Before getting to the meat of the topic, I have some thoughts to share about (a) my changing vision of evaluating defensive back prospects, and (b) the Niners likely strategy in the forthcoming draft in April.
Selecting Safety Prospects
I fully expect the Niners to select TWO safeties in the forthcoming draft. However, contrary to popular belief, all safeties are NOT alike. Some pundits like to claim that "the Niners' safeties are interchangeable ... there's no need to differentiate between strong and free." While that may be true in theory, in practice it simply is NOT true. The traits that make a good free safety are different than the traits that make a good strong safety. Yes, they can play each other's position, but not IF you want to maximize productivity. You need to look no further than Dashon Goldson to recognize this issue. Goldson is a strong safety -- heavy hitter, good run support, but weak coverage skills -- playing the free safety position. In fact, his lack of above-average coverage skills has cost us touchdowns in situations where a free safety with good coverage skills (e.g., Ed Reed) simply wouldn't have allowed them. So, how is it that this happened? That Goldson ended up playing free safety? Recognizing when he started playing the free safety position gives us a clue. The fact of the matter is that what's demanded of a free safety today is not the same as the needs when Goldson began playing the position.
I think that we all recognize that the game is changing ... and rather quickly. There is a much greater emphasis on passing today and the receivers now are much bigger and much faster than in the past. The consequence, for both strong and free safeties, is that the need for better coverage skills and better tackling techniques have become more important. Big hitting, while a crowd favorite, is less important and, given the focus on greater player safety, can result in costly penalties, as we have seen. Like it of not, THAT is the trend. Therefore, I think that these trends behoove us to select for superior coverage and tackling skills in safety prospects ... big hitting is entertaining but it does not win games. I have tried to give these trends and consequences credence in selecting the safety prospects in my mock draft.
2013 Draft Strategy
I believe that in the forthcoming draft the Niners will focus upon two particular issues: (a) replacing the starters and significant contributors lost in free agency, and (b) selecting future replacements for specific aging veterans who will be leaving the roster in the next two years or so.
When looking at the composition of the prospects in this draft, several somewhat unusual circumstances become apparent:
- First, at the top of this draft, unlike recent prior drafts, there are not the usual group of outstanding 12 to 15 and then a drop-off to the next tier; rather, there is not a significant difference in potential between say the fourth or fifth best player in draft and the thirtieth ... thus, it's difficult to find the "best player available" ... they're all very close in capability and value ... who you might select depends upon your needs.
- Next, this draft is very deep with prospects with NFL starting or significant-contributor capability; accordingly, I think that the real strength of this draft class is in the prospects ranked from about 35 (right after the early-second-round run on QBs) through about prospect 100 or so.
- Some positions offer a deeper group of NFL-ready prospects than would normally be the case; thus, at those positions, it should be possible to select a very good prospect, with little quality fall-off from the top guys, in a lower round than would normally be the case.
- Finally, if you carefully examine the composition of the top 32 prospects in this draft, you will conclude that there is very little chance that any of the prospects who could offer the most help to the Niners (i.e., FS Vacarro, DE Datone Jones, CB Rhodes, CB Trufant, etc.) will fall to Pick #31. Which begs the question: should the Niners trade up to select one of these guys? My conclusion is that because of the all-similar-quality nature of these top 32 prospects, the added value received from whoever you trade up to select is far less than the cost in available draft capital that it would take to get there. Therefore, I reject the trade-up strategy in the first round ... it's just too costly for the added value returned.
The breadth of the Niners' needs, the availablity to them of so much draft capital, and the prospect characteristics outlined above, leads me to believe that the most appropriate draft strategy for the Niners to adopt this year is the multiple trade-down strategy. Let me site some examples to illustrate this thinking:
- The Niners must replace FS Goldson in this draft ... Craig Dahl is a backup and special teams player, NOT a starting free safety. After Vacarro (who won't fall to Pick #31), the highest ranked free safety prospect in this draft is Eric Reid (Louisiana State). Will Reid be available to the Niners at #31? Yes. But ... he will also be available at Pick #45 ... so why "waste" a high pick when you can get the guy at a lower spot and pick up more draft capital in the process?
- The Niners need to get additional help at DE in this draft. Datone Jones won't fall to them at Pick #31, but how about Margus Hunt (SMU) ... will he be available at #31? Yes. But, like Reid, he will also be available as a mid-40s pick ... again, why "waste" a high pick?
By trading down the Niners can still get the prospects that they want AND enable themselves to add additional high-middle-round picks to get even move desired prospects in this draft. This is the strategy that I use for my mock draft AND it is also the strategy that I believe that Trent Baalke will use in April.
