Wednesday afternoon, word got out that the San Francisco 49ers had director of college scouting Matt Malaspina on hand for the Texas A&M Pro Day. Offensive tackle Jake Matthews, wide receiver Mike Evans and quarterback Johnny Manziel were the three most prominent participants. We don't know if the 49ers talks specifically to Evans, but given that they were on hand, one has to imagine they at least had a word with him.
The 49ers are sending their football operations staff far and wide to nail down the last part of the team's draft board. According to general manager Trent Baalke, the team entered the NFL Combine with their board at about 60-65 percent completed. With the Combine firmly behind us, the team will continue going through film, while also visiting various Pro Days to get their final impressions for the board.
At the same time, visiting a team's Pro Day does not mean the team is actually going to draft a player. In Evans case, his draft stock is on the rise with the media. We don't know how the 31 other teams view Evans, but there are probably a few teams that would invest their first round pick, or even move up in the first round to draft him. The 49ers might be one of those teams, but it is also possible they are not interested, and instead are using this as a way to throw people off their scent.
We'll never really know for certain unless Evans slips to No. 30 and is or is not selected, but I would be surprised if that happens. However, the 49ers can use Evans, and other players, to create some misdirection. The Chicago Bears former director of college scouting, Greg Gabriel, had a great article discussing the front office "lying season" (B/R article, but interesting information).
Gabriel talked about how the team used pre-draft visits and Pro Day workouts to throw off opposing teams. In talking about visits, Gabriel said:
What I used to do when scheduling visits was to change whom I brought in every year so there was never a pattern as to which player was going to visit. One year, we brought in players whom we were thinking of targeting in the first three rounds. The next year I brought in some people we had already eliminated and players we wanted to "recruit" for post-draft free agency. The following year I brought in a combination of the two.
One year, we had pretty much made up our minds on the player we wanted in the first round by January. In February, I made a visit to the school this player was attending to talk to the player and his coaches.
In an attempt to not let anyone link that player to us, we didn't interview the player at that year's combine, nor did we send a coach to work him out at his pro day. When we brought in other players at the same position for a pre-draft visit we let the local media know who those players were.
It's a whole lot of gamesmanship, and I have to think Trent Baalke and the 49ers front office are no different than anybody else. I don't recall specifically who, but I've heard some 49ers players saying the team never once spoke to them leading up to the draft. If a person doesn't have any apparent red flags, "ignoring them" leading up to the draft can help to keep people from taking advantage of the information.
The 49ers have had some kind of interaction with the following players. I'm sure I've missed one or two, so if you've seen information, let me know:
Xavius Boyd, LB, Western Kentucky (Shrine Game)
Brandon Cooks, WR, Oregon State (Combine)
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OT, McGill (Shrine Game)
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M (Pro Day)
C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa (Senior Bowl)
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illnois (Pro Day)
Ra'Shede Hageman, DL, Minnesota (Senior Bowl)
Gator Hoskins, TE, Marshall (Senior Bowl)
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, DB, Nebraska (Senior Bowl)
Cassius Marsh, DL, UCLA (Shrine Game)
Jeff Mathews, QB, Cornell (Shrine Game)
Demonte McAllister, DL, Florida State (Shrine Game)
Jack Mewhort, OL, Ohio State (Senior Bowl)
Matt Patchan, OL, Boston College (Senior Bowl)
Calvin Pryor, S, Ohio Louisville (Combine)
Shaquille Richardson, CB, Arizona (Shrine Game)
Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia (Senior Bowl)
Marcus Smith, LB, Louisville (Senior Bowl)
The 49ers could end up drafting someone from this group, but they also might not. A lot goes on to throw people off. Maybe they have no intention of drafting anybody they spoke to, or maybe they just want you to think that. We'll find out for sure come early May when the 49ers make their various picks.