Well ... I certainly stirred things up a few days ago with my article concerning the trade of Alex Smith! Maybe I can stir it up again! Been doing quite a bit of homework on this year's draft prospects but it's obviously way too early to put together a mock draft that will come anywhere close to reality in terms of representing the "final" prospect rankings. The East/West Game and the Senior Bowl competitions (not just the games, but primarily the practices) separated some of the wheat from the chaff, but there's a lot of refining to be done at the Combine (February 23-26) and the following individual Pro Days. But hell, why should that stop us from having some fun anyway? Knowing full well that prospect rankings will change A LOT, dramatically in some cases, between now and the draft (April 25-27), let's just go with what we know right now.
Ah, yes ... prospect rankings. That's a problem! Why? Because there are as many varying opinions out there as there are writers and bloggers. Who to believe? Just for the sake of argument I'm going to go with NFLDraftScout's prospect rankings ... because they've got more feet on the street, earlier, than anybody else OTHER THAN THE NFL TEAMS THEMSELVES. And, over the last five years or so I have found their opinions to be closer to reality than most others. That doesn't mean that they're smarter than anybody else but they have done more homework sooner than others have. Thus, the prospect rankings that I will use in this mock draft are based upon NFLDraftScout's prospect rankings as of February 7th.
DISPOSITION OF NINERS' 2013 FREE AGENTS
Quite obviously the Niners' strategy in the forthcoming draft will be effected by which of their free agents are re-signed and which are released. Thus, we can't do a mock without making some assumptions concerning the free agent decisions. The Niners have 12 restricted and unrestricted free agents this spring ... 4 on offense and 8 on defense.
Free Agents on Offense
Surprise! I would NOT re-sign any of the 4 FAs on offense ... G Leonard Davis, WR/KR Ted Ginn, WR Randy Moss or TE Delanie Walker. The reasons for Davis and Ginn are probably obvious. Moss? I considered re-signing him until seeing his attitude and hearing his comments at the SB Press Day; I thought that he could tutor two tall WRs that I expect to draft, but after hearing of his unhappiness, who needs it? Walker? This is a tough call. No question that he has been a big contributor to the Niners, but I've reached the point of believing that his drops in the last two years have just cost us too many games ... seemingly he has forgotten how to catch the football at times; I'd like to see a taller, more reliable TE who can become a mid-distance and Red Zone target for Kaep and I think that we can do that in this draft.
Free Agents on Defense
Conversely, of the 8 free agents on defense, I would try to re-sign 6 of them and release 2. I would release OLB Clark Haggans and DB Darcel McBath. Shouldn't be much of a surprise ... neither contributed much this year; and, I think that we can do better than McBath in the draft. My simple philosophy is that older guys must produce in order to stay on the roster ... if they're not producing, give a younger (and presumably cheaper) guy with upside an opportunity.
On the defensive line, I re-sign (if possible) both NT Isaac Sopoaga and DL Ricky Jean-Francois ... but NOT to long term deals. I see each of them playing one-two more years until our draftees take over. I'm sure that I will get some flack here but, while I enjoy RJF as a person, I just have never thought that he was NFL starter caliber.
At inside linebacker, I re-sign (again, if possible) both Larry Grant and Tavares Gooden ... both have been contributors. However, at the end of training camp, I expect that one of them could lose his job to Michael Wilhoite.
In the defensive backfield, I re-sign CB Tramaine Brock, our only Restricted Free Agent, While he's not a major contributor, I'm basically delaying my roster decision until the end of training camp ... maybe he makes it, maybe he doesn't. Now ... S Dashon Goldson. I agree with Harbaugh, he deserves to be rewarded with a long term contract ... but for a REASONABLE amount, certainly NOT "Eric Weddle money." If he refuses the offer, I franchise him again. One other thing ... eventually I would like to move Goldson to the SS position. Why? To take more advantage of his run-defense skills and avoid the exploitation of his pass-defense shortcomings.
Other Veteran Dispositions
While not free agents, there are other veterans that I expect to be gone from the current roster. If you read my article concerning the trading of Alex Smith, you know that I actually proposed a trade package: QB Alex Smith, OLB Parys Haralson and S Trenton Robinson to the New York Jets in exchange for the Jets' #9 pick in the upcoming draft. Finally, many thanks for your contributions, particularly in the 2011 season, but David Akers, we need to make a change ... happy retirement!
NINERS' DRAFT STRATEGY
I think that many, if not most, fans believe that the Niners have one of the deepest, most complete rosters of any team in the NFL ... some have said that it's the very best. Obviously we will need to address the loss of traded or released free agents as discussed above, but otherwise, in my opinion, there is no one position that is so weak that it requires the need for multiple draft picks to "solve the problem." We have a well-balanced roster. Therefore, continued strengthening of the roster can best be done by adding depth at a number of positions, but including replacing free agents not re-signed. Concerning the "replacement" of Alex Smith and Parys Haralson:
1. Quarterback position: In my opinion, it makes no sense to draft a QB prospect from the weak class in this draft. The downside of Kaep's mobility is his increased exposure to possible injury. We cannot go into next season with a QB roster of Kaep, the inexperienced Tolzien, and a rookie. That could end up being a disaster! I think that the right move is to sign a young, but veteran free agent QB ... I like Josh Johnson as our #2/#3 QB.