DRAFT PICK TRADES UNDERLYING MY MOCK DRAFT
Trade #1 -- Buffalo Bills
Having released Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo will be looking to draft a QB. If Geno Smith is available at Pick #8, I think that the Bills take him; however, I don't see Smith falling past Arizona at #7 and there is a good chance that he could go as high as #2 to Jacksonville or #4 to Philadelphia. If that happens, I just can't see Buffalo taking Nassib at #8 ... WAY, WAY too big of a reach. On the other hand, Buffalo's second round pick is at #41 ... but with the number of teams that will be looking to select a QB in the early second round, if the Bills wait until #41 they could miss out. Ah, but it's Trent Baalke to the rescue:
- San Francisco trades Pick #34 (560) plus Pick #180 (19) to Buffalo in exchange for Pick #41 (490) plus Pick #105 (84).
(Note: The numbers in parentheses above represent the trade value of the pick taken from the traditional trade value table. I'm very much aware of the Kevin Meers trade table, but inasmuch as it's not apparent that the new table is yet being used widely in the NFL, I've stuck with the old.)
Trade #2 -- Miami or Tampa Bay or Carolina
This trade could be made with any of these three teams ... what we're looking for is a team drafting between #42 (Miami) and #44 (Carolina) that is targeting another first-round pick and would covet Pick #31. In this example I'm going to use Tampa Bay simply because they are in the middle of that group ... but, again, it could be any of the three teams.
- San Francisco trades Pick #31 (600) plus Pick #128 (44) plus a 2014 4th-round pick to Tampa Bay in exchange for Pick #43 (470) plus Pick #73 (225).
Trade #3 -- San Diego Chargers
San Diego is in a roster rebuilding mode, trying to pull together a competitive team before Phillip Rivers runs out of gas. Consequently, they may be interested in an opportunity to get two potential starters rather than just one.
- San Francisco trades Pick #73 (225) plus Pick #74 (220) plus Pick #237 (1) to San Diego in exchange for Pick #45 (450).
POST-TRADING DRAFT PICKS AVAILABLE
For those of you who haven't been keeping score at home, after all of the above-described trade activity, San Francisco now has the following draft picks available:
- Round 1: No selections.
- Round 2: Pick #41, Pick #43, Pick #45 and Pick #61.
- Round 3: Pick #93.
- Round 4: Pick #105 and Pick #131 (Comp).
- Round 5: Pick #157 and Pick #164.
- Round 6: No selections.
- Round 7: Pick #227, Pick #246 (Comp) and Pick #252 (Comp).
2013 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS MOCK DRAFT
Obviously to simulate prospect availability we need to use some source. For this mock draft I have chosen to use NFLDraftScout's overall ranking of prospects. Why them? Because I have found over the years that they come closer to nailing the sequence in which prospects are actually selected in the actual drafts than most other scouting services that I follow or am aware of. Does this guarantee that all of my selections will be available where I picked them? Of course not ... but NFLDraftScout's projections are better than most.
Key for Reading the Selection's Grading and Rankings --
Grade = average of all evaluations from NFL Combine. Grading scale:
- 96-100 Future Hall of Famer
- 85-95 Immediate Starter
- 70-84 Eventual Starter
- <70 Contributor
Position Rank = as assessed by NFLDraftScout
Overall Rank = as assessed by NFLDraftScout
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Round 2 / Pick #41 -- used to replace Delanie Walker:
- TE Zach Ertz (Stanford) 6'5" 249# 4.60 speed 24 reps
Grade = 82.2 #2TE #44 Overall
Ertz is the most polished TE in this draft not named Eifert ... but Eifert will very likely be drafted in the top 25. Ertz is a smooth athlete with good route quickness to create separation and sneaky speed to get behind the defense. Tough, physical player. Good downfield blocker. Soft hands ... makes the tough catches. Good pattern-runner. In 2012 doubled Coby Fleener's 2011 production. Inconsistent in-iine blocker. Needs to continue to develop strength to sustain blocks.
Round 2 / Pick #43 -- used to replace Carlos Rogers in 2014:
- CB Jamar Taylor (Boise State) 5'11" 192# 4.39 speed 22 reps
Grade = 85.5 #5CB #47 Overall
Three-year starter at Boise State. Very good straight-line speed. Physical with receivers and works well in press coverage. Fluid hips, smooth in turns and out of the back pedal. Tough and willing at run support. Questionable recovery speed. Needs to improve techniques in press coverage. Inconsistent tackler in space. Rob Rang's opinion: "Taylor is one of the best all-around cornerbacks in a solid class."
