Over the last few years, we have put together a pre-draft tracker to see who the San Francisco 49ers are connected to leading up to the annual NFL Draft. The 49ers visit with players at the Senior Bowl, Combine and Pro Days, and host up to 30 official visits each year. And yet, as we look back on the Trent Baalke era thus far, the easiest bit of advice for draft prognosticators is to look at South Carolina prospects.
The 49ers were not connected in the media to any South Carolina prospects this year, but they clearly had their eye on some. The team ended up drafting running back Mike Davis and tight end Rory Anderson, and then signing quarterback Dylan Thompson as an undrafted free agent.
These additions come after the 49ers drafted Bruce Ellington in 2014, Marcus Lattimore in 2013 and Chris Culliver in 2011. This is not exactly a rush on Gamecocks, but it shows at least some regularly recurring interest. And it is not surprising considering general manager Trent Baalke worked as a scout under Steve Spurrier when the latter was head coach of Washington.
Baalke was asked about the Spurrier connection, and if it explains all the South Carolina players on the roster.
Your connection with Spurrier, does that explain Lattimore, Culliver, three guys I think today from South Carolina? I'm sure it goes beyond that. Does that relationship make you feel a little more comfortable drafting some of those South Carolina guys?
"Well, you know they're going to be well-coached. They're going come into the league, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and that's nothing against the defense, but on the offensive side of the ball you know they're going to come into the league well-versed. They're going to be able to pick up the information. They're going to usually, almost always be able to on play three downs, if it's a back. And they're prepared."
I don't think Baalke will necessarily go out of his way to draft South Carolina players, but clearly he feels comfortable with his Spurrier history. You still need talent, but I imagine that if everything else was equal, playing for Spurrier might be enough to put one player over another. Baalke knows Spurrier, and he knows what Spurrier-coached players might bring to the table.
So, I suppose next year we should probably make sure and scout out every notable Gamecocks prospect!