The demand side of the draft equation is now resolved ... that is, after the Lloyd signing I don't expect any further changes (of consequence) to the Niners present roster via free agency. I had hoped that Baalke would entertain the idea of re-signing our old friend Blake Costanzo as a temporary replacement for Wilhoite (and as a special teams ace) until Bowman can return, but that won't seemingly happen. So, what we have now is the starting point for refining draft needs.
On the supply side of the equation, eye balls are fatigued from watching seemingly endless tape of draft prospects, the Combine is long past, and thankfully Pro Days are nearly over. Barring a last minute weed-, alcohol- or testosterone-fueled act of stupidity, the evaluations of draft prospects aren't going to change much during the next three weeks.
Thus, there's no time like the present to resurrect my pre-Combine mock draft and refine it with the latest inputs. Let's begin with the bigger picture.
Two separate drafts: Although the Niners have 11 picks remaining in the 2014 Draft, there is obviously no room for 11 draftees to make the Final-53 roster. Thus, I think that we are really looking at two separate drafts for the Niners. It's possible that 7-8 draftees could make the Final-53 and I believe that those prospects will be selected in the first four rounds. Beyond that, I think that Baalke will once again select a couple of red-shirt NFI prospects and a couple of Practice Squad additions ... guys with potential but needing further development before being ready to compete for a roster position.
Position Priorities: I think that most of us would agree that the two most important position needs in this draft are cornerback and wide receiver. Secondarily, I can see Baalke (a) drafting a center to compete with Kilgore for the starting job, (b) drafting a safety if there is a unique talent available, and (c) perhaps drafting an ILB to replace Wilhoite while Bowman is out. Originally I had strong feelings that the biggest positional need was a nickel cornerback to replace Carlos Rogers ... a Jason Varrett, for instance. However, over time I have changed that view. Many of you may think me nuts (and I'm fine with that) but I have come to believe that Baalke is serious about getting bigger with the outside corners; thus, I think that there may be a real possibility that they decide to move Tramaine Brock inside to the nickel corner position and use Culliver, Cox, Cook and a bigger CB draftee on the outside. In the new NFC West we will be seeing the likes of Percy Harvin, Tavon Austin, Wes Welker, Victor Cruz, etc., in ONE-THIRD of all our regular season games. I love Brock's physicality and would enjoy seeing him take on those slot guys. If I'm wrong, maybe Baalke selects Varrett at #30 for that job.
Trades: Everyone has acknowledged that this draft is one of the deepest in a decade. That becomes readily apparent when you look at the prospects ranked in the second, and even the third, round. In a more typical draft class many of these guys would be rated as first-rounders. Honestly, except for the usual top 10-12 outstanding prospects, I don't see a dramatic performance and/or pro-potential difference in the remaining first 60-70 prospects.
In my opinion, the only prospects for the Niners worth trading into the top half of the first round to acquire are Watkins, Evans, and maybe Beckham, Gilbert or Dennard. Beyond that, I just don't see the point of trading up ... you can get just as good prospects in the second/third rounds without having to use multiple picks to do so. Further, now that Evans has moved up with the top ten, any attempt to go get him would just be too expensive in my opinion. It's all about value for price.
I think it obvious that when a team is selecting late in the first round of the draft, attempting to have a specific pre-planned strategy for the first pick is folly ... so many circumstances can change so quickly that the only approach that makes sense is to have several "if-then" scenarios developed around specific draft prospects. Thus, I think that what Baalke will really do on May 8th is wait it out and see what develops. If one of the above five guys should slip to say #24-25, maybe he pounces and gets his man. But I don't expect that. If a "right guy" is available at #30, maybe he makes that selection. If not, he could consider trading down.
