San Francisco 49ers: Potential Picks on Day 3 of the NFL Draft
The San Francisco 49ers had a busy day on Friday.
They used draft picks to fill needs, trading for Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson and drafting ESPN’s top-rated center, Marcus Martin, out of UCLA.
They used draft picks for value, grabbing ESPN’s top-rated running back, Carlos Hyde of Ohio State, and highly rated inside linebacker Chris Borland out of Wisconsin.
They used draft picks for the future, picking Brandon Thomas, the guard from Clemson who tore his ACL in the private predraft workout.
They used draft picks to accumulate more draft picks, as well. They now have seven picks remaining in this year’s draft, as well as Denver’s fourth-round pick in 2015, which makes up for the loss of a pick in the Stevie Johnson trade.
All in all, the 49ers are doing a solid job in this year’s draft. While they haven’t had a single pick that stood out, they’ve done a good job filling their largest needs while also grabbing talented players who might have slipped a bit down the draft board. It may be a less aggressive strategy than many expected, but it’s been a solid one so far.
They still have needs to fill on Day 3 of the draft. The front seven could use some patching up, with both an outside linebacker as insurance for Aldon Smith and a defensive end in case Tank Carradine doesn’t work out being potential selections. Another, more traditional cornerback could be selected to battle for the nickelback slot. They could also draft a developmental quarterback to battle Blaine Gabbert for the number two job.
The 49ers will almost assuredly not use all seven selections on Saturday. They simply don’t have that many needs. However, there are interesting prospects at all seven slots the 49ers could sit back and take.
Here’s one player that the 49ers should seriously consider at each of their day three draft slots. These picks are mutually exclusive; I don’t feel the 49ers should draft three outside linebackers, for instance. However, it gives the team several options to consider.
Pick No. 106: Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh
The highest-rated player remaining on my board, Savage would immediately battle with McLeod Bethel-Thompson for the third quarterback slot.
Savage isn’t game-ready yet, but he has a huge arm and boatloads of potential. The 6'4", 230-pound Savage also has the body type you’re looking for in an NFL quarterback. Despite a lack of starting experience, having missed the 2011 and 2012 seasons with transfers, he showed solid decision-making in 2013.
He needs a lot of work, of course. His accuracy is subpar, and he can sometimes lock in and stare down his intended target rather than working through his reads. He also needs to release the ball quicker, as he sometimes ends up taking sacks rather than throwing the ball away.
He’s an interesting developmental prospect. Let Jim Harbaugh work his quarterback-whispering magic on Savage, and see what develops. In a few years, he might be a legitimate quarterback who the 49ers could trade away, or use if Colin Kaepernick misses time with injuries.
Pick No. 129: Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama
Hubbard burst onto my radar at the combine, where he put up a 38.5 inch vertical jump, despite working with strains to his deltoid and right hamstring.
Hubbard in college was quicker coming out of a three-point stance than when standing up, so there’s some work for Hubbard to do to successfully transition to outside linebacker in the NFL. At 6’6” and 257 pounds, however, he’s got the body type to be worth putting in the effort—if the 49ers can help him make the transition to the next level, he could be a stud.
Hubbard is very good at using stunts when rushing the passer, and he has the strength to power through blocks if he gets a head of steam behind him. He’s fairly fast in open space, and he’s a solid tackler. I see him contributing immediately on special teams. He also has long arms, which helps him clog up passing lanes.
He’s fallen a bit because his 2013 season wasn’t as good as the season before it—it’s possible Alabama asked him to do too much in his junior year. I don’t think he’ll ever become a player of, say, Aldon Smith’s caliber, but if he returns to the form he showed in 2012, he would be a steal in the fourth round.
Pick No. 150: Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State
Bradford met with the 49ers in an official visit in the weeks before the draft. While he played both with his hand in the dirt and standing up in college, Bradford’s relatively slight frame (only 250 pounds) means he’d have to play outside linebacker in the pros.
Bradford’s very, very strong. He can lift 400 pounds, and brings that power when he rushes the quarterback. He combines this with very solid lateral movement, making him a threat in space. He gets under the pads of opposing pass-blockers and disrupts plays and was rarely, if ever, dominated by opposing blockers.
