final 2014 NFL Draft Big Board
It’s finally here. The 2014 NFL Draft will start at 8 p.m. ET tonight, and finally, the months of draft speculation will come to an end.
For a team like the San Francisco 49ers, which has a lot of picks and not much need, a mock draft probably isn’t the best format for determining their pick. After all, there’s no guarantee that they’ll even pick at their slot, all the way down at No. 30. It’s far more likely they’ll move up and down the draft board, targeting players that they like with their massive stockpile of picks.
Because the 49ers are likely to be so mobile, I find it’s better to have a big board rather than a mock draft. The concept behind a big board is simple. Players are ranked by a combination of overall talent and team need. The team would take the top player on the board when they’re on the clock, no matter if that’s at No. 30, trading up to the top 10, or falling back into the second round.
I’ve done this exercise twice before, but a lot of things can change in a month and a half. With the draft upon us, it’s a good time take one final look at the 30 players the 49ers would be most likely to draft. I’ll compare their stock to where they were on the previous big boards, determine which players are just out of San Francisco’s reach and determine where they would have to trade to get some of the biggest names.
- Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (Last month: 1)
- Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (Last month: 5)
- Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M (Last month: 3)
- Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo (Last month: 4)
- Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State (Last month: 6)
- Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State (Last month: 2)
- Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn (Last month: 7)
- Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech (Last month: 10)
- Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU (Last month: 15)
- Jason Verrett, CB, TCU (Last month: 14)
- Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State (Last month: 11)
- Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (Last month: 13)
- Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (Last month: 8)
- Marqise Lee, WR, USC (Last month: 9)
- Blake Bortles, QB, UCF (Last month: 16)
- Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (Last month: 17)
- Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana (Last month: NR)
- Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State (Last month: 23)
- Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (Last month: 26)
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama (Last month: NR)
- Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina (Last month: 25)
- Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA (Last month: 19)
- Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (Last month: NR)
- C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama (Last month: 20)
- Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia (Last month: NR)
- Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State (Last month: 22)
- Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech (Last month: 29)
- Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame (Last month: NR)
- Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri (Last month: 24)
- Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville (Last month: 12)
We’re starting with the full list of 30 players on one slide. You can have this list open during the actual draft and take players off one by one as they’re taken. It will help you keep abreast on which prospects are still available as the draft goes by in real time.
Also included is the rank the players had the last time I did this list, after the first wave of free agency. That’ll help you see which players' stocks have risen and fallen in the final run up to the draft.
Dropped off: Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State; Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson; Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville; Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State; Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
15. Blake Bortles, UCF
23. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
30. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
The 49ers could use a backup quarterback in the draft. They did trade a sixth-round pick for Blaine Gabbert, but Gabbert hasn’t shown anything in his NFL career to bring comfort to San Francisco fans should Colin Kaepernick miss any time.
That being said, using a first-round pick on a quarterback would be rather silly. You want your first-round pick to contribute on the field sooner rather than later, and no rookie would bump Kaepernick off of his starting perch so soon.
Furthermore, there are enough quarterback-hungry teams out there that the likes of Bortles and Manziel won’t fall anywhere near the 30th pick, making this somewhat of a moot point.
Bridgewater, on the other hand, is in danger of slipping out of the first round altogether. If he was the best player available at the 30th pick, the 49ers could trade down with a Houston, Jacksonville, Oakland or Minnesota at the top of the second round.
It makes sense for both clubs. The 49ers would get an extra third-round pick, while the other team would get a first-round quarterback, meaning they would have a fifth-year option on Bridgewater, should he develop into something special.
1. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
3. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
9. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
11. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
14. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
17. Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
21. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
26. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
If the 49ers had their pick of the draft class, they’d take Watkins. While cornerback is a slightly larger need for the team, no one would have a more immediate impact on the team’s fortunes than the all-around stud from Clemson.
Trading up for Watkins would require mortgaging several draft classes to come, and even Mike Evans is getting enough buzz to possibly push him out of San Francisco’s price range. The most likely trade targets, then, would be Beckham or Cooks, who are likely to go somewhere in the middle of the draft.
Cooks is an undersized lightning bolt, while Beckham is a yards-after-catch machine. Both would find quick homes in the starting lineup.
Sitting back at No. 30, the fast-rising Cody Latimer could be the selection. Recovering from a foot injury, Latimer couldn’t appear at the combine, but blew away scouts at his Pro Day. No one has moved up draft boards in the past few months like Latimer.
