One area where the 49ers have long needed an upgrade is a game-breaking receiver. They've lacked such a threat since Terrell Owens left town. Josh Morgan could conceivably have that rare combination of size and speed but it is waaaaay too soon to make that sort of judgment. Mock drafts (to be updated later today) have been starting to project Missouri burner Jeremy Maclin to the 49ers (and many even higher) and people have started clamoring for the man with the sub-4.3 40.
Given that, now seemed as good a time as any to put together a scouting report. SB Nation has a Mizzou blog, RockMNation, and they've been producing Maclin-related reports for several other teams including our Jags and Titans bloggers. I've compiled that info, along with some additional info to help us get a better idea about the speedster from Mizzou. He certainly seems talented, but I have questions about whether he's a guy the 49ers should really be targeting at #10.
If you take the numbers by themselves, clearly he's a beast. He led the nation in all purpose yards per game with 202.4 per game. He finished sixth in the nation with 102 receptions and eleventh with 1,260 yards. He runs a 4.29 40, and if he can come anywhere close to that at the Combine, he'll be in good shape. Of course, we know the numbers can't be examined in a vacuum. Missouri runs a spread offense that finished fourth in the nation in passing. One has to factor in this and other issues when looking at Maclin.
On his skills strictly as a wide receiver (as opposed to return man):
Because of Maclin's sheer athleticism and speed, people seem to completely overlook what a great set of hands the kid has. I can't recall one dropped pass or one sideline throw within reason where he wasn't able to go up and get it and establish himself in bounds. He's shown the ability to go get the ball at its highest point, and, like I said earlier, go over the middle with continued success.
If there's one concern with Maclin, though, it has to be the power that runs with (or without). I couldn't count the number of HUGE plays that might had been over the last two seasons if Maclin had been able to keep his feet. In open space, no one is going to catch the guy. But if you can get close enough to trip him up or knock him off-balance, the guy is almost more than likely to go down. He's never really shown an ability to fight through tackles, and I think that and his size are really the only two red flags I see in his game.
On his toughness:
His toughness is hard to evaluate because it is hard to define. Outside of the blown knee in 2006 and missing a quarter or so of the 2008 season opener, Maclin never really missed any significant time. However, Maclin did seem to have a tendency to get "nicked up" rather often. I could probably count six or seven times over two years that J-Mac was slow to get up, hobbled to the sideline, or favored a bruised shoulder. Maclin never seemed fazed by it, though, as he was usually back on the field making plays a play or two later. I would never question Maclin's mental toughness though. He's shown a remarkably cool head in his time at Mizzou, and despite being an "explosive" breed of receiver, he's gone over the middle and into traffic whenever asked and performed at a very high level. He got rocked going over the middle a number of times in his career, only to bounce back up and torch those same defenders later in the game.
On his work ethic:
I've never heard a bad word about Maclin's work ethic. Maclin was a transcendent type of athlete for Mizzou in 2007, so no one would have had any concern if he strolled into 2008 as that same player. What was scary, though, is that he didn't become complacent. He added weight and worked with coaches relentlessly, improving his route running and his mental handle of the game. QB Chase Daniel and the Missouri coaches were effusive about Maclin's offseason work, again quoting how "scary" it was how much Maclin had improved.
As far as his character is concerned, Maclin is supposedly one of the most genuine, down-to-earth people you could ever meet. Maclin comes from a well-reported background, one that only further endeared him to a fan base who needed no excuse to embrace him anyway. When Maclin cried at the press conference announcing his decision to turn pro, a part of all Missouri fans cried with him. He cited how much he loved the Missouri "family," and for that, the Missouri family will always love him.
The general consensus seems to be that his primary weakness is his route-running, in part because of the spread offense. I definitely want to do some more research on the subject. The good news about that problem (hopefully) is that I'd like to think route running is an easier issue to correct than general toughness or hands problems.
Why the 49ers should draft him
There are questions about his route-running, but as they say, you can't teach 4.29 speed. Although it might be a bit of a gamble, Maclin could be the game-breaking receiver the 49ers passed on in Desean Jackson last year. Maclin might be a touch slower than Jackson, but he more than makes up for it in size, at 6-1 200lbs. Furthermore, he'd give the 49ers a return man to replace Allen Rossum. The ability of a returner to change the momentum of a game is huge and is one reason I would be fine with the 49ers drafting him.
Why the 49ers should not draft him
The 49ers have bigger concerns to address with the 10th than wide receiver. If a guy like Michael Crabtree it would make sense to take him. However, Maclin might not be the complete receiver that Crabtree is. In college, a burner can take advantage of numerous mismatches. However, as one announcer said early in Desean Jackson's Philly career, "They all run 4.4 40s up here." The 49ers have enough talent to build on at wide receiver and shouldn't roll the dice with such a high pick.
After the jump, I've posted some YouTube highlight videos of Maclin.
Jeremy Maclin 2008 Preview
Redshirt year debut
Jeremy Maclin "Official" Highlight Reel
Jeremy Maclin Highlights