49ers Draft Stock Watch: Players Rising and Falling on San Francisco's Board
As the NFL draft nears and the evaluation process continues, the scales continue to tip in favor of some prospects while lightening for others. This can be due to poor pro days, bad interviews, mysterious postseason surgeries or even negative perception from scouts around the league. And sometimes, teams simply settle prior need positions in free agency.
The San Francisco 49ers, like all other NFL teams, have succumbed to these circumstances, as their board continues to take shape by the week.
Now that the pro days are wrapping around the nation and teams are setting their draft boards, the Niners are getting a far better idea of what's most important to their team and where they can afford to take risks. This has made for an enticing offseason so far, mostly because this team can go in several different directions with the flexibility they've provided themselves with.
That being said, let's zero in on some prospects and positions that may have influenced the thinking of the 49ers and their draft board.
Rising: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
LSU playmaker Odell Beckham Jr. comes off as the safest, most dynamic first-round-caliber wide receiver in the entire 2014 draft. His pure athleticism and talent, combined with the fundamental things he does well, translate to the next level.
And for a 49ers ballclub that has continually missed on the position and necessitates a field-stretching weapon that can contribute from Day 1—with promise to develop into a starter for 2015 and beyond—general manager Trent Baalke would be hard-pressed to find a more suitable candidate than Beckham Jr.
Right away, he can play inside and outside, complementing starting receivers Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree while bringing something different to the table.
Beckham was clocked as one of the fastest receivers at the NFL combine, throwing down a blazing 4.43 40-time, via NFL.com. He was also one of the top performers in the 20- and 60-yard short shuttles, demonstrating his control and agility. These are fantastic attributes and exactly what San Francisco is looking for.
The SEC product also brings a distinct toughness and route-running polish that perfectly fit this "No Coast" offense. If the 49ers figure Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans to be out of their range in the first round, then it’s not hard to imagine that Odell Beckham might be a major blip on their radar.
Falling: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The closer the 49ers get to May’s draft, the more likely it seems that Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans is a far cry from winding up in San Francisco.
His general draft stock is not falling, and it’s not as if his skills have diminished since the NCAA season ended, but it is about time to gauge what is possible for the 49ers in Round 1. He is a player that rebuilding teams will look to structure their offense around, not a complementary piece.
Baalke can’t go into the draft thinking this is “Option A,” or he will be sorely disappointed.
Teams like the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams, New York Giants or any of the others that need a true No. 1 wide receiver will be pressed to take him. They each have openings in their starting lineup and are settled around the top 10 to 15, which is where Evans is projected to go.
More than likely, the 49ers are beginning to divert their attention away from the big-bodied playmaker.
Rising: Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida
The University of Florida has three cornerbacks who will be draftable in May.
Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy were talked about more for much of their time with the Gators, but it is Jaylen Watkins who has emerged as the standout during the evaluation process. Reviewing his tape, it's clear to see he had a heck of a career and has a higher ceiling at the next level than his teammates.
His abilities translate better.
This is relevant to San Francisco because it is looking for a talented cornerback who can immediately contribute in the slot but also bounce outside on the boundary and compete with current corners Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver. Watkins has that versatility and skill set. He'll also charge up and hit, which is a requisite of all 11 players on this defense.
Best of all, he is a moldable player who projects to be available between the second and third rounds, where the 49ers have five draft picks.
Secondary coach Ed Donatell can turn Jaylen Watkins into a star.
Although Jaylen Watkins/Fla only ran and did not do position drills, really like him as a "value" pick. Can play corner, nickel and safety.— Phil Savage (@SeniorBowlPhil) February 26, 2014
Falling: Any Second-Tier WR
The 49ers re-signed wide receiver Kassim Osgood, which was a calculated move and a surefire guarantee that he makes the roster as the No. 5 WR. He is purely a skill player on special teams, which this team values quite a bit, and not somebody who is going to push the other receivers for offensive reps.
The team knows this and is OK with it. Coming off a heck of a season, the 49ers want Osgood there. Moreover, since the club only carries five wideouts per year, the signing further defines what San Francisco’s depth chart might look like and what their draft strategy might be.