- DE Margus Hunt (SMU) 6'8" 277# 4.62 speed 38 reps
Grade = 75.4 #9 DE #49 Overall
A physical freak. Tall, thick but athletic with incredible yet undeveloped potential. Very quick for his size. Ability to anchor and shed against the run and has the speed to beat tackles off the edge. Uses his hands and length very well. Will chase plays downfield. Still learning the game. Older (25) than most prospects. Needs further development of all techniques.
Round 2 / Pick #61 -- used to replace Dashon Goldson:
- FS Phillip Thomas (Fresno State) 6'1" 208# 4.53 speed 14 reps
Grade = 74.1 #3 FS #71 Overall
2012 first-team All-American free safety. Breaks down well, has quick feet and agility to make stops. Quick enough to stay with tight ends and some wide receivers through traffic. Very versatile and finds the ball well. Adept blitzer off the edge. Not corner-like in his change of direction ability in man coverage against quicker receivers, through more than adequate for an NFL safety.
(NOTE: #1 FS Vaccaro would not be available to the Niners without trading up. Why then did I not select the most obvious pick of a free safety ... #2 FS Eric Reid (LSU)? Reid's strengths are his size, speed, run support and hitting ability; however, he is not particularly good in pass coverage and, even more importantly for a free safety, he misses far too many tackles. THAT is NOT what I want in a free safety, particularly in the evolution of the passing game discussed earlier. Rob Rang's opinion of Reid: "Terrific in run support but with questionable instincts and fluidity could make him a liability in coverage in the NFL." After watching a LOT of tape on both guys, I decided that Phillip Thomas would make the better free safety for the Niners.)
Round 3 / Pick #93 -- used to replace Isaac Sopoaga:
- NT Brandon Williams (Missouri Southern) 6'1" 335# 5.37 speed 38 reps
Grade = 73.1 #4NT #97 Overall
Three-time Division II All-American ... rare at any level. Low center of gravity and strong upper body provides consistent push of man-up blockers into the backfield. Gets good leverage and holds his ground. Very adept at moving laterally. Can play at five-technique, nose and everywhere in between. Doesn't make a lot of plays outside the box. Inconsistent at finding the ball. Slow to spin off blocks. Most prove that he has the stamina to be more than a rotational player at the NFL level.
Round 4 / Pick #105 -- used to replace Donte Whitner in 2014:
- SS J. J. Wilcox (Georgia Southern) 6'0" 213# 4.57 speed 17 reps
Grade = 77.0 #5SS #117 Overall
So athletic that he played wide receiver, slotback and safety with great success at each during his collegiate career. "Wilcox has an incredible burst and is an explosive, fast-twitch athlete ..." "Wilcox is physical, fast, tough and aggressive, and he has a nose for the football. He just has to show that he can play with the big boys." "He has natural range from the middle of the field and is physical when he comes downhill to support the run. He also returns kickoffs and should be an immediate contributor on special teams as a rookie."
Round 4 /Pick #131 -- used to replace Frank Gore in 2014/2015:
- RBOTF Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina) 5'11" 221# Estimated 4.60 speed
Grade = 74.9 #11RB #143 Overall
Most fans know Lattimore's injury history, so I won't dwell on it here. Taller north-south runner who plays with good lean and plows for yards between the tackles. Good vision and quick feet for his size to slide into a rushing lane and the speed to get upfield. Very effective on zone runs. Has enough wiggle to freeze and elude tacklers in space. Spins off piles inside and keeps his legs churning to pick up extra yards. Gets into routes fluidly out of the backfield. Good build for pass protection. Offers an extremely intriguing blend of power, balance, vision and production. With back-to-back seasons ending in traumatic knee injuries, durability is the major red flag. Probably won't contribute anything in his rookie year until he fully recovers from injury.
Round 5 / Pick #157 -- used to replace Alex Smith:
- QB Zac Dysert (Miami of Ohio) 6'3" 231# 4.83 speed
Grade = 83.5 #10QB #167 Overall
Broke most of Ben Roethlisberger's school pass completion and yardage records. Reliable over-the-top delivery with good accuracy. Very athletic for his size. Experienced under center and in the shotgun. Throws accurately on the move. Mechanically sound overall. Pocket poise needs to improve. Stares down his target too frequently. Prone to over-improvisation and trusts his arm too much at times.
Round 5 / Pick #164 -- used to upgrade from and replace Anthony Dixon:
- RB / ST Zach Line (SMU) 6'1" 232# 4.77 speed 26 reps
Grade = 63.7 #4FB #209 Overall
Surpassed NFL Hall-of-Famer Eric Dickerson's school records for total yardage ... rushing and receiving ... and rushing touchdowns. Conference USA 2012 Offensive Player of the Year. Solid north-south runner with the eyes to find creases and the feet to make the quick cut inside to take advantage of open space. Follows offensive linemen on the move, knowing when to burst past them. Gives excellent effort to get the extra yard once wrapped up. Not a pure power back; will burst through the line if the opportunity arises and has enough speed to break off a big run before getting dragged down. Capable receiver out of the backfield. Pass protection skills are solid and handles blitzers well. My thinking on Zach Line is simply that he offers an upgrade opportunity over Anthony Dixon ... is able to do the things that we all wanted from Boobie but never seemed to get.
