Draft crushes. Everyone has them. And with the 2015 NFL Draft finally ready to grace us with its presence tomorrow evening, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the likelihood some of those draft crushes will be available once the San Francisco 49ers are on the clock.
Advanced Football Analytics developed something called the Bayesian Draft Analysis tool. This tool estimates the probability that a player will be available at a given pick. You can read more details about the tool HERE. With this tool, we can get an idea of when players are expected to come off the board and where Trent Baalke & Co. would need to position themselves in order to turn in a draft card with that player’s name on it.
I’ve compiled those probabilities for 29 prospects at various positions that have either been connected to the 49ers in some fashion or that fans want to see suiting up in red and gold come September. Obviously, that is by no means a comprehensive list so if you don’t see a player you’re crushing on, you can run the numbers on any prospect for yourself over at AFA.
Let’s start with the position that 49ers fans have been fiending for most this draft season…
(Note: Unless specifically stated otherwise, these numbers do not reflect my opinions on who the 49ers SHOULD select or the trades they SHOULD make, but instead is simply looking at what the 49ers would likely have to do in order to select a given player based on the information we have available to us.)
From left to right, this chart tells us the pick a player is most likely to be selected at based on AFA’s model, the range of picks that player is most likely to be selected within, and the probability that player will be available at each of San Francisco’s picks in the first four rounds.1 As an example, the most likely landing spot for Amari Cooper is No. 7 overall to the Bears. If a team lower in the draft wants to select Cooper, they’re going to need to make a deal to move up somewhere between Oakland’s pick at No. 4 and Chicago at No. 7. Finally, there’s only a one percent chance that Cooper will still be available when the 49ers pick No. 15 overall.
Despite rumors that San Francisco was interested in moving up for Cooper, it’s difficult to imagine Baalke paying the price to leap-frog Chicago into the top six selections. A more plausible trade-up scenario would involve DeVante Parker, who the 49ers might be able to select in the 10–12 range without having to give up a bounty of draft picks.
Perhaps the most enticing option if the 49ers want to select a wide receiver with their first pick would be to move back into the early- to mid-20s. There’s a strong chance that Breshad Perriman, and especially Dorial Green-Beckham, will still be available in that range. Trading down would also give Baalke the opportunity to do what he’s done more than any other general manager in recent seasons — accumulate additional draft value.
Should the 49ers opt to go a different direction in round one, Devin Smith could be an option at the top of the second round, while Tyler Lockett and Tre McBride could be had in the late-second, early-third round range. Chris Conley, a draft crush I’ve seen pop up on more than a few occasions, isn’t likely to hear his name called until day three at some point in the late-fourth or fifth round.
Wide receiver is probably the most coveted position among fans, but cornerback has been the 49ers’ most-cited need among draftniks. This year’s cornerback class is widely considered to be a weak one, particularly at the top. Trae Waynes is the buzziest of the group, and with only a 10 percent chance of being available for the 49ers with the 15th overall pick, you probably shouldn’t get your hopes up if Waynes is your guy.
Marcus Peters and Jalen Collins would be trade-back candidates late in the first round, but San Francisco shouldn’t wait any longer to target either player as there’s little chance they’ll still be around when the 49ers are on the clock in round two.
In the second round, P.J. Williams and Byron Jones should still be around, though there’s a decent chance the 49ers would need to move up 5–10 picks to grab them.
Outside linebacker might be the strongest position in the draft after wide receiver. With uncertainty at the position beyond 2015 — Aldon Smith’s contract expiring, Ahmad Brooks potentially becoming a cap casualty, and Corey Lemonier’s regression — it wouldn’t be a terrible idea for Baalke to add a player capable of contributing immediately as a pass rusher with the ability to step in as a starter in year two should the 49ers suddenly find themselves thin on the edge.
Ray was almost certainly out of San Francisco’s range before he was cited for marijuana possession earlier this week, but could find himself on the 49ers’ radar at No. 15 should he slip. Bud Dupree, and Randy Gregory to a slightly lesser extent, is essentially the DeVante Parker of this group — decent chance of still being on the board at No. 15, but would likely require moving up a couple spots to make it happen.
Hau’oli Kikaha and Trey Flowers are both intriguing players that could be had late in round two or even into round three depending on how things fall.
Shaq Thompson is a man without a position and doesn’t really fit with the rest of the players in this group, but is someone many fans are interested in on day two. Much like Dupree and Gregory a round earlier, the 49ers could land Thompson in the middle of the second round but would probably need to move up toward the top of the round if he’s someone they’ve targeted.
If the 49ers want to add one of the top running backs in this year’s class, they shouldn’t have to do anything more than sit tight at No. 15 and select the guy at the top of their board. With the deprecated value of running backs across the league, it’s unlikely either Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon will be selected among the top 14 picks.
Duke Johnson is yet another intriguing option in the top half of the second round, an area that appears to be somewhat of a sweet spot for this year’s draft class.
Malcolm Brown has the potential to be a great option on day three. Matt Waldman, author of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio and recent guest on the Better Rivals podcast, has Brown as the seventh-best back in this class, ahead of many players expected to be off the board long before Brown’s name gets called.
Inside linebacker has quickly gone from the strongest position on the roster to somewhat of a question mark after the surprise retirement of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, moving ILB up on the list of needs in the eyes of many.
The most popular names thrown around from the 2015 linebacker class — Stephone Anthony, Paul Dawson, and Denzel Perryman — are all expected to go off the board early on day two. It’s exceedingly probable that at least one of that trio will be available when San Francisco’s second-round pick comes around.
Arik Armstead has become the universal mock draft selection for the 49ers in the first round, which makes his composite ranking a bit higher than it should be, explaining the relatively low probability that he would still be available when San Francisco picks. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller has reported that Armstead will indeed be the guy should the 49ers sit tight, which reads (to me) a lot like Baalke won’t be submitting a draft card at No. 15.
Henry Anderson is a prospect a lot of draftniks like that should be available in round three. Pro Football Focus has put Anderson in the same company as Danny Shelton and Leonard Williams, which potentially makes him an incredibly valuable alternative to Armstead two rounds after Armstead will be off the board.
Note: the more narrow the trade range for a prospect, the greater the consensus among the draft experts used in the model; the wider the trade range, the less draftniks agree on where a player will come off the board. ↩