As we enter the month of March, it's all systems go for the 49ers front office, who are busy trying to fortify this roster with another strong offseason. The 2013 draft process will be all the rage until late April, and thanks to 49ers.com, we have some interesting content to explore.
This past week, Digital Media Manager Scott Kegley of TV49 spoke with Niners talent evaluator Matt Malaspina.
Malaspina is in his eighth year with San Francisco, and his third as the National Scout. In this role, he is responsible for scouting the Southeast Region as well as validating college football's top prospects in the nation. He has been a key figure in the past few drafts, playing a part in the 2011 draft, which is one of San Francisco's strongest in recent memory.
In the 49ers' scouting and personnel department, Malaspina is one of four chief decision makers. He works closely with Joel Patten (Director of College Scouting), Brian Hampton (Director of Football Administration) and Trent Baalke (General Manager), as well as overseeing and collaborating with the regional and pro scouts.
Malaspina joined the 49ers after spending five years as an area scout with the Seattle Seahawks. Prior to the Seahawks, he spent the 1999 season with the Carolina Panthers, where he evaluated college players in the Southeast region. Malaspina spent the previous year with National Football Scouting.
Unlike Baalke, whose job criterion is much broader, Malaspina focuses solely on the evaluation of incoming NFL prospects.
His expertise pertains to the Southeast schools, which includes a number of SEC teams. Malaspina mentions in the following interview that he went to school at Central Florida, which is how he discovered 49ers full back Bruce Miller. In this sit down with 49ers.com, Malaspina talked about the 49ers draft process, shedding light on an otherwise undisclosed topic.
On the state of the draft process:
It's kind of a fluid process. But what you try to do is line them up the way you perceive them for your team based on film study, all-star games, bowl games, etcetera. So, some of it is really firm but it's a process until the draft. This is another piece of the puzzle and then there's their workouts in the spring, may bring in some of the guys to interview them at our place. So we feel pretty good about where it is. But there is still some moving parts that we'll firm up over the course of the next two months.
On the interviewing process:
It's important in just getting a feel for their body language. A lot of the times this is our first exposure to them, not as athletes, but as people. Because you don't get a lot of chances in the fall and through some of the all-star games to really sit down and talk with them. So this is a good part for us to get a feel for the kid, to talk about his family, experiences - things you otherwise might not have known.
On doing the work before the draft:
It's just like being in school when you put in the work and studied for the test. When the test comes, you feel good about it and you're prepared and you make the best choices based on all the information you've collected over the course of the last year, sometimes two years, or more.
Just from being exposed to be players, you see guys that are playmakers; freshmen, sophomore, junior. And you're constantly in those places, so you get good exposure and you get a good feel for them. But it is always a good feeling when you pull a name off the board and you really know the kid. The talent obviously, that's extremely important, but it's a really good feeling when the whole body of work comes together and you feel really confident about it.
On the depth of the 2013 class:
No question. It's really deep. And it's exciting because as you've seen through the history of the league, it's not always just the first-round players that are the great players. It's throughout the draft. And that's part of the process of preparing and seeing what guys are going to develop year one, and two and then three.
And that's kind of the exciting part of it is trying to predict but at the same time, trying to base it on their historical performance. It's great to have a deep draft but a lot of these guys, just because they're not drafted early, doesn't mean they're not going to be great players in the league.
On seventh round gem Bruce Miller:
Well, Bruce played defensive end and I went and saw him play South Dakota because I don't live too far from there, it just so happened it worked out. And he's jumping up and down, running around, full of energy and I know a lot of people there over the years, I went to school there. And every time I saw him, I saw a guy that was intense, dialed in, tough, committed - you know everything you look for in the guys we want on our team.
And then at the pro day, you know, he came here and worked out as a linebacker. And at the pro day, we had him work out as a full back and he caught the ball, natural, and just did everything. There's really no secret to it, sometimes you take chances on guys but he's wired right. He's the same guy now he was. He's a passionate player, he's a tough guy, he's got athletic ability - I mean he's got all the things you want. And our coaches did a phenomenal job with him; he's never played the [full back] position before.
On Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick in the 2011 draft:
Once again, it comes back to the wiring of the player. You know, their inter-fortitude. And obviously they're both extremely talented athletically and they were very productive in college. But the person, you know, what drives them. And I'm not surprised in the least bit that both of them are having the level of success they are. I'm really happy for both of those guys.
On Kaepernick's future:
It's limitless. You saw what he did at the end run there and how impressive it was. And how committed he is now, he already started his offseason training and he's really dialed in. I can't wait to see because what is in him, what he's capable of in his body, watching him throw the ball and run. The sky is the limit.
On A.J. Jenkins and expected development from 2012 class:
Expectations are high for all of the players, from the first round to the free agents. There is competitive pressure on our team in a good way, which is what you want. And that is what causes them to perform. I think those guys have come along well and this offseason, like Trent [Baalke] had talked about, is huge for their future development. But these are guys that are wired right, they love football, they want to get on the field and I have high expectations but theirs are higher. Like I said, they are wired right.
This was an interesting interview that covered a lot of ground at a fairly relevant time.
The interview process, and Malaspina confirmed as much, is a critical part to the evaluation process for San Francisco. He mentioned several times, "guys being wired right," and the best way to find that out is by one-on-one time with them.
The 49ers have also brought together a great locker room as of recent with a lot of high character guys. It is a very strong bunch with no bad apples, which is rare in today's NFL. They want to tap into the mind of the player and see what drives them.
Teams that actually sat down with Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman, for instance, and cared to find out about their backgrounds would realize they had been hardened by raw life experiences. And like Mike Singletary had once said, "When you have a tough childhood, it makes the tough things seem very normal." This was just one example, but from a broad perspective, Singletary is talking about adversity.
There are all different ways to be "wired right," but the interview process allows for San Francisco's scouts to find out what a forty time doesn't show you.
Moreover, I found Malaspina's comments about Bruce Miller intriguing. His home is in Florida, and that is where his contacts are. Throughout the year, he is in a great position to evaluate incoming talent. For the last half-century, the state of Florida has been one of the premier talent pools for football.
And with him being the National Scout, this gives him a certain amount of influence for the NFL draft. It also makes sense why San Francisco has been developing this hard-nosed identity. Do not be surprised to see an influx of talent from schools like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississipi, Arkansas or South Carolina.
Over the years, Patrick Willis (Ole Miss), Ray McDonald (Florida), Anthony Dixon (Miss. St.), Aldon Smith (Missouri), Ricky Jean-Francois (LSU), Chris Culliver (South Carolina) and Bruce Miller (UCF) have represented the Southeast region well for San Francisco.
This year, there are a number of a number of highly touted prospects that the 49ers could look to get their hands on. Jonathan Cyprien (FIU), Sharrif Floyd (Florida), Matt Elam (Florida), Xavier Rhodes (Florida State) and Cornellius Carradine (Florida State) are a few early-to-mid rounders at positions of need that hail from Florida.
There are even more prospects prospects from the Southeast region, which is no surprise with the SEC being as dominant as it has been. Malaspina is only in his third year in this role, but don't be surprised if he is a rising star in this organization with Tom Gamble in Philadelphia.