#49ers Projected WR Depth Chart in 2014: 1. Michael Crabtree 2. Anquan Boldin 3. Quinton Patton 4. *Rookie* 5. Kassim Osgood— Dylan DeSimone (@DeSimone80) March 24, 2014
They haven’t carried six wide receivers since Jim Harbaugh arrived. And with a loaded backfield and somebody likely having to fill in for NaVorro Bowman in the beginning of the season, this team might be heavy at running back and linebacker. Not to mention, the Niners will be experimenting at cornerback and safety and may carry extra players there.
That being said, if they take a wide receiver in the first round, as many expect them to do, it’s now more unlikely that they'll take another one in the first part of the draft.
If they take another wide receiver, it will probably be in between the fifth and seventh rounds because that won’t be a huge loss if said player doesn’t make the final roster. Using a second- or third-round pick, they’re pretty much forced to find a spot for him.
Taking a second wide receiver when they’ve committed four of their usual five spots is risky unless they’re willing to change the philosophy. The numbers simply don’t add up.
If that holds true, it could include them passing on tantalizing prospects like LSU’s Jarvis Landry, Fresno State’s Davante Adams, Clemson’s Martavis Bryant and Mississippi’s Donte Moncrief in addition to that whole class of second- and third-round prospects. The 49ers simply won’t have the room on the roster.
Rising: Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida St.
San Francisco has 11 starters in its base defense, which offers flexibility heading into the draft. This is a defense that consistently ranks in the top five and can add another layer to its infrastructure with the idea of taking the best player available.
It’s a scary thought.
Now, the one true need is at cornerback, namely one who specializes inside at the slot position. The 49ers can also benefit from having a developmental safety project with a high ceiling. In that light, Florida State captain Lamarcus Joyner is a perfect selection—a two-for-one with incredible talent who can be a killer role player in Year 1.
He played both safety and cornerback in college, which gives him a versatile skill set as a defensive back.
He projects as a movable chess piece, similar to last year’s prospect Tyrann Mathieu out of LSU, whom the 49ers were attracted to. Joyner can cover shifty pass-catchers and even man up outside against bigger receivers, taking them on head-to-head, as he showed in his game versus Mike Evans at Texas A&M.
He also has incredible quickness, instincts and range, which can make him an asset on the deep part of the field.
With the free-agent signing of Antoine Bethea, there is no need to reach for a starting safety. Bethea also has the experience and smaller frame for a strong safety where he can help string Joyner along at the next level. All told, the 49ers have roster flexibility, need and the coaching staff to take a gamble on a talented tweener like Joyner.
They can deploy him right away and perhaps get an incredibly rare playmaker at strong safety down the road.
Lamarcus Joyner will measure under 5-8 at the Combine but plays so much bigger. Overcomes size limitations. Explosive athlete. Instinctive— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 18, 2014
Falling: Marcus Martin, C, USC
At one point, the 49ers looked like they’d be one of the top teams in the market for a starting center in the 2014 draft. Thirty-five-year-old Jonathan Goodwin, who had been locked into the spot for the past three seasons, had his contract expire, and there was no word of him returning.
But not long into the offseason, the team motioned to extend backup offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore, who had long been rumored to take over once Goodwin’s short-term deal was up. He was taken in Jim Harbaugh’s inaugural draft in 2011 and has been marinating for three years.
It looks like it’s his time.
And with all of this coming to fruition, the 49ers seem to be devaluing the center position in the top part of the draft.
The reason this translates to Southern California’s Marcus Martin is because he projects to be the first center off the board in May, according to the rankings at CBSSport.com, as well as the opinions of many. He’s a local guy who can start right away and upgrade an offensive line.
Martin is not one to come in and vie for the job. He would be drafted to plug in and play.
So instead, the 49ers may look to bring in a player like Weston Richburg (Colorado State), Tyler Larsen (Utah State) or Bryan Stork (Florida State) to directly compete in training camp with Kilgore. They need a capable backup and someone to light a fire under him.
These are a few of the top centers coming out this year but are the fourth- of fifth-best at their position. Given the position, they should be available in Round 5 or so, which isn’t a bad spot to pick a backup with starting potential. If the 49ers were to take Martin, he’d be a virtual lock to start, hardly giving Kilgore a fair chance.
So their draft board is altered with the extension of Kilgore.