Because this draft is so deep, I favor trading down from #30. Jacksonville re-signed Chad Henne before trading Blaine Gabbert to the Niners. I don't doubt that the Jags will select a QB prospect in this draft, but I don't think that they will do so with the #3 overall pick ... no QB is worth that pick IMO; rather, I expect them to select either Clowney or Mack, depending upon availability. Then they might be expected to go after the QB with their second round pick at #39. But that could be a problem for the Jags because I believe that there will likely be a stampede for QBs in the early second round by all those QB-needy teams that opted for a BPA positional player with their early first round picks. Having the 39th pick doesn't position Jacksonville very well for that fight for the best remaining QB prospects. Accordingly, I believe that Jacksonville will be motivated to move up in the second round (with a target of Jimmy Garoppolo perhaps?) ... and we could help them get to the top of the queue with the 30th pick ... at a trade premium, of course. Accordingly, this mock draft is predicated upon Baalke trading down (at a premium) to #39 in a multi-pick trade with Jacksonville.
THE MOCK DRAFT
As I said before, I seriously doubt that Baalke will make a MAJOR move up within the first round. He could move up to say #24-25 to select a particular prospect; or, he could just sit tight and wait to see who falls to #30. The most likely case is that nothing spectacular or unexpected happens. In that case, I think that the best strategy is to trade down and maximize the exploitation of this deep draft class. Thus, Baalke makes the following trade:
Niners trade Pick #1/30 (620) plus Pick #3/94 (124) to Jacksonville in exchange for
Pick #2/39 (510) plus Pick #3/70 (240) plus Pick #4/105 (84).
This trade represents a 10.8% discount to the Niners ... 834 trade points received, 744 trade points given ...
not unexpected given the depth of this draft class and Jacksonville's need to select their QBOTF.
Round 2 / Pick #39 (Jacksonville): SS DEONE BUCANNON (Washington St.) Grade 84 6'1" 215# 4.49 speed
WHAT? You propose selecting another safety with our first pick? Yep ... and here's why. I expect Bethea to start at strong safety for no more than two years (that's how his contract is structured). That means that we must draft his replacement either this year or next. If you look at the 2015 class of safety prospects (and look even further forward to current sophomores who could declare next year), it's not very impressive, except for one or two free safety prospects. Bucannon is easily the best SS prospect (including the undersized Jimmie Ward) available this year or next, and, looking at both measurables and potential, it's not really close. Further, Bucannon is moving up draft boards very quickly ... Daniel Jeremiah (who I think is a pretty knowledgeable and a well-plugged-in guy) believes that Bucannon will go in the first 50 picks. Depending upon what they do at #21, Green Bay is well positioned to take Bucannon at #53. I trust Jeremiah's judgment and information sources ... let's go get Bucannon and let him learn with Reid from Bethea while he excels on special teams; gradually he will work his way into situational play and then start in 2016.
Round 2 / Pick #56 (Kansas City): WR CODY LATIMER (Indiana) Grade 86 6'3" 215# 4.38 speed
Another surprise pick for you ... this guy is rocketing up draft boards after his pro day performance. Normally a pro day wouldn't mean a lot but Latimer was not able to do anything at the Combine because of a broken foot. He absolutely killed his pro day ... 4.38-4.42 forty, 39" vertical and 23 reps on the bench. Latimer is the size of Jordan Matthews but faster, is much more physical than Martavis Bryant and, in addition to his great hands and receiving skills, excels at blocking ... but unfortunately the Niners aren't interested in having WRs who are also able to block. :-)
Round 2 / Pick #61: WR JARVIS LANDRY (Louisiana State) Grade 80 5'11.5" 205# 4.51 speed
I see Landry as an acrobatic Hinds Ward. He's very football smart, runs great routes, and has absolutely amazing hands. When you watch his tape you just can't believe some of the catches that he makes ... even in the midst of heavy traffic. Beyond that, he's a football junky and has an absolutely great attitude ... nothing is asking too much. Not that it means much, but Mayock has a man-crush on Landry and ranks him in a tie with Beckham as his fifth best WR in this draft. I actually see Landry being Crabtree's replacement in 2015 because I'm convinced that Crabs will "demand" a much bigger contract than the Niners are prepared to pay; and if we've got a playbook-savvy Landry on board, I have no problem with Crabs walking. Ultimately, I like the trio of Landry, Latimer and Patton plus a Red Zone guy as our WRs.
