The 2015 NN community mock draft has arrived at the first 49ers pick. We will be doing a three round mock draft, so we will have two more such picks. Karl Cuba had the honors today, and I'm sure his pick will draw both scorn and praise. I have included a poll at the bottom where you can rate it on a scale of 1 (worst possible pick) to 10 (best possible pick).
Here are the first 14 picks:
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
2. Tennessee Titans - Leonard Williams, DT, USC
3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Dante Fowler, Jr., OLB/DE, Florida
4. Oakland Raiders - Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
5. Washington - Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
6. New York Jets - Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
7. Chicago Bears - Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
8. Atlanta Falcons - Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri
9. New York Giants - Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska
10. St. Louis Rams - Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
11. Minnesota Vikings - Landon Collins, S, Alabama
12. Cleveland Browns - Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
13. New Orleans Saints - Alvin Dupree, OLB, Kentucky
14. Miami Dolphins - DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
With the 15th pick of the NN community mock draft, Karl Cuba and the San Francisco 49ers select...La'el Collins, OG, LSU
The Niners find themselves in a difficult position in this draft, sitting just outside the elite tier of talent and, in this mock, unable to make a move up or down to grab either a better player or add picks later on. As an NFL GM told Peter King at the NFL owner meetings, "The 17th pick on our board might be the 53rd pick on another team's board—and that could be a team we really respect." This means that we have reached a reasonably large plateau in the talent pool and scheme fits begin to become much more prominent in decisions between players. I do think that this will also make it difficult to find a partner willing to give us good value for our pick in a trade down on draft day.
Baalke's roster has needs at several positions but he has also worked through his usual method by ensuring that we have veteran stopgaps in those weaker areas alongside the young, developing players. So the Niners are, to some extent, protected from having to reach for fear of a massive hole in the starting roster.
The positions of need are: CB, ILB, DL, WR, backup RB, backup QB and interior IL. I'm not including OLB because at this stage I have to assume that they are keeping Ahmad Brooks on the roster which means we have three quality starters in him, Smith and Lynch, with a hopefully developing Lemonier.
I'm not going to look at the two backup positions with our first round pick and there isn't really an inside linebacker worthy of the pick. If there was another Patrick Willis available I'd take him, but the 2015 class of inside linebackers is without an elite talent.
I don't really like cornerback at number 15 for a handful of reasons; firstly, Baalke seems to operate by having a strong front seven that can stuff the run without bringing a safety close to the line and create pressure without having to blitz. As a result the corners are protected and the position is less of a priority for our limited resources, which is probably why the Niners have refused to pay significant money to retain our corners in free agency. I think it is an intelligent approach in an NFL where teams are using increasing amounts of multiple receiver sets that decrease the value of having one great corner and reward teams with depth at the position. We also have quite a few corners on the roster once you take the returning redshirts into account.
The other problem with corner lies with the two top prospects available here, they both have a major flaw. Trae Waynes is a very skilled cover corner but I just don't think I could live with his run support. He doesn't like to take on blockers, he doesn't like to tackle, he doesn't know how to take on blockers and he doesn't know how to tackle. It's a big enough issue that I can't take him as a result. The other guy I considered here is Marcus Peters. With Peters the problem is that while he presses like Richard Sherman, he plays off like Mike Rumph. He could be fantastic value to a team that only used him at the line but I don't think the Niners use that approach enough. I also like the talent in later rounds where Baalke likes to find his corners anyway.
This leaves the three positions I considered the most: defensive line, wide receiver and the interior offensive line. I think we need to reinforce all three of these areas as priorities.
We have five good linemen currently on the roster: Dorsey, Williams, Carradine, Dockett and Dial, with Jerrod-Eddie as a capable, veteran reserve. 3-4 teams usually don't carry more than six and at the time of writing we still have no clue whether Justin Smith will be back. However, with injury worries hanging over Dockett and Williams, this is a position I do think should be addressed early on.
The two most likely candidates for our line are Arik Armstead from the University of Oregon and Texas' Malcolm Brown. I don't really like the fit for either, Brown is a better fit as a 4-3 under tackle and I find it really difficult to look past Armstead's lack of production and his average workout numbers, I wonder how many would see him as a high pick if he was three inches shorter.
Then I considered wide receiver. I don't see Jaelen Strong or the likes of Breshad Perriman as being worth the 15th pick; there are guys behind them that I think can be just as good. Of the remaining players the only one with the talent to justify the pick in my eyes is Dorial Green-Beckham. A size-speed marvel with unusually graceful coordination for such a massive athlete but he comes with more warning signs than a nuclear reactor.
This leaves the offensive line. Our problem here is that Alex Boone will almost certainly be gone after this year and Martin, Kilgore and Thomas are all major injury worries. Anthony Davis also struggled with injury, so this is a group that could go downhill very fast with just a little misfortune. Over the last two seasons the 49ers' rushing DVOA dropped by 25% when Iupati was missing due to injury, a massive amount and we could miss that presence this year, especially if they intend a return to running the ball more as Jed York has suggested.
After Brandon Scherff my favorite lineman in this draft is La'el Collins from LSU. He has a fantastic kick slide when playing left tackle, he jumps through to the second level as well as any prospect I've seen in years, pulls well and plays with very good power, anchoring well against the rush and regularly driving defenders five yards deep when run blocking. He has the frame to add some strength and power as well as honing his technique, especially his punch but he should eventually become a good tackle. He will be awesome at guard in the meantime, a position he has played before. I very nearly took Andrus Peat from Stanford, a marvelous physical specimen but I don't like his football instincts as much. I do think he will also be a very good tackle though, the choice between them was close.
I can't trade up or down so my choice comes down to DGB or Collins. If DGB had a cleaner record then I probably would have taken him but instead I'm taking Collins. He should step in as a rookie at left guard and improve our pass protection while still creating great movement in the run game. In the future he should be able to take over from Anthony Davis or Joe Staley when the team decides we are ready.