Over the next couple months we'll be doing plenty of review of the San Francisco 49ers 2014 season. The coaching search has delayed that a bit, but Mel Kiper is here to help us get started! The coiffed one went back and re-graded the 2014 NFL Draft, and he has dropped the 49ers from an A to a B+.
When the draft wrapped up last May, Kiper gave the 49ers draft class an A- for addressing need, and an A for addressing value. Here is his assessment at the time:
Jimmie Ward will cover, attack the line of scrimmage, and will play fast and fearless. If you call that a reach, remember that Arizona had taken Deone Bucannon at No. 27, so there were already three safeties off the board (not that Bucannon and Ward are that similar) and the 49ers knew if they didn't land Ward at that spot, they had no chance later. They got the No. 1 RB in the draft at No. 57 ... Marcus Martin is a future starter at center, Chris Borland is immediate depth at linebacker and has the experience to play now. Brandon Thomas is another 49ers redshirt, but could be a star guard when he comes back (he hurt his knee this spring, but would have gone in Round 2 otherwise). Bruce Ellington isn't a far cry from Brandin Cooks, but he went 86 picks later ... Dontae Johnson is solid and Aaron Lynch has developmental promise. I even like the pick at No. 245 -- Trey Millard is the top fullback in the draft and was another guy who dropped on some boards after a knee injury. What I like about this draft is the 49ers are in a championship window, and they still managed to balance both the need for immediate help and also got a lot of talent for the future. The window can remain open.
Obviously there will be questions about the championship window following last year's awful showing, but there was definitely an influx of solid talent. A season later, Kiper admits dropping the grade a bit in part due to questions about whether they got an answer at wide receiver, and in part because the team as a whole performed worse. Here is what he said in his re-grading:
[W]hile I still really like it, the issues are that we don't know if they have a starting wide receiver out of this class, and that's a position of need ...
I liked the addition of safety Jimmie Ward, and while it was going to be a tough transition for him, he's a versatile player and will be a key player in the secondary next season. Unfortunately, he finished the season on the shelf with an injury. Running back Carlos Hyde was, in my opinion, the top runner in the draft, and given the reps, I think he can prove that in the future. The explosiveness is obvious. Center Marcus Martin was just OK when he played but figures to be a starter going forward. Linebacker Aaron Lynch looks like an absolute steal, a worthy bet in Round 5 by GM Trent Baalke ... I was a big Bruce Ellington fan and liked that pick, but the jury is still out on the receiver/returner.
The great get here is linebacker Chris Borland, so far one of the steals of the entire draft. Highly instinctive and productive at Wisconsin, his football smarts were immediately apparent when he was called upon ... Another name to keep an eye on is Brandon Thomas, a really talented and versatile offensive lineman who could emerge after sitting out the year recovering from an injury he suffered during the draft process.
Here is a full rundown of the 49ers 2014 draft class. It is an interesting class one year in, with significant contributions, but also huge upside. If none of the "red shirts" pan out, there is still value to be had in this draft. Of course, if the "red shirts" do not pan out, the draft still gets dinged for a waste of numerous draft resources. As with the 2013 draft, we are left to wait and see what two years out will bring.
1 - Jimmie Ward, DB
2 - Carlos Hyde, RB
3 - Marcus Martin, C
3 - Chris Borland, ILB
3 - Brandon Thomas, OG
4 - Bruce Ellington, WR
4 - Dontae Johnson, CB
5 - Aaron Lynch, DE/OLB
5 - Keith Reaser, DB
6 - Kenneth Acker, DB
7 - Kaleb Ramsey, DT
7 - Trey Millard, FB