Round 3 / Pick #70 (Jacksonville): CB KEITH McGILL (Utah) Grade 77 6'3.5" 211# 4.51 speed
The Niners could go with a number of alternative CB prospects with this pick ... Breeland, Roberson, Desir, Phillip Gaines or either of the two really-big guys, McGill or Jean-Baptiste. As I said before, I'm convinced that Baalke is serious about going big at CB. As between the two, McGill is not only faster than Jean-Baptiste, but he is much more athletic, uses his size better, and is much more versatile, being able to play either corner or safety. Being a converted receiver, Jean-Baptiste has very good ball skills and explosive leaping ability but he is slow, somewhat tight, weak in off-man coverage, and not a good tackler. Conversely, McGill moves very well for his size and uses both his size and athleticism to be very effective in press-man coverage. On the down side, McGill needs to improve his transitional quickness and footwork. Given his physical gifts, I think that McGill is the ideal candidate for Donatell to work with and build a premier big NFL CB. And finally, the really big sell for Baalke is that McGill has abnormally long arms ... what else can possibly be said?
Round 3 / Pick #77 (Tennessee): C MARCUS MARTIN (Southern Cal) Grade 79 6'3.5" 320# 5.22 speed
What's to be said? While I like Weston Richburg (Colorado State) slightly better than Martin, we're not going to select a center in the second round. I expect Martin to give Kilgore a serious challenge to become the starter during Training Camp and he very well may win the job. In any event, Martin is clearly the better long-term prospect as the starter and should fit into the Niners OL very nicely.
Round 3 / Pick #100 (Compensatory): NCB JAYLEN WATKINS (Florida) Grade 68 5'11.5" 194# 4.41 speed
No, Watkins is not on the level of Jason Varrett. However, he is a very versatile DB (a preference of Baalke's) ... he can play outside CB, nickel CB, dime, and even safety, and he's a demon on special teams. I believe that at the pro level, Watkins' best position is nickel corner because he has very good short-area cover skills and is good at re-routing receivers and has some playmaking ability. On the down side, Watkins isn't a real physical tackler and can be too grabby at times. That said, I expect him to be in the mix with Brock and Wright to become the eventual starter at nickel ... after Donatell has had plenty of time to refine Watkins' skills and techniques.
Round 4 / Pick #105 (Jacksonville): ILB SHANE SKOV (Stanford) Grade 58 6'2.25" 245# 5.14 speed
Skov has a lot of desirable football characteristics, but good foot speed is not one of them. Fortunately he has outstanding instincts and recognition which enables him to play much faster than his clocked times. He is a very intense player, an explosive tackler, and is actually pretty alert in coverage. But above all else, Skov is very intelligent, Loves (with a capital L) the game of football, and has very good leadership skills. On the down side, in addition to being slow, he has still not fully recovered from the severe ACL injury that he incurred in 2012.
Those are the seven prospects that I would expect to make the Final-53 roster.
THE FOLLOWING TWO PROSPECTS HAVE HAD RECENT SURGERIES --- NFI ROSTER DURING 2014 SEASON
Round 4 / Pick #129: OG BRANDON THOMAS (Clemson) Grade 75 6'3" 317# 5.09 speed
Thomas, who shined at the Senior Bowl practices and game and who was rated a likely second-round pick in the upcoming draft, tore his ACL during a recent pre-draft workout for the New Orleans Saints. Thus, his draft ranking has taken a big hit and he will not participate in any regular practices during the 2014 season ... a perfect candidate for the Niners red-shirt non-football-injury program. Thomas played at left tackle during his Clemson career (and did a great job against Clowney) but is seen by most NFL people as an OG. He has very good balance and body control, is athletic and light on his feet, and (surprise) has very long arms. He pulls very well but is not considered a mauler or road-grader. He is a high-character guy and was a team captain this year. He will need to further develop his skills as an OG which fits perfectly with needing to take a year off to rehab the knee. Nolan Nawrocki: "... has the potential to be a long-term fixture at left guard." Another great fit ... he competes with Looney and Seymour in 2015 to replace Mike Iupati in the likelihood that Big Mike signs elsewhere for the really big bucks.
