Stock Up, Stock Down for San Francisco 49ers' Top Draft Targets
San Francisco 49ers fans understand the relativity of stock-up, stock-down projections for their team’s top draft targets.
That's especially true when they involve wide receivers.
It was only two years ago that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell read the name “A.J. Jenkins” when announcing the 49ers’ first-round draft pick.
While not quite amounting to Bill Simmons’ utter befuddlement when the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Anthony Benefit No. 1 overall, Jenkins was in no way the expected opening pick for San Francisco at No. 30 in 2012.
More prominent pass-catchers, such as Coby Fleener and Alshon Jeffery, were purportedly among those within the team’s radar.
The speedy, but smallish, receiver out of Illinois really had no stock at all.
Well, except if you’re Trent Baalke—the 49ers’ enigmatic general manager.
The operative point here is that a host of fluid, internal and largely unknown factors affect prospect standings behind the scenes. They are inherent to the predraft process.
As plugged in as ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang and other NFL insiders really are, they can only know so much regarding a team’s draft-related inclinations and preferences.
But since they remain the reputable sources on the subject, we’ll pay heed to their analyses and predictions.
So, as it relates to incoming cornerbacks and wideouts—San Francisco’s greatest positional needs in 2014—who’s rising, and who’s falling?
Here now are the current stock-up, stock-down ratings for the 49ers' top five draft targets.
Note: The draft officially gets underway on May 8—that’s just three days from now in case you hadn’t noticed.
5. Stock Even: CB Jason Verrett
Wait, what happened to the good old fashioned up or down?
In the case of Texas Christian University’s Jason Verrett, “even” is the apt descriptor.
Scouts have consistently rated the diminutive, but highly accomplished cornerback as a mid-to-late first-rounder since the start of the 2014 calendar year.
Consensus has indeed dictated his draft position landing between No. 22 and the bottom of Round 1.
The majority of analysts at CBSSports.com have him at either 22nd or 23rd, while NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks foresees him in a 49ers uniform via No. 30 overall. NFL media analyst Mike Mayock agrees—provided Baalke doesn’t trade up.
Regardless of where Verrett lands exactly, he does project within a distinct range.
For the 49ers, he is the right fit and would fill an immediate need. The 5’9’’, 189-pounder executes to levels well beyond his size and can flat-out cover from the slot and outside.
CSNBayArea.com’s Matt Maiocco labels the TCU product as an “outstanding cover man who could alleviate any concerns about the slot position.”
And the fact that Baalke hasn’t so much as mentioned his name leading up to this weekend’s draft also bodes well for Verrett’s prospects donning the red and gold.
We can all recall similar circumstances surrounding a first-round-pick-turned-rookie-Pro-Bowler in recent years.
4. Stock Down: WR Brandin Cooks
Seeing the previous prospect’s stock qualify as “even” would seemingly merit a comparable standing for this latest entry.
But we’ll cite the one true inside source: Trent Baalke. And contrary to Verrett, the 49ers GM did reference the Oregon State wideout—and he did so with negative implications.
“Brandin Cooks is vertically challenged,” said Baalke in a press conference in which Maiocco attended. “Now you’ve got to determine does he play 5-9 or does he play 6-foot? Because Steve Smith was 5-9, but he played 6-1.”
So, how does that apply to Cooks, Mr. Baalke?
There are so many things that factor into it. Then you try to get them to marry into your system. Systems matter. Some people maybe don’t agree, but I’m a firm believer systems matter. That’s why our players tend to look similar at positions. There’s a reason for that.
And there’s a reason why 5’9’’, 189 pounds isn’t similar to 6’0’’, 200-plus pounds.
Each of them can highpoint the ball and catch passes over the middle and in traffic. They can also block in the run game (or at least have the body capable of doing so).
Sure, Cooks is a “polished overall route-runner” who “possesses natural and strong hands,” according to ESPN Insider. The Biletnikoff Award-winner obviously lit up collegiate competition with an NCAA-high 1,730 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013.
But even with his tremendous accolades and class-leading 4.33 speed, fast and small-statured skill players don’t mesh well within the 49ers offense.
A.J. Jenkins didn’t work, and neither did LaMichael James. Both were extremely productive in college (especially James), yet neither one found a role in San Francisco.
Fans would love seeing a fresh dynamic addition, but Baalke, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and head coach Jim Harbaugh favor strength and power.