Round 7 / Pick #227 -- Development Squad addition -- tall WROTF:
- WR Brandon Kaufman (Eastern Washington) 6'5" 216# 4.67 speed 9 reps
Grade 68.0 #29WR #236 Overall
Tall with long arms. Uses his size to shield defenders, and his length to catch passes off his frame. Reliable hands. Tracks the football well and attacks the ball at the highest point. Red zone and vertical weapon. Possesses good vision after the catch. Hasn't dealt with great competition, or run a myriad of different routes. Has great potential but will need a lot of development to fulfill it. Will need to prove that he has the speed and physicality in order to be more than a red zone threat.
Round 7 / Pick #246 -- Develop. Squad addition -- best player available:
DE Joe Kruger (Utah) 6'6" 269# 4.83 speed 24 reps (Grade 73.0 #285 Overall)
OT Luke Marquardt (Azusa Pacific) 6'8" 315# 5.34 speed 31 reps (Grade 68.1 #276 Overall)
Round 7 / Pick #252 -- Develop. Squad addition -- return specialist:
- KR / WR Reggie Dunn (Utah) 5'10" 172# 4.26 speed
Not Graded #37WR #308 Overall
Laughing at this selection? Do a little homework on YouTube and you will quickly stop laughing. This guy runs a legitimate 4.26 forty, averages 30.9 yards per kickoff return, and averages a touchdown every 9.6 kickoff returns. Very few of you will remember a guy named Nolan Smith who was a KO/P returner for the Kansas City Chiefs who terrorized the AFC back in the day. Dunn is the closest thing to Smith that I've seen since Smith retired. Our roster is so loaded that we can afford to take a chance on a guy like this ... particularly at Pick #252!
PROJECTED FINAL 53-MAN ROSTER & DEVELOPMENTAL SQUAD
Note: Starters in Bold; Draft Picks in Italics
OFFENSE (24) --
Quarterbacks (3): Kaepernick, Tolzien, Dysert
Running Backs (5): Gore, Hunter, James, Line, Lattimore
Fullback (1): Miller
Wide Receivers (5): Crabtree, Bolden, Williams, Jenkins, Lockette
Tight Ends (3): V.Davis, Ertz, Celek
Offensive Tackles (2): Staley, A.Davis
Offensive Guards (3): Iupati, Boone, Looney
Centers (2): Goodwin, Kilgore
DEFENSE (26) --
Nose Tackles (2): I.Williams, B.Williams
Defensive Ends (5): J.Smith, McDonald, Dorsey, Hunt, Dobbs
Inside Linebackers (4): Willis, Bowman, Skuta, Wilhoite
Ourside Linebackers (4): A.Smith, Brooks, Haralson, Johnson/Fleming
Strong Safeties (2): Whitner, Wilcox
Free Safeties (3): Thomas, Dahl, Spillman
Cornerbacks (6): Rogers, Brown, Culliver, Cox, Taylor, Brock
SPECIAL TEAMS (3) --
Kicker (1): Dawson
Punter / Holder (1): Lee
Long Snapper (1): Jennings
PUP LIST (1) --
DEVELOPMENTAL SQUAD (8) --
RB Hampton, WR Kaufman, KR Dunn, OT Wiggins, OG Netter, DE Kruger, OLB Fleming/Johnson, S Robinson
GONE FROM SUPER BOWL ROSTER (14) --
K Akers, OG L.Davis, RB Dixon, WR/KR Ginn, FS Goldson, ILB Gooden, ILB Grant, OLB Haggans, WR Hall, DL Jean-Francois, WR Moss, NT Sopoaga, QB A.Smith, TE Walker
OTHERS SIGNED AND RELEASED (9) --
DT Divens, WR Hastings, DT Jerod-Eddy, WR Moore, S McBath, LB Stupar, DT Tukuafu, S Thomas, OG Tribue
ROSTER TURNOVER ANALYSIS --
Projected Composition of 2013 Final-53 Roster:
Returnees from 2012 ............................................... 38 ..... 72%
Promotion from Developmental Squad ...............1 ........2% ... Lockette
Trades and Free Agent Signings ............................5 ........9%
Draftees ..........................................................................9 .......17%
So ...there you have it. How about some feedback?