He racked up 20 sacks over his last two seasons at Arizona State, and he always seemed to be involved in plays. He’s lasted this long because of his size; he has to play outside linebacker in the pros but lacks experience dropping into coverage. Also, for all his brute strength, he can occasionally be overpowered on the field.
Few players were as productive in 2013 as Bradford was, however, so he’s worth converting into a pass-rush specialist in the NFL.
Pick No. 170: Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
The 49ers already addressed their nickelback need in the first round, taking Northern Illinois safety Jimmy Ward, but they could double-down at the position with a more traditional cornerback.
Cockrell’s a Day 3 pick because he’s not a physically imposing player. His arms are short and his hands are small, and at 6’0”, 190 pounds, he’s a bit lanky. He’s not a fantastic athlete, either; he won’t be running down the faster receivers in the league.
He’s very good at recognizing plays, however, and when he does so, he attacks with a ferocious attitude. He doesn’t bite on head fakes and double-moves, sticking to his receivers and defending with very solid technique.
Cockrell held his own in the ACC and could conceivably move into the nickelback role of San Francisco's defense, although he’d more likely be an impact player on special teams. He needs to bulk up some to really be a reliable starting cornerback.
He’s currently a zero against the run, but there’s enough interesting aspects to Cockrell’s game to make him worth a selection.
Pick No. 180: Howard Jones, OLB, Shepherd
The best prospects don’t always come from Division I schools. Shepherd is a Division II school that went undefeated in the regular season last year, led by the program's all-time sack leader, Howard Jones.
Jones put on quite a show at the combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and putting up a 40.5-inch vertical leap. He was a monster at the Division II level, clearly overpowering the competition and destroying offensive tackles. He’s explosive and has the potential to become a stud power-rusher.
As with most players from smaller schools, there’s always questions about the level of competition they faced. How much of Jones’ success was the fact he was playing against clearly inferior competition? Is he a good football player, or just a good athlete?
There’s also the question of how well he’d fit into a 3-4 system, as he was generally a defensive lineman at Shepherd.
Still, with 34 1/8” arms, Jones is the kind of prospect whom Trent Baalke likes—he does love huge wingspans. He’s worth a late-round flier, just to see what his ceiling might be.
Pick No. 243: Jonathan Newsome, DE, Ball State
Although Newsome is listed as a defensive end, he’s yet another player who might transition to the outside and play Jack linebacker.
Newsome, a first-team All-MAC player, transferred from Ohio State to Ball State after the 2010 season, in order to get more playing time. Once he was eligible to play, he quickly became a fixture in Ball State’s defense.
Newsome has a quick burst off the edge, and has decent enough lateral speed to hang with players in space. He’s a very solid tackler, leading Ball State in sacks and tackles for loss. He’s also solid, if unspectacular, in coverage.
He’s not particularly strong, and can get lost in the middle of a crowd. He had severe maturity issues at Ohio State, too, though they never reared their heads after his fresh start at Ball State. He’s a seventh-round quality player; he’d be battling to make the 53-man roster.
I just think he has enough potential to be worth checking out.
Pick No. 245: Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
Whichever team drafts Michael Sam can be prepared for a whirlwind of media coverage, but that’s not why I’m highlighting him here.
Yes, Sam’s combine performance wasn’t particularly inspiring. No, at 6’2” and 261 pounds, he doesn’t fit squarely into a role as either a defensive end or a linebacker. He’s a classic tweener, and his NFL future will be determined by whether or not he can find a position to fit his strengths.
The fact remains that he was an incredibly productive player in his last season in college, winning co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors while putting up 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. He’s also got solid speed as a pass-rusher. I don’t think he’ll ever become a starter in the NFL, but he can contribute on special teams and as a rotational pass-rusher.
Let’s face it, seventh-round picks rarely make an impact anyway. The most productive seventh-rounder the 49ers have found in the past decade is probably Larry Grant, who didn’t even make the 49ers’ roster out of training camp.
I’m willing to take a seventh-round flier on a player who proved he could contribute at an elite level collegiately. If he doesn’t turn into anything in the pros, it doesn’t really matter. What they'd most need him for is depth, however, and I think Sam can provide that in the NFL.