The 2015 Niners Nation community mock draft is coming to a close, with plans on wrapping it up on Wednesday. In the meantime, we have already gotten through all three San Francisco 49ers picks. Karl Cuba handled the picks for the community, and I decided to get his overall thoughts on his strategy and other assorted issues connected to the mock.
1 (15). La'el Collins, OT, LSU
2 (46). Carl Davis, DL, Iowa
3 (79). Tre McBride, WR, William & Mary
Fooch has asked me to explain the strategy I used in the Niners Nation community mock draft. Since I didn't get many printable quotes out of the tic tac toe chicken that ran my war room, I'll have to do my best to interpret what Broilke means by ‘ruffle feathers, bob head, scratch ground, bite Karl's hand'.
I'll begin by explaining my take on the age-old BPA versus need debate. I'll then take a look at where I feel the best talent lies in this year's class, examine some possible alternative strategies and finish by looking at how things would have changed if we had been allowed to make trades.
I feel quite strongly that it is usually a mistake to draft solely for need and leave talent on the board. Imagine we have a hypothetical draft class where the players' grades are nines in the first round and the grades fall by one each round. If you had no needs at all you would simply select the guy with the top grade each time. However, if instead you decide that your biggest need is a linebacker then you might decide to take the top LB on the board even if he's not a nine. If you then repeat this in later rounds, say getting the corner you need who grades out as a seven in the second round over players rated as eights then you're losing substantial amounts of talent.
The second approach becomes even more troublesome when you consider that your draft picks are under contract for at least four years. Over that four year period, the BPA drafter will have assembled grades of 4x9 + 4x8 + 4x7 for a total of 96 in his first three rounds while the ‘need' drafter will have grades totaling 84. Mr. Needy has left 12 points on the board, worth more than a first round pick. Now this is an abstraction to demonstrate a point but hopefully I have shown that if you go into a draft determined that you need a certain position then you'll end up with a weaker roster overall, which could lead to you having to reach even more in the future. Players taken outside the first round also are statistically unlikely to start in their first year according to research by Tony Villiotti of National Football Post.
However, the draft is obviously not that simplistic. Mr. BPA could end up stockpiling guards, quarterbacks or even kickers while leaving holes over the rest of his roster. So I also don't agree with the common trope of ‘always draft the best player available'. It is more complicated than that.
I think there is a knack to identifying which round is the best to look for the positions with players that you need, so you combine the two approaches. The final piece of the puzzle is the ability to move up or down the draft via trade, this allows a clever GM to try and take the guys he needs at the right spot for them to come off the board though even then you need to ensure good value for your picks and try not to trade out of the talent rich areas of the draft. Not that we could trade in this mock.
So where did I think the richest veins of talent lie in the first three rounds of this draft and where were the sweet spots for the positions we need? While opinions will vary, the receiver class does have a strong consensus that Amari Cooper and Kevin White are the truly elite prospects. However, there is quite a lot of talent to be found deep into the draft. There are guys like Chis Conley and Kenny Bell who should be available on the third day. As is usually the case every year the offensive linemen capable of playing tackle, and especially left tackle, are mainly found in the first round though there are guards to be found through to round three. Defensive linemen seem to be distributed quite evenly through most pundits' big boards though not in massive numbers and the cornerback class has quite a lot of players even if could be spiced up with a couple of the truly special Charles Woodson/Deion Sanders type talents.
It's fortunate for the Niners that they don't need a safety as it's a really thin group and you can say the same thing about quarterbacks. However, inside linebacker is a weak group without a transcendent player like Patrick Willis or the depth of starter quality prospects you would expect to find in the second day. If you are convinced that the Niners must acquire an ILB capable of starting this year then it probably has to be one of the trio of Kendricks, McKinney or Anthony who will likely be taken between the 25th pick in the first and the middle of the second round. As occurred in this mock, it could be that the paucity of options leads to them flying off the board in a hurry around this area.
I should also add that I agree with the general perception that after a small elite of eight or nine players, followed by a second tier of six or seven prospects, this class has a large plateau of talent that stretches through the second round. Amongst this morass of talent the player you want will be determined by system fit and individual needs.
As I couldn't trade, I couldn't pursue the strategy of moving to find the best match of talent and so when I had to make my selections I was really hoping that there would be some synergy between BPA and need. As I explained when I made my first selection I felt that La'el Collins fit this description quite nicely. Malcom Brown seems more of a 4-3 under tackle to me, Marcus Peters can press but struggles to play off the line and while Trae Waynes looks very impressive at times his run support is abysmal, plus that short shuttle is a bit worrisome as cover corners should have outstanding acceleration over short areas. The other player I considered was Dorial Green-Beckham, who would push towards the top five if you ranked solely on potential, but I didn't think represented enough value. I think this was vindicated as he wasn't selected until the fourth pick of the second round. In fact, no receiver was selected in the first round after the Niners picked at 15, so the group opinion would seem to be that a receiver would have been a significant reach in the first.
