As the 49ers head toward the 2013 season, a great many questions need answering: which of their pending free agents will the 49ers re-sign? Who will the 49ers draft? How in the name of all that's holy did Trent Baalke swing a pair of high draft picks for Alex Smith? Who will the 49ers pursue in Free Agency?
While we probably won't be able to address all of these questions in this installment, we will be looking back at the Combine, who we were most impressed with, who's stock is rising, who the 49ers might target in the upcoming draft, and how the pending (yet heretofore unofficial) trade of Alex Smith reflects on Trent Baalke and the 49er front office.
Who most impressed you at the Combine?
AJ: Anyone that watched the combine would be lying if they told you that Terron Armstead and Lane Johnson didn't cement their standing as elite prospects in the upcoming draft. Especially Armstead. That kid can flat out FLY (4.71 40-yard dash) for a man his size. He also excelled in line drills. Even though both were incredibly impressive, neither tops the list of guys that impressed me most:
1) Barkevious Mingo: This guy is going to make one hell of an outside linebacker. He put up an INSANE 3-cone drill, great 40 time, and a solid body of work in one of the nation's best defenses. This guy has a chance to be a terror off of the edge at the next level.
2) Datone Jones: He showed decent speed, and marginal flexibility...but great quickness. Coupled with very productive body of work in his senior season (19 tackles for loss) and impressive size, he has the makings of a very productive NFL DE.
3) Ziggy Ansah: Dude...this guy has all of the physical tools. Size. Speed. Quickness. Freakish wingspan. His athleticism is scary...but so is his lack of polish. His ability will make him a 1st or 2nd round selection...but he's so raw that it could take some time for him make a dent at the next level.
4) Desmond Trufant: Big. Fast. Quick. Adequate strength. He looked good in DB drills. He has good ball skills. Provided that he can bring all of that to the next level, this guy is going to be a heck of a corner.
5) Chris Harper: His combination of size, strength and speed is very impressive. He wasn't a terribly productive receiver in college, and his spotty body of work will likely make him a mid round pick. If his physical tools translate to the next level the way I think they will, he could be wind up being a steal a big, strong, pass catching steal.
Diego: First of all I must say that after doing my share of film review on the 2013 NFL Draft prospects I must agree with several others out there: there aren't many consensus star players out on the board, but there are a lot of solid players.
That being said, one player who has stood out for me is a Defensive Tackle from Ohio State: Johnathan Hankins. Checking in at 6'3", 320 pounds, Hankins really jumps out on tape as a disruptive force that needs to be accounted for at all times. He is incredibly quick and agile for his size while also tough to move in the run game. He makes great use of his hands (arm length measured at 33 inches at the combine) and is a punishing finisher once he gets his hands on the carrier. He is a disrupter more than he is sack master once he gets on the backfield, which is ok for a team running a 3-4 where the Linebackers do most of the wrap up. Although he has shown the versatility to line up on the edge, he is strictly an inside force at the next level and he could very well play all over the defensive line in a 3-4 formation.
Going back to my thoughts on there not being a lot of super stars in this draft, the 49ers will be hard-pressed to find a younger version of Justin Smith, but Hankins comes very close. He draws up a good number of double teams, and he holds his ground well against them. He also was a constant three-down player for the Buckeyes during his sophomore and junior years (skipped his senior season to declare into the NFL), and he showed a very good motor. Some of the criticism on him is that his effort would wear off towards the end of the games, but I would attribute that to the high percentage of snaps he was playing for Ohio State. As any incoming rookie, he has some rawness to his game that, but he would be a great fit under a coach like Jim Tomsula and rotating all over the defensive line as he adjusts to the NFL.
Currently you can find him all over mock drafts ranging from mid-first rounder to early second rounder. The 49ers obviously have a lot of options in this draft, so whether it is at 31st overall or a little bit earlier if needed, I would love to see Hankins in red and gold for the next few seasons.
Whose stock is on the rise?
AJ: As usually happens every year, a few players separated themselves from the pack with INSANE workout numbers, some showed more than any of us thought they had and some just underlined and double stamped what most of us already knew. What follows are the guys that I see really moving up the boards on draft day. I tried going with one guy here. Honest. But there were a few that just seemed to jump off the screen so much so that I had to include all of them:
1) Sharrif Floyd: Everyone knew that Floyd was big, strong and productive...but the speed and athleticism that he showed at the combine make him the most complete interior defensive lineman in the draft. When the hype machine is done worth this guy, he could end up being the first defensive player selected.