As such, Cooks’ stock is down.
3. Stock Up: Odell Beckham Jr.
There are certain wide receiver attributes that catch the eye of NFL decision-makers.
When talent evaluators underscore “ability to bend and get in and out of breaks, the catch radius [and] unbelievable hands,” or deem a particular prospect as “very, very, very explosive,” general managers tend to notice.
They especially notice when scouts say that said receiver has “no holes” in his game.
Well, according to scouts polled by the always reliable Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. is all that and potentially more.
Better yet, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch, via Twitter, reported that the 49ers are “very interested”—and for good reason.
Beckham is indeed the pro-ready complete package.
He can play the X, Z and slot, can return kicks and is a total force with the ball in his hands. CBSSports.com further notes his “terrific shake and burst…to beat press” and his proficiency at “elevating and extending to snare the ball from the air.”
Knowing that the 49ers met with him prior to his pro day one month ago and have maintained a keen interest as recently as last week, Beckham’s stock is up.
Expect a trade into the mid-teens on draft day if Baalke pursues the former SEC standout.
Possessing 11 picks worth of trade capital would certainly facilitate that move.
2. Stock Down: CB Justin Gilbert
This is a case of consensus No. 1 giving way to slight decline as draft weekend nears.
Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert was the unanimous pick as top cornerback among all reputable outlets since the 2013 college season ended. He still is in CBSSports.com's overall prospect rankings.
One cannot deny the playmaking prowess earned through 12 career interceptions, two returned for touchdowns and six scores off kickoffs.
Yet, the 6’0’’, 200-pounder with 4.37 speed and amazing cover skills isn’t a perfect commodity.
While still being the most physically gifted at his position, scouts told NFL media analyst Charles Davis (via Bryan Fischer of NFL.com) that “they’re not convinced he’s the best corner in this draft.” One of them even “called him a pile-inspector and not a willing blocker.”
Those are some rather scathing remarks about an otherwise immaculately rated prospect.
The 49ers would have to trade up for Gilbert one way or another. But if McShay, or Will Brinson of CBSSports.com (No. 18) are accurate, moving into the late-teens is well within their reach.
Maiocco reminds us that Baalke did the same in 2013 for Eric Reid. He also has two tradable picks in the second and third rounds in this year’s selection process.
Stock down would normally bring with it a pessimistic connotation.
However, for teams that seek upper-echelon prospects but don’t pick until the bottom of the first round, the opposite is true.
The Super Bowl-contending 49ers can only hope that such a player falls to them—because Gilbert might just solve their greatest positional deficiency and help them earn a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
1. Stock Up: Mike Evans
No wide receiver in this class can elevate higher for the ball than Mike Evans.
And now, no other receiver can say the same for his stock three days before the draft.
From CBSSports.com to ESPN Insider to NFL.com, nearly every notable mock draft pegged Evans at No. 7 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He would clearly form a lethal duo with fellow 6’5’’ wideout Vincent Jackson.
Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller projected a similar development.
Well, what Rotoworld’s Josh Norris forecasted in mid-April now finds support from the venerable Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com (via CBSSports.com).
With the fourth overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select...
Yes—Mike Evans, wide receiver, Texas A&M.
If he does go that soon after universally accepted No. 1 wideout Sammy Watkins, the 49ers will face a considerable uphill battle.
Moving into the top five would require multiple second- and third-round picks this year, not to mention a high-round selection in 2015, as outlined by Drafttek.com's Interactive Trade Chart. Even with the 49ers stockpile, that’s a massive haul for one player.
That being said, there’s little doubting the Niners’ red-zone and downfield-passing woes being eliminated by Evans.
The still-developing Colin Kaepernick could launch the ball as hard or as high or far down the gridiron, and let the 6’5’’, catch-everything target secure the pass.
He would provide Roman and Harbaugh’s offense with the aerial attack it so desperately needs.
We won’t get into the specifics of Super Bowl XLVII or last season’s NFC Championship—you get the picture.
Unfortunately, such a drastic rise in the prospect standings doesn’t necessarily equate to stock up for the Red and Gold.
As of Monday, May 2, 2014, selecting Evans in Round 1 exists in the realm of unattainable draft-day dreams.
Baalke and the 49ers must aim for a more reasonable Plan A come Thursday night.
Follow me on Twitter @jlevitt16