Unlike many people, after quickly considering the obvious choices in most situations, my thoughts quickly morph into examining less-obvious alternatives offering potentially superior outcomes. That trait, among others, makes me who I am and was a major driver behind my entrepreneurial career. "Thinking outside the box" is just a lot more fun ... and frequently highly rewarding.
So how the hell does that relate to football and, more specifically, the Niners?
Let's use the upcoming NFL draft as an example ... specifically, differing ways to make use of the Niners' nine available picks in the 2018 draft.
After identifying post-initial-free-agency roster needs, the obvious approach to developing a mock draft is to try to forecast which prospects will likely be available at each of the available picks and then select a prospect that perhaps best fits the biggest remaining need. But I have a hard time just accepting the obvious as the best-possible solution. After identifying needs, my first thoughts are:
- Which specific prospects, who fit the schemes that we are using, best fit each one of those needs?
- Where will those prospects likely be selected?
- How can I convert the picks that we have into picks that would enable us to select those best-fit prospects?
This diatribe will outline my answers to those questions given our current roster circumstances.
Step 1. Identifying The Post-initial-free-agency Roster Needs
Let's attack this in reverse order ... what we don't need, what we could use, then what we really need. Understand, obviously we will sign a multitude of guys to fill out the 90-man roster; what I'm talking about here is what we need or don't need for the Final-53.
- S -- there aren't a lot of positions where we couldn't improve but you can't upgrade everything at once. Safety is very far down the list. Conceivably we re-sign Reid if he is unable to find another suitor. Both James and McCoil have some potential. But, having retained Jimmie Ward for this season means that we likely don't try to do anything else at safety during this off-season. It remains to be seen who emerges, as between Ward and Colbert, as the FSOTF ... and whether Ward gets extended beyond this year.
COULD CONSIDER UPGRADES (ON AN OPPORTUNITY BASIS):
- E (LEO) -- both Attaochu and Marsh are largely untested and they apparently want to look at Harold in the LEO position; will we continue with the Armstead experiment? IMO none of the Edge draft prospects, including Chubb, are particularly outstanding ... all have warts of some sort or another; Chubb will be gone by #9 anyway; Davenport and Landry could be possibilities, but neither turns me on very much as a first-round pick, much less the 9th pick in the entire draft.
Two things eat at me here ... (1) we don't really know what the guys that we have can do when given the opportunity, and (2) the 2019 Edge draft class is likely to be far superior to this year's class ... Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell (Clemson) and Nick Bosa (Ohio State) to name just the top guys; so, my thought is, give the guys that we have an opportunity this year and, if it doesn't work out as we'd like, target an Edge in the first round of the 2019 draft.
- RB -- we have 5 guys on the current roster, but, except for limited experience with Breida, we don't really yet know what we have; perhaps the biggest concern is that Williams is a complete unknown ... will he or won't he develop? IF there is an opportunity to select a potential difference-making RB prospect in the draft, we should think hard about making that move, but just not in the early rounds.
- TE -- Kittle is obviously a keeper. Hikutini may develop as a move TE but we don't know yet. Celek is a very pedestrian backup TE ... he's OK but we could conceivably do a lot better for far less than what he's paid.
- SAM LB -- if Harold is moved to LEO, that leaves Watson, Taumoepeu, Gilbert and Newsom to fight it out this summer ... who knows how that might turn out?
- Backup C -- is Magnuson the backup center? If not, who is?
- QB #3 -- Mulllen is OK but it's possible that we could find a low-round draftee or even an UDFA who would be better.
- OG -- potentially an immediate starter, depending upon how Garnett develops and how Tomlinson and Cooper evolve; at a minimum we must add better depth.
- OTOTF -- we're probably OK for now with Staley and Brown, although I am far less enamored with Brown than most fans seem to be ... he has talent, but I question the extent of his motivation when he seems so unable/unwilling to manage his weight and conditioning, even after 3 years of NFL experience. He can probably be whatever he wants to be, but I'm not sure what that is ... and I think that the powers that be may feel the same way. Do you really want to offer a big-dollar extension to a guy that has that much uncertainty? Gilliam is an adequate backup swing tackle until we can find better. In any event we need to draft an OTOTF.
- Big WR -- this isn't a huge need, as evidenced by the lack of activity in free agency. However, IF Shanahan sees a guy that he thinks could become "Garoppolo's Julio Jones" being available in the draft, I think that they jump on it.
- CBOTF -- obviously Sherman, Witherspoon and Williams will be the starting corners. But we must find a strong developmental CB to eventually replace Sherman. Mabin provides good young depth but I could see them still signing a younger, big CB free agent ... perhaps someone like Pierre Desir or Ross Cockrell.
- Backup ILB -- they re-signed Coyle to back up Foster and start when Foster is suspended. However, I think that they still need to select another backup ILB in the lower rounds, largely to play special teams in the short term.
