The Case that 49ers Will Draft an ILB and RB in the 1st 100 picks and not a Center or a Safety.
No question the 2014 draft looks deep in cornerbacks and receivers. I expect the Niners first pick will be a cornerback and that they will pick a WR early too. However, a quick look at the position need voting from Fooch’s draft poll indicates ILB and RB are waaaaaaay down at the bottom of people’s lists – while Center and Safety rank high. Prepare to be surprised come Draft time.
This is not really about what I would do or you would do – it’s about predicting what the Niners will do.
Drafting a center in 2014 is highly unlikely. They have let Jonathan Goodwin walk and extended the contract of Daniel Kilgore. The message couldn't be clearer if they flew over Levi’s Stadium with a message plane: Kilgore is this year’s starting center. The Niners have an excellent track record of letting productive veterans walk after grooming a replacement: Bowman stepped in for Takeo Spikes, Ahmad Brooks for Manny Lawson, Ian Williams for Isaac Sopoaga, etc. Kilgore practiced well enough to get decent game time as the extra lineman. Based on what the Niners have seen they extended his contract. He will be the starting Center. The Niners have plenty of young linemen with Looney and now Martin, plus Netter, Marquardt, and Bykowski. The idea that we let Goodwin go therefore must draft a center, ignores the Niner's history. They might add some late round or UFDA depth to push the group, but would they use one of the 1st 100 picks? That’s way off center.
Also, the Niners will not draft a safety in the first 100 picks this year. It makes no sense. They just signed free agent safety Antoine Bethea to a 3-year deal. He is excellent and I expect him to start this year, probably next, maybe in two years too. We need and want an experienced pro like Bethea in the secondary. I would expect a safety drafted before pick 100 to start by the end of his rookie year. The Niners might draft an athletic safety in round 4 or 5 to push Craig Dahl as the back up and on special teams but no way they spend a top 100 pick on a safety. They will trade for higher round pick next year before they pick a safety that early. No way to dance around it there is no value for this team this year drafting a safety before round 4. Other positions have bigger needs and greater benefits.
Inside Scoop on LB
Luckily the Niners have had a very deep roster with capable back ups at nearly every position. ILB is no exception, with Michael Wilhoite having filled in for both Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and performed admirably. The problem is beyond that beyond Wilhoite there is not much proven talent at all at ILB. With Bowman out at the beginning of the year, Wilhoite could start. I think the Niners actually need two capable back ups at ILB to start the year. I have not yet been impressed with Nick Moody at ILB even as a back up. And who is the second back up? Darius Fleming? Dan Skuta (who’s been playing well at OLB)?
Next to cornerback, ILB is the by far the thinnest position on the roster especially with the unknown return of Bowman who will start the year on the some sort of PUP/IR list. The need at cornerback I expect to be addressed in the 1st round of the draft. Much last year when like the Niners confidently let Dashon Goldson walk, knowing they would target a replacement starter early in the draft (Eric Reid).
How the Niners need at ILB will be handled this year is less clear, but the need is real. Even if Bowman fully recovers on schedule from his injury, Willis is getting older seems to now routinely get dinged up and misses games. This is a deep draft and some good players will slide. Better a year early than a year late to think about replacing players. Right now there seems to be no competition for the back up ILB roster spots. That’s not the Niners I know. I look for the Niners to draft an ILB or undersized OLB to convert to an ILB with one of their 6 picks in the top 100.
My top choices for ILB would be undersized OLB Carl Bradford, Arizona State or ILB Chris Borland, Wisconsin with our second pick in round 2. Those players might be reaching a bit high. I also like Lamin Barrow, LSU late in round 3 or in round 4.
Why make a run at a RB?
The 49ers are for the foreseeable future a run oriented team. If you area running team, that means you need RBs. Every single year in the last 5 years the Niners have drafted a top 10 ranked RB (as ranked by NFL Draft Scout ). Every single year. Are the Niners significantly better at RB now compared to the past five years? Is Frank Gore younger? Has Kendall Hunter or LaMichael James proven they are the answer? Is Marcus Lattimore 100%? When first I thought about the draft, and considered RB – I thought ‘no worries’ we are deep at RB. Then I looked at our draft track record. Every single year. Five years. Take a look:
- 2013 – pick 131 (round 4) RB Marcus Lattimore, NFL Draft Scout RB Rank #10
- 2012 – pick 61 (round 2) RB LaMichael James, NFL Draft Scout RB Rank #7
- 2011 – pick 115 (round 4) RB Kendall Hunter, NFL Draft Scout RB Rank #6
- 2010 – pick 163 (round 6) RB Anthony Dixon NFL Draft Scout RB Rank #8
- 2009 – pick 74 (round 3) RB Glen Coffee NFL Draft Scout RB Rank #10
Running teams need RBs. On reflection, I don’t think this year will be different. Plus RBs often also play special teams. Based on history, look for the Niners to draft one of these guys at or before pick 100 (OK maybe pick 129).
NFL Draft Scout RBs ranked 6 to 10
6 . Devonte Freeman, Florida State – 5-08, 206#, 40 yd. 4.58
7 . Charles Sims, West Virginia – 6-0, 214#, 40 yd. 4.48
8 . Lache Seastrunk, Baylor – 5-10, 201#, 40 yd. 4.51
9 . Terrence West, Towson – 5-09, 225#, 40 yd. 4.54
10. Andre Williams, Boston College 5-11, 230#, 40 yd. 4.56
My hope is they reach up a little and use comp pick #100 for NFL Draft Scout #4 ranked RB, Bishop Sankey, Washington 5-10, 209#, 40 yd. 4.49 – a RB who pass blocks already.
So this approach would make the first 100 picks look like this: CB, WR, then some combo of ILB, RB, BPA, and/or trades for future year picks; minus any picks needed to move up to get targeted players.
This isn’t necessarily what I would do, but it is what I think the Niners will do based on need and track record. I might skip RB and double down on WR or CB picks. There are a lot of CB and WR to like, but the Niners have rarely doubled up on a single position in the draft.
I am interested in your thoughts and comments about what you think the Niners will do about ILB and RB in the draft or otherwise. I’m also curious to hear a strong case for drafting a Center or Safety in round 3 or higher. Lastly, I'm interested to hear if you think the Niners might double up on a position in the draft and why or why not.