If you're like me you read most if not all of the online 49ers analysis. That means you frequently have the distinctly unsavory experience of reading the opinions of Grant Cohn. I could make this an "attack piece" focusing on nepotism, unsubstantiated op-ed writing as a profession (aka trolling), and the online goading of Anthony Davis. But I won't.
Instead I'd like to take on his recent draft grades which can be summed up with one word: "Fail". The intention of that word in context was unironic. (I won't dive into the festering cess pool of a question of whether or not Cohn is just pulling our leg with his blog.) Yet I find it quite apropos as a description of the article as a whole. Before I go any further: I'm not posting this to his blog because 1- I'd rather not gift him a single page view and 2- I find the format over there to be cumbersome. I'm also not providing a link because of number 1 in the last sentence.
His basic premise is that the goal of this draft should have been to give the team an edge in matching up against our nemesis, chief divisional rival, the defending Super Bowl champions. That's a stupid premise. You play 16 games in a regular season. Ultimately the season ended in Seattle in heart breaking fashion. The game was very tight and frankly we made enough plays to win before crumbling at the end. Without re hashing the details I think everyone can agree that the talent differential last year was very thin. Home field advantage was arguably the deciding factor and we lost that by dropping games in the regular season to teams that aren't Seattle, teams we could have beaten. Calls went against us, injuries sapped our depth at positions of relative weakness. To be fair to Seattle, they had fought misfortune as well, suffered injuries and dropped at least one game they could have won.
But enough. The talent difference was small, yet they pulled it out in the end. So is the conclusion that we have to specifically target match ups with Seattle? We beat them and we win it all? That's a flawed premise. Deeply so. We have to build the best team for winning every week. Trading draft capital to neutralize a singular player like Harvin is a fools errand. Harvin is unique. At most we face him three times a year. Furthermore, what makes anyone think there's a corner available in this draft who could stop him? Picking Ward at 30 gives us a talented player who is projected to contribute immediately at the nickel. Carlos Rogers was a liability at nickel last year and he was in decline plus expensive. Can Ward shut down Harvin? No. Can he make our nickel defense better? Yes, and that's the real question.
Next up is the 2nd round pick of Hyde. Cohn's knock on Carlos is that he's from the big ten and the "big ten hasn't produced a pro bowl running back since Marion Barber." That reasoning is laughable. Carlos has the stats, measurements and most significantly, game tape, of a great running back. He was the first or second rated running back in the draft. According to Cohn that won't matter against "Seattle's lightening fast, swarming defense." Never mind that they lost Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald from the heart of their defense. Never mind that their defense thrived on its deep rotation. Also let's not recall how it was Gore who broke their back with a run up the middle in December of last year. And perhaps most significantly it's not up to Hyde alone. The camp competition between Hyde and Lattimore should be fierce and is likely to find 1 future star running back. We come into camp with 2 of the most exciting running backs to leave college in the last two years. That's not simply about beating Seattle. That's about maintaining run dominance for the foreseeable future. Will that work? No one knows in May but it's a sound strategy.
With that pick Grant suggested we should have pursued a tall fast wr. He suggests Robinson from Penn State or Lattimer from Indiana. Hold on a second! Those are big ten schools, too. What's the recent history of wide receivers drafted out of the big ten? As other posters from Grants blog pointed out, it's not good. Even worse, wr's in general are risky picks. It's particularly rare for a wr to make a big impact as a rookie. NFL defenses are much stiffer than college ones. Yet Grant expects Seattle's pick of Paul Richardson to make an immediate impact due to his speed and height. This flies in the face of what we know about rookie wr's. I'm not saying Richardson can't, but it's basically a crapshoot. On the other hand Grant dismisses the impact of our acquisition of Stevie Johnson, a pro bowler who has given shut down corners like Revis and Sherman trouble in the past. Cohn argues that most of Stevie's production against Sherman was in garbage time as if Sherman wasn't even trying. He simply ignores Stevie's games against Revis or the rest of the league. Purely based on production, Stevie Johnson is one of the best receivers in the division.
Now let's consider a simple question: how many of this year's draft class will match Stevie's proven ability? I'd be willing to bet, not many. Furthermore it's even more unlikely that they'll demonstrate that pro bowl ability in year 1. Maybe Watkins or Evans wouldn't be a surprise but if Lattimer or Richardson or Robinson do, that would be shocking. Meanwhile we took our own fast receiver in the draft and Sea lost their most reliable target, Golden Tate. If we're talking match ups with the reigning champs (which I've already argued isn't the end all, be all) we expect to field 3 pro bowl caliber wr's next season to face Sea's vaunted secondary which has itself lost depth (Browner and Thurmond are gone). Sure, Richard Sherman can blanket Boldin and Crabtree and maybe Johnson (that's debatable). But he can't cover all 3 at once. Meanwhile we have the players in our secondary to double Harvin every down. Who else among their receivers is a threat? The rookie? Ricardo Lockette? He is faster than Richardson but neither of them are proven threats. With Tate gone Harvin may find himself in a similar situation to Boldin early last year: double teamed every passing down. In contrast, someone other than Sherman will be on an island against one of our 3 proven options.
All of this discussion ignores the excellent center we took, the highly productive inside line backer, a bevy of corner backs and a high risk/high reward pass rusher. Not to mention several medical red shirts to develop for the future. But who cares about interior linemen or 3rd day picks? Cohn wants, almost demands "impact" players. He wants immediate results and he suggests that trading away the opportunity to draft players who may be good "down the road" is worth it. He'd risk much of that in order to take a highly touted prospect. Never mind that every draft pick is inherently a risk. To me that strategy is the ultimate "fail."