- OG -- Nelson and Hernandez are not good scheme fits. Wynn is a possibility but he is injured. The guys that I like best as good scheme-fits for Kyle's offense are Billy Price, Austin Corbett and Braden Smith.
- OTOTF -- the three best scheme-fits IMO are Kolton Miller, Alex Cappa, and Brian O'Neill.
- Big WR -- there are a number of possibilities in this draft class, but Courtland Sutton is easily the best prospect. He'll go in the late-first or early-second round and, except for St. Brown, the other guys fall into the middle rounds at best. St. Brown is a possibility but he isn't nearly as polished and doesn't have the potential that Sutton does IMO.
- CBOTF -- first, now that we have the starters in place, this priority doesn't justify a selection before the third round IMO; that leaves Davis and Jackson out. The best remaining scheme-fit prospects are Toliver, Meeks, McFadden and Hill; Meeks is the cleanest (for one reason or another) of those prospects, so he's my guy.
- Backup ILB -- there will be a number of possibilities available in the lower rounds.
- Trade Pick #9 (trade value 1,350) to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for Pick #2/33 (580) plus Pick #2/35 (550) plus Cleveland's highest 2019 2nd-round pick (present value of 220).
Cleveland's motivation: Dorsey is looking for impact players ... and there will be one available at Pick #9 ... possibly a third top-ten pick for Cleveland in this draft. (I'm thinking Fitzpatrick, Ward or Edmunds.) But further, IF Cleveland elects to trade the #4 pick to Buffalo (or someone else), they would still have an opportunity at another top-9 pick.
- Trade Pick #2/59 (310) plus Pick #3/74 (220) to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for Pick #2/37 (530).
Indianapolis' motivation: Ballard is trying to rebuild an entire roster ... two day-two picks is better than one.
- Trade Pick #4/128 (44) plus Pick #5/143 (34) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for Pick #4/108 (78).
Tampa Bay's motivation: We're just trying to move up ... if Tampa isn't interested, somebody else will be.
- Round 1: No picks
- Round 2: #33, #35, #37 ... plus Garoppolo!
- Round 3: #70
- Round 4: #108
- Round 5: No picks
- Round 6: #184
- Round 7: #223, #240
- 2019 Draft: Cleveland's (highest) 2nd-round pick
- Pick #2/33: WR Courtland Sutton (SMU) 6'3" / 218# / 4.54 speed / 5.81 Combine grade
- Pick #2/35: OT Kolton Miller (UCLA) 6'9" / 310# / 4.95 speed / 5.67 grade
- Pick #2/37: OG Billy Price (Ohio State) 6'4" / 312# / 5.30 speed / 5.90 grade
- Pick #3/70: RB Rashaad Penny (San Diego State) 5'11" / 220# / 4.46 speed / 5.83 grade
- Pick #4/108: CB Quenton Meeks (Stanford) 6'2" / 205# / 4.53 speed / 5.38 grade
- Pick #6/184: SAM LB Peter Kalambayi (Stanford) 6'3" / 243# / 4.57 speed / 5.35 grade
- Pick #7/223: C Bradley Bozeman (Alabama) 6'5" / 316# / 5.43 speed / 5.11 grade
(If you don't like the backup C pick here, substitute a backup ILB ... perhaps somebody like Nick DeLuca (North Dakota State).)
- Pick #7/240: QB Chad Kanoff (Princeton) 6'4" / 225# / 4.90 speed / Not at Combine
(Superior talent to Mullen and a candidate for the Practice Squad. Adopt the New England methodology ... develop backup QBs to potentially enable trading one in the future for a high draft choice.)
- QB (2): Garoppolo, Beathard (Practice Squad: Kanoff)
- FB (1): Juszczyk
- RB (4): McKinnon, Breida, Williams, Penny (Practice Squad: Mostert)
- WR (6): Garcon, Goodwin, Taylor, Sutton, Bourne, Bolden (Practice Squad: McCaffrey)
- TE (3): Kittle, Celek, Hikutini
- OT (4): Staley, Brown, Gilliam, Miller (Practice Squad: Williams)
- OG (3): Price, Garnett, Tomlinson or Cooper (Practice Squad: Magnuson)
- OC (2): Richburg, Bozeman
- NT (2): Mitchell, DJ Jones
- DT (2): Buckner, Day
- DE (2): Thomas, Blair
- LEO (3): Armstead, Attaochu, Marsh (Practice Squad: Taumoepenu)
- SLB (2): Harold, Watson (Practice Squad: Kalambayi)
- MLB (2): Foster, Coyle (Practice Squad: Nzeocha)
- WLB (2): Smith, Lee
- SS (2): Tartt, Reid or James (Practice Squad: James)
- FS (2): Ward, Colbert (Practice Squad: McCoil)
- CB (6): Sherman, Witherspoon, Williams, Mabin, Meeks, free agent yet-to-be-signed
- ST (3): Gould, Pinion, Nelson