Kelvin Benjamin will likely be available at the top of the second round, but not where the 49ers are picking. If they go with a different direction with their first-round pick, they could bundle their two second-round selections up to take Benjamin in the low-40s.
7. Greg Robinson, Auburn
12. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
16. Taylor Lewan, Michigan
25. Morgan Moses, Virginia
The 49ers have no immediate need at offensive tackle, with Joe Staley and Anthony Davis anchoring the line at either end. They could use another interior lineman, however. Jonathan Goodwin wasn’t re-signed, and Mike Iupati’s contract is up next year.
There are no interior linemen the 49ers would really consider this early, however. They could very well wait until the third or fourth rounds and take a center there. That just leaves the top four tackles, who will all likely be gone before pick No. 20. If one of them somehow slid all the way down to the 49ers’ selection, they’d be considered, but that’s not a likely scenario.
Like the Bridgewater situation at quarterback, a player like Moses dropping to 30 could see the 49ers trade back with a team like the Atlanta Falcons, in order to get more picks in the fourth round.
2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
19. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
28. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
29. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Say hello to Jadeveon Clowney, and then say goodbye to Jadeveon Clowney. He’s the one player in the draft the 49ers have absolutely no shot at getting; even if they were to make a trade up to number one, they would end up taking Watkins over him. He’s the best player in the draft, which is why he ranks so high on the 49ers’ draft board. But other teams have more need at that position.
If a run happens at both cornerback and receiver in the first round, the 49ers could get a solid consolation prize in either Tuitt or Ealy. It’s not plan A by any means, but walking away with either player wouldn’t be a disaster.
Tuitt’s a bigger player, and would probably project to defensive line behind Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. With Tuitt and Tank Carradine waiting to take over the starting end positions over the next few years, the defensive line would be in good hands.
Ealy, on the other hand, probably would move to outside linebacker in the 49er’s 3-4 system. The 49ers did pick up Aldon Smith’s option for 2015, making this less of a need. However, when you have a player with as many off-field incidents as Smith, grabbing a backup may not be the worst idea in the world.
4. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
18. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
22. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
24. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
27. Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
The 49ers need is at outside linebacker, not inside linebacker. NaVorro Bowman’s injury is serious, but not career-ending. Mosley would be a luxury pick then, but he’s the top inside linebacker in the class, and a serious talent.
You can always use more pass rushers, though, no matter what the outcome to Aldon Smith’s legal situation. While Khalil Mack would be prohibitively expensive to trade up for, the other three linebackers could see themselves fall into San Francisco’s lap late in the draft.
Jeremiah Attaochu isn’t getting as much buzz as some of his rivals, and I can’t really understand why. He’s not quite as strong as Shazier or Barr, but he’s disruptive and quick, with good pass-rush moves to both the inside and outside. He’s the best player I feel sure will be there at No. 30—I can’t guarantee which specific receiver or cornerback will fall that far, but I think even in the worst case scenario, Attaochu would be available.
5. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
6. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
8. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
10. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
13. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
20. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The order of the top-five cornerbacks is probably the least solid ranking of any positional group. Pretty much everyone agrees that Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, in that order, are the top wide receivers, while no one will argue that Jadeveon Clowney isn’t the top defensive end.
Ask five people to rank the top-five cornerbacks, however, and you’re likely to get five different answers.
I imagine either Verrett or Roby will fall down to the 30th slot, so San Francisco’s draft strategy might be to take either one of those players and then use the two second-round picks to trade up for Kelvin Benjamin to solve the wide receiver issue.
All five players are within trade-up range, so it could easily become a question of which receiver the 49ers end up liking best.
Looking for the best overall athlete? You’re probably taking Justin Gilbert.
Looking for a more polished player, albeit one on the shorter side? Darqueze Dennard is your man.
Want a combination of polish and size, and view speed as unnecessary? Kyle Fuller could be the one for you.
Verrett’s the smallest of the bunch, but is explosive. He’s probably a rung down from the top three, but will be cheaper to go get.
That leaves us with Roby, who could either be the best cornerback in the class or a total bust. He’s quick, with good size and tackling ability, but can be inconsistent and has had recent off-field issues.
It’s the position of greatest need for the 49ers, but the class as a whole is ordinary. I’d normally say definitely take a receiver first, but the class of receivers in the second-round top the available cornerbacks there.
If I’m the 49ers, I’m sitting back at 30 to take one of the top-five cornerbacks or a pass rusher, and then trading up to get a receiver at the top of the second round.