The 2014 NFL Draft is just over one week away, which means we're getting a final run of mock drafts. ESPN's moderately dynamic duo of Mel Kiper and Todd McShay each released their fifth mock draft of the season. They're both hidden behind the Insider pay wall, but I'll provide some details.
Kiper: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Analysis: I know the 49ers are a team that could look to move up and make a splash if they see an immediate help, because, even while they have very good roster depth compared to most, they are still looking to maximize a clear championship window. I'd consider Matthews a player who can contribute early, and, while Anquan Boldin returns and Michael Crabtree is healthy, the wide receiver position is still a clear need spot. Matthews is a reliable pass-catcher who can make plays on contested passes and is also capable of hitting a second gear when he has room to run after the catch.
McShay: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Analysis: The Niners are a candidate to trade up, given the number of picks they have (six in the first three rounds and 11 overall), but if they stay put here, they could look to land a wide receiver to play alongside Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Benjamin isn't a burner and displayed some erratic ball skills on tape, but he could be worth the risk here because he's a matchup nightmare down the field due to his size (6-foot-5, 240 pounds), strength, body control and catch radius.
Just to give you some context, here's the wide receivers they each had going ahead of their respective picks:
McShay: Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, Marqise Lee, Cody Latimer
It's not a shock that both Kiper and McShay went with wide receivers for the 49ers. They could have mixed in cornerbacks, but wide receivers are a popular enough choice. As we can see above, they have their own bit of consensus about the wide receiver position.
As we've discussed over and over again, the 49ers have the ammunition to move up in the draft if they're so inclined. If wide receiver is their position of choice, it really comes down to what they decide is right for them. There is a sizable talent pool, but it really does come down to what the 49ers will value.
Beat writer Chris Biderman had a nice rundown of the position and some of Trent Baalke's comments on drafting wide receivers. He's not going to tell us everything we want to know about the 49ers wide receiver and general draft strategy, but he provided some general thoughts on the position at his media session last week. He talked about what might translate from the college game to the pros. He talked about how it's hard to figure out what specifically translate, but he did get a bit more specific about what causes players to fail at the next level:
"Most of the time when mistakes are made, it's more in the makeup of the player than it is the physical traits of the player. And that's something that sometimes is harder to determine. You can't always see that on film. So there's a lot of things that go into it."
He went further in discussing what he likes to see in receivers, from a mental standpoint:
"I think (receivers) got a little bit of air about them, swagger if you want to call it. You're looking for confidence," Baalke said when asked about evaluating receivers specifically. "You're looking for guys that the stage isn't too big for. You're looking strong, strong men. Both in how how they play and how they come across. It's a battle out there. When you're at that position to try and get yourself freed up in the land of giants. It's a battle. You got to be prepared for it mentally and physically."
He spoke about the importance of size, but that a short guy could play to a bigger height potentially. For example, he referenced how Steve Smith is 5'9, but he plays more like he's 6'1 in his confidence, physicality, and the way he goes after the ball. As Biderman points out in his article, it's safe to say A.J. Jenkins was a guy who lacked that kind of ferociousness. The 49ers will definitely be pondering that as they look for their wide receiver options next week.