After the middle linebackers who I think are worthy of the pick were all plucked away before I had a chance at them I opted not to take a receiver because I thought I could get good ones later on and I was looking for a guy who could replace Anquan Boldin next year. I had looked at the teams who needed a receiver together with those who had already taken one and I was pretty certain that I could get the underrated Tre McBride with my third round pick. As I said in that write up I think he's a steal and his skill-set should make him more likely to become a starter. I might have taken an ILB in the second though if I'd been given the chance. I took Carl Davis because I think he can play end or tackle and his style of play really suits our defensive front. He also has long arms and both Trent Baalke and Broilke love a guy with long arms.
So how could this have played out differently? The most common complaints in the comments are that I didn't take a receiver early enough, didn't need an offensive lineman and that I didn't land an inside linebacker. However, it would be difficult to get a quality ILB without taking him in the first and that would have been too large a reach for me.
So let's say I take DGB or Perriman at 15. I still would have missed out on the linebackers and if you look at how the board fell then a guard would be a reach as the likely candidates; Cann, Jackson and Marpet weren't taken for half a round. If I'd opted for a corner in the second then I would have been left with few decent options on the offensive line in the third and if I had waited for a defensive lineman then I would have been cursing the Saints to the heavens for taking Henry Anderson out from under my nose. So even with the powers of Captain Hindsight I find it difficult to compile a satisfactory draft this way. So I would probably still want to end up taking a defensive lineman in round two and then taking Stanford cornerback Alex Carter in the third and after I took Carl Davis because I thought he was the best player I would have taken him again. Then I'd be looking for a guard in the third day.
I think this approach ends up with a less talented haul of players than those I selected though I will happily admit that there is probably an element of bias here, of course I prefer the players I picked otherwise I wouldn't have picked them. If you think you can do a better job than a homicidal chicken then post your selections in the comments, be polite though or you might receive a box of rotten eggs in the mail.
The more interesting question and probably more relevant to analyzing this week's draft is what would you do if you were allowed to trade? The only move up I would advocate would be heading up to grab Amari Cooper, he's such a safe prospect that I could be convinced it would be worth surrendering the capital. If you sent our first, second and fourth picks this year along with a third in 2016 then you might get the ninth pick and with third in return to help fill out this year's class. I would be less concerned about giving up a future pick because we should have some compensatory picks that year to assuage the damage. This relies on Cooper lasting to that pick which means that only one out of the Raiders, Jets and Bears took a receiver, so even that is a long shot.
That means trading down looks like the preferable option. I would like to point out a potential issue with that approach though, if everyone knows that there is a large plateau of talent stretching from the middle of the first round down to the top of the third then who in their right mind will want to trade up? I also think that there is a growing sense around the league's front offices that as the draft is such a lottery then you are better off accumulating extra tickets. In the last two weeks the general managers of the Jets and Eagles have indicated that they wish to acquire more picks. I think it's a growing trend around the league and if that's true it will inevitably begin to be seen in reducing returns in terms of draft capital when trading down.
As a result we might not get the full Johnson chart value for moving down towards the bottom of the first round, perhaps a third round pick instead of a second. I still think it could be a viable strategy, particularly as it could be the only way to get on of the trio of linebackers that I think would be worth the pick.
For instance you could drop to the bottom of the first and take a WR like DGB or Perriman and then use your fourth or fifth to move up a little in the second for a shot at an ILB and then hope to grab Henry Anderson and a cornerback or a guard.
However, I really like the value of WRs Kenny Bell and Chris Conley in the fourth round. So my ideal strategy would be to trade down twice into the top of the second for that inside linebacker and add two selections. I'd then take one of the tall corners with our second round pick, use one of the extra picks to move up to the top of the third for Marpet, Cann or Jackson, select Henry Anderson with our third and then burn the other bonus pick to move to grab whoever falls out of McBride, Bell or Conley in the fourth. You might have to use a lower round pick to trade up in the third for Anderson but this approach allows you to get decent quality players to fill all of the major needs at WR, ILB, OG, CB and DL. This would be a good example of the philosophy of moving to match value and need that I described earlier and also allows us to plunder the value sweet spot in the second round.
So that's my take on this year's draft and how I'd mock it if we were allowed to trade. If you think I've fowled it up then don't blame me, blame the chicken.