2. Outside Linebacker position: I don't see us drafting an OLB THIS YEAR ... I think that we should give the opportunity to the injury-recovered Darius Fleming and Cam Johnson, both draftees last year.
3. Backup Swing Tackle position: While we were able to make it through the entire 2012 season without a backup OT on the roster, that's a risky strategy. Further, I don't like the idea of relying on an inexperienced rookie to fill that role. So, other than Josh Johnson, I would propose signing one more free agent ... an experienced but relatively cheap swing tackle; the guy that I have in mind interviewed with the Niners last off season for the RG postion but signed a one-year deal with Minnesota and probably will be available ... Geoff Schwartz.
Given the depth and strength of the existing roster, even without the released players, I don't see the possibility of more than maybe 8 or 9 draftees being able to make the final cut to 53 players. But we'll have six or more additional picks available to us ... what about that? I see those additional picks as being used in one of three ways:
1. Use one or more to move up in a given round to be sure that we get the guy that we really want.
2. Use one or more on "flyer picks" ... for guys that are unpolished but that have a lot of upside potential; draft them with a low-round pick to participate in training camp and then be assigned to the Practice Squad for further development.
3. If not used on 1. or 2., trade them for higher-round picks in the 2014 draft.
DRAFT PICKS RESULTING FROM THE ALEX SMITH TRADE
I know full well that not all of you agree with my conclusions with respect to Alex's trade value and the resulting impact ... but I've got to go with something, right or wrong. Since I'm the guy that's writing this article, here's how I would HOPE that it plays out:
1. As proposed in my other article, we trade QB Alex Smith, OLB Parys Haralson and S Trenton Robinson to the New York Jets in exchange for their #9 pick in the forthcoming draft.
2. The St. Louis Rams' biggest needs in this draft are LOT, WR and OLB. There are a number of good prospects at the latter two positions in the draft; however, the quality of the LOT prospects drops off very fast ... in NFLDraftScout's rankings --- #1, #6, #11, and #51; #29 and #57 are ROTs only. Next, note that the Rams have TWO first round picks (#16 and #22) in this draft. Since 4 of the teams with the top 11 draft picks are looking for a LOT, it's not likely that the Rams will get a shot at any of the top three LOT prospects. All together now ... "Awwwww, too bad!" But wait ... it's Trent Baalke to the rescue! He offers to give the Rams an opportunity to draft one of the top three LOT prospects before San Diego (at #11) can get the third guy (Lane Johnson). Simple ... we trade the #9 pick from the Jets to St. Louis in exchange for their #16 pick and a second (or third) round pick. A good deal for them because they get Johnson and a top WR at #22. A good deal for us because we can still get the guy we want at #16 and we get another second (or third) round pick. OK, I accept the fact that many of you will think that I'm smokin' crack, but in fact this is the kind of thinking that goes on by NFL GMs all the time. And, since I'm writing this, I'm saying that this is what happens.
To summarize, we now sit with the following draft picks:
Round 1 -- #16 (Rams via Jets), #31
Round 2 -- #55 (Rams), #61
Round 3 -- #74 (Carolina), #93, #+/-100 (Compensation)
Round 4 -- #125
Round 5 -- #150 (Indianapolis). #157
Round 6 -- #172 (Miami), #189
Round 7 -- #212 (Cincinnati), #221, #230 (Compensation), #23X (Compensation), #24X (Compensation)
GULP!!! That's a shitload of draft picks!!
DRAFT NEEDS BY POSITION
I see our prioritized positional needs like this:
- 1. TE -- to replace Delanie Walker.
- 2. WR -- to replace Moss and Ginn.
- 3. C -- to prepare for the departure of Goodwin IF we don't believe that Kilgore or Looney is the guy.
- 4. RB -- to prepare for the departure of Gore as the "bell cow" running back; I see Hunter and James as being very good COPRBs, but not big/tough enough to take the every-down beating of a 19 game season; Dixon is a short-yardage "hammer" and special teams guy, but not Gore's replacement.
- 1. DE -- to provide more rotational substitution and to prepare for Justin's eventual retirement.
- 2. NT -- to provide more rotational substitution and to prepare for Isaac's eventual departure.
- 3. FS -- to provide for the opportunity to move Dashon to the SS position in the future.
- 4. CB -- to prepare for Carlos' eventual departure; besides, can you ever have too many competent CBs?
On special teams:
- 1. K -- David is almost 39, has become too unreliable, and is a cap problem.