Round 5 / Pick #170: DE/DT BRENT URBAN (Virginia) Grade 71 6'7" 295# 4.90 speed
Urban broke a bone in his foot during Senior Bowl practices and is now recovering from surgery. He is a native of Toronto and grew up playing hockey. In 2013 he was a 2nd round pick of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL. Urban has a huge body but very little body fat. He has very long arms (do you detect a pattern here?) and a large wingspan ... ideal for a 3-4 five technique ... which enabled him to bat down nine passes in just eight games in his Senior year; he also specializes in blocking place kicks on special teams. Urban has very good disruptive ability but, being still relatively inexperienced in football, is still developing his recognition skills and instincts. I love the idea of Urban having a year (on the NFI roster) to get bigger, stronger and more polished while learning from Jim Tomsula.
Round 6 / Pick #205: Traded to Jacksonville in exchange for QB Blaine Gabbert
THE FOLLOWING THREE PROSPECTS ARE SELECTED FOR THE PRACTICE SQUAD DURING 2014
Round 7 / Pick #242 (New Orleans): TE COLT LYERLA (Oregon) Grade 48 6'4" 242# 4.61 speed
No matter how you cut it, Lyerla is a boom-or-bust dichotomy. On the one hand, he is a very good athlete who is smart, hardworking, very competitive and a physically-talented receiving tight end. On the other hand, he is overly emotional (read: quick to overreact) and still trying to recover from having grown up in a dysfunctional divorce-wars family who provided little, if any, direction amidst the confusion offered by bitter parents. Accordingly, he has a litany of issues ... suspensions, academic problems, drugs, etc. He led Pac-12 tight ends with 15.7 yards per catch ... and pleaded guilty to cocaine-possession charges in October 2013. From a football standpoint, he has a good catching radius, is a fluid route runner, has very good body control, adjusts well to the ball, and has very good YAC skills. Blocking skills are functional but not great. Not surprisingly, he is not a disciplined team player. His collegiate coaches have opined that what he really needs most is a strong father figure in a coach. Can the Niners coaches and locker room provide that? Who knows? Except for blocking, Lyerla is a superior receiving talent compared to Delanie Walker and could easily beat out Celek and/or Carrier as the #3 TE ... IF he really wants to and is willing to develop his blocking skills. IMO it's worth a shot. IF he slips in any way during Training Camp ... gone!
Round 7 / Pick #243 (Carolina): QB LOGAN THOMAS (Virginia Tech) Grade 68 6'6" 248# 4.61 speed
There are lots of plusses and minuses with Thomas. He's obviously big, he's tough, he's durable, and he's very competitive. He's a pocket passer with a rocket arm who can make all of the throws. He's very athletic and has a quick, compact release. He was a team captain and vocal leader at Tech. So what's the problem? First and foremost, he's far too careless with the football ... 39 INTs and 23 fumbles in 40 starts! Yikes! But understand that Thomas is really a former tight end playing quarterback, so, as you would expect, he's extremely inconsistent and needs a LOT of coaching and development ... perfect project for Harbaugh and Chryst when they don't have anything else to do. Seriously, Thomas is just getting started and has huge upside potential if he can put it all together with the right coaching. Could show enough potential during Training Camp to beat out Bethel-Thompson and be added to the Final-53 as the #3 developmental QB.
Round 7 / Pick #245: DE/OLB LARRY WEBSTER (Bloomsburg) Grade 58 6'6" 252# 4.58 speed
Although Webster is the son of an 11-year NFL player, he grew up focusing primarily on basketball and got a collegiate scholarship to play basketball. He decided to give football a try during his last two years at a small college ... and led the conference in sacks both years. Because of his height and athleticism he was also successfully used as a Red Zone receiver. Nawrocki"s take: "A gifted athlete with NFL pedigree and intriguing developmental tools as a speed rusher ...". He is not a strong tackler and has a very underdeveloped body for football. However, if he can build his body and strength in the weight room, and, under Tomsula's guidance, learn how to convert his speed to power without losing a lot of his quickness and burst, look out.
So there you have it. Feel free to tell be where I've blown it.