2) Dee Milliner: As soon as this guy posted a sub 4.4 40 yard dash, he cemented his status as one of the best defensive backs in the draft. Given his size (6'0", 201 lbs), body of work and the NFL's love affair with speed, he's coming off of the board early. Really early.
3) Codarelle Patterson: He's not the fastest receiver. He's not the biggest receiver. He wasn't the most prolific receiver in college. But he has the best combination of size, strength, natural ability and speed (coupled with a 37" vert) in the draft. His combination of physical tools is going to make him the first receiver off of the board, even if he is a little raw.
4) Sheldon Richardson: As DTs go, this guy has all of the tools to be a very special player. Quick, light feet. Solid technique. Great body of work. All of that would have made him a potential top 25 pick but Star Lotulelei's heart condition might be what makes him one of the first defensive players taken.
5) Tyrann Matthieu: Like any good train wreck, most media types seemed to have a very hard time looking away from this guy when he was on the field at the combine. Unlike most train wrecks, his performance wasn't all bad. He showed good playmaking ability in DB drills, solid speed, and good athleticism. Though he is small probably too small to be much more than a role player at the next level, his body of work and natural ability could cause someone to take a chance on him as early as the third round. Not bad. Especially for a kid that comes with more baggage than a 727.
6) Terron Armstead: Wow. Just wow. This guy looks the part (6'5", 306 lbs, 34" arms), but after watching him post a 4.71 40 yard dash then breeze through OL drills with ease, its safe to say he made himself some money. Make no mistake, this guy isn't Bruce Campbell he has solid footwork and technique to go along with his freakish speed and strength.
Diego: Now that Alex Smith is in Kansas City, it seems like the general consensus is that the Chiefs will take Luke Joeckel, the outstanding Offensive Tackle from Texas A&M, with the 1st overall pick. I bet Joeckel wishes April 25 was tomorrow, because with each passing day an OT from Central Michigan seems to be closing the gap.
Eric Fisher is trying to follow on the footsteps of former Chippewa Joe Staley, and so far he has done very well. Unlike Staley, whose selection at the end of the first round was questioned by some analysts back in 2007, Fisher is a sure candidate to be a first round pick in this upcoming draft, and his stock has done nothing but rise since the college football season ended. A 1st Team All-MAC performer last season after starting all 12 games at Left Tackle, Fisher put questions about the caliber of his career opponents to an end after he dominated the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and he followed it up with an outstanding showing at the NFL combine that ended last week.
Fisher stands at 6'7", 305 pounds with 34 1/2 inch arms. His story isn't similar to Staley's only because of where he played in college, but also because of his steady growth from year to year and his eye-popping athleticism. Fisher reportedly was over 50 pounds lighter than his current weight coming out of high school, but tenaciously worked on filling up his frame while continuing to display the quickness of a 250 pound lineman. He was the top performer among offensive linemen in the combine in the 20-yard shuttle clocking in at 4.44 seconds.
Fisher has gone from mid-first rounder to being a top-10 pick and he is now in the discussion to be a top-5 selection, with thoughts of him being the number one overall player not too far fetched. Regardless of where he is selected, he will be an impact player for an NFL team (honestly, the Lions would be a great fit for him) and I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up a Pro Bowler within his first five years (whether that game continues to be played or not).
Given what you saw at the Combine, who might the 49ers target in the upcoming Draft?
AJ: What hamstrung the 49ers late in the season and throughout the playoffs wasn't a deficient secondary (contrary to popular opinion). The 49ers achillies' heel was a lack of quality depth in their front 7. Because the 49ers play so much man coverage, they are reliant on their pass rush to limit opponents through the air but that pass rush wore down as the season progressed. Look for the 49ers to address that come April. Additionally, the 49ers need to address a suddenly thin receiving corps, potential holes in the secondary, and a soon-to-be need for a back up QB (but odds are that they'll sign a low priced veteran instead of drafting a project).
DL The 49ers should have the opportunity to grab an impact NT early (depending on what they decide to do with pending free agents Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois). Among those likely to be available, I think their best bet is Ohio State's Jonathan Hankins. This guy