PRE-COMBINE MOCK DRAFT
So ... given all of the above assumptions and explanations, here's how I see that all playing out:
Key to Selection -- left to right: Position, Name, School, Height, Weight, 40-yard time, NFLDrafttScout ranking
"REGULAR" SELECTIONS (guys that I expect to make the 53-man final roster):
Round 1 / Pick 16 (Rams via Jets): TE Zach Ertz (Stanford) 6'6" 252 4.79 26
Why a TE here? There are at least five teams looking for a TE in this draft ... Atlanta, N.Y. Giants, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, and maybe even Green Bay. There are only two outstanding TE prospects in this draft and Ertz is the best; he will NOT last until Pick #31.
Round 1 / Pick 31: DE Datone Jones (UCLA) 6'4" 280 4.84 21 (if still available)
DT/DE Jesse Williams (Alabama) 6'4" 320 5.28 22 (if Jones has already been selected)
Round 2 / Pick 55 (Rams): WR Quinton Patton (Louisiana Tech) 6'1" 202 4.56 56
Quoting from one of his scouting reports: "... good size, good speed, reliable hands, good body control, great acceleration / reaches top speed quickly, willing and competent blocker, smooth in and out of routes, durable player, catches ball and turns up field immediately, shows the quickness and agility to be effective against press coverage, ran a variety of routes, a threat to make a play after the catch." Maybe he's the guy that Jenkins was supposed to be.
Round 2 / Pick 61: NT Brandon Williams (Missouri Southern State) 6'3" 341 5.10 71
3-time Division II All American; Division II Defensive Player of the Year; 27 career sacks as a NT; outstanding play in this year's Senior Bowl.
Round 3 / Pick 74 (Carolina): CB Darius Slay (Mississippi State) 6'1" 190 4.37 87
"... long arms, good anticipation, above-average hands (former WR), good coverage awareness and closing speed, very good instincts ..." CB Jonathan Banks got all the pub at MSU, but Slay played just as well.
Round 3 / 93: RB Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina) 6'0" 220 4.46 (before injury) 88 (if sufficiently recovered)
RB Stepfan Taylor (Stanford) 5'10" 215 4.57 122 (if Lattimore not sufficiently recovered or questionable)
Most of you know the Lattimore story; he attended the Senior Bowl to meet scouts but didn't play; latest reports are that he is now doing squats and leaps as part of his rehab program; he plans to participate (as much as possible) in the Combine activities. My thought would be to take our doctors to Indy and check him out thoroughly ... if it appears that he will fully recover eventually, I'm very interested ... there would be no need for him to play at all in the 2013 season and he could just continue to rehab while learning the playbook, then be ready to go in 2014.
If it appears that Lattimore will be limited in the future, then I go with Stepfan Taylor. Though not a speclacular RB, Taylor does everything well ... running, receiving and blocking ... and has never had a serious injury. A very durable and reliable guy who would do a very good job of replacing Frank when he retires.
Round 4 / Pick 125: FS D. J. Swearinger (South Carolina) 5'11" 210 4.56 129
Round 6 / Pick 189: K Dustin Hopkins (Florida State) 6'2" 190 4.70 225
All-time NCAA scoring record for kickers; All American and four-year starter; 79% career field goal success rate; as a Senior, 24 for 28 in field goals ... 5 for 6 at over 50 yards; career long FG of 56 yards; #1 ranked kicker in this draft.
'FLYER" SELECTIONS (guys that we draft for training camp and then assign to PS for development):
Round 3 / Pick +/-100 (Compensation): DE Devin Taylor (South Carolina) 6'7" 267 4.76 113
"... freakish athleticism, insanely long arms, good balance and flexibility, explosive, good speed, but very raw, limited pass rush arsonal, needs to improve strength and use of leverage." "If he is able to put it all together, Taylor has Jason Pierre-Paul upside in the NFL." Tomsula, where are you? We've got a new project for you!
Before the East/West Game, Taylor was ranked down around #200 in prospect rankings; but he was totally dominant in that game and his ranking has now risen to #113. I had originally intended to select C Brian Schwenke (California) with this pick, but when Taylor jump up I just couldn't pass on his upside ... especially since we can give him a lot a time to learn. Now I'm thinking that we go with Goodwin/Kilgore/Looney at C this year, then consider drafting C Bryan Stork (Florida State), the top-ranked center in next year's draft.
Round 6 / Pick 172 (Miami): WR Rodney Smith (Florida State) 6'6" 219 4.63 186
"... tall, fluid and fast receiver who is a deep threat that attacks the football in the air and runs precise routes."
Round 7 / Pick 212 (Cincinnati): WR Brandon Kaufman (Eastern Washington) 6'5" 215 4.48 230
2-time small school (FCS) All American and leader of FCS National Championship team; 3-year career record: 221 catches for 2,731 yards, 33 TDs, 12.5 yards/catch.
DRAFT PICKS AVAILABLE FOR TRADE-UPS OR TO TRADE TO 2014 DRAFT:
Round 5 / Pick 150 (Indianapolis)
Round 5 / Pick 157
Round 7 / Pick 221
Just one last thought. We are doing this for fun. This is not reality ... don't take it too seriously. Fortunately for all of us, none of us will be making the real selections ... in Baalke we trust! Except ... please God, not another A. J. Jenkins!