It's been said by many that Niners GM Scot McCloughan prefers drafting players based on size—the bigger the better.
I've always assumed, though, that he'd be willing to make exceptions under the right circumstances, in order to avoid missing out on a player with exceptional speed and skills that might be just a hair shorter than the competition.
Well, apparently, I've assumed wrong. Here it is in black and white from a Matthew Barrows article in the Sacramento Bee:
"I'll never lose sight of this, and maybe I'm a dinosaur in this, but it's a big man's game," said general manager Scot McCloughan . "That's from the standpoint of holding up through a season durability-wise, but also in the playoffs. You have to have some size and some power and strength, I think, to be a contender year in and year out."
Asked if after five years of drafting big-bodied players the 49ers could afford to go small, McCloughan shook his head.
Ouch. Suddenly it all made sense.
McCloughan drafted Kentawn Balmer (6'5", 315 pounds) and Chilo Rachal (6'4", 315) in the 2008 draft while the speedy, playmaking wideout DeSean Jackson (5'10", 175) remained on the board.
A quick scan of the roster was again revealing—only one offensive player on the entire roster measured below six feet. That one is Frank Gore, who is 5'9" and was drafted before McCloughan's time.
How many defensive players? One—Tarell Brown (5'10", 193)—drafted in 2007, before Scotty came on board.
In the two years he's been drafting, not one player under 6'0" has been selected by the Niners. This changes everything.
Think about the names thrown around in mock drafts and fan message boards: CJ Spiller (5'11"), Earl Thomas (5'10"), Joe Haden (5'11"), Jahvid Best (5'10").
Now forget them, because they're not playing for the Niners. Not a chance, according to our GM. No exceptions, he said it himself.
So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us with a different batch of names to consider as potential 49ers:
Taylor Mays (6'3", 230), FS, USC
Never mind what the scouting report says about his struggles in coverage, this guy has to be high up on McCloughan's board. No way this size/speed combo at a position of need is getting past No. 17.
Ryan Matthews (6'0", 220), RB, Fresno St.
Barely makes the cut at just six feet, but is well over 200 pounds, which puts him ahead of C.J. Spiller on McCloughan's board I imagine (remember, no exceptions). Matthews ran a 4.45 at the combine and was the leading rusher in the NCAA last year.
Chris Cook (6'2", 212), CB, Virginia
Improved stock greatly with a solid Senior Bowl week, followed by a successful combine at which he ran the second-fastest time among CB's at 4.46. Not considered a first-round pick, but expected to go mid-second/early-third.
Jared Veldheer (6'8", 312), OT, Hillsdale
The Niners most likely will be looking for a top-tier OT with our first pick, but should we miss out in the first or desire additional depth later, this guy will be on McCloughan's radar for sure. A Division-II standout with a huge frame, Veldheer impressed in all drills at the combine and may end up being a top-50 pick.
Terrence Cody (6'4", 354), DT, Alabama
By far the largest of the top-20 DT prospects, Cody was a standout for the National Champs. He actually weighed in at 370 for the Senior Bowl but slimmed down after receiving criticism for being overweight. Projects to be a nose tackle at the next level and is expected to be picked somewhere in the second round.
Chad Jones (6'3,230), SS, LSU
Jones was considered one of the top 10 best all-around athletes at the combine and has moved up on most draft boards, projecting to be a second-round pick. If the Niners decide that Dashan Goldson is the long term answer at free safety, then a strong safety would become an immediate need.
So there you have it—six names that are more likely to adorn the 49ers red and gold next season than many of the fan favorites because of McCloughan's size fetish.
For better or worse, this is the approach San Francisco's GM has decided to take in terms of acquiring talent via the draft. Whether or not it works remains to be seen, but 49ers fans everywhere are holding their collective breath in hopes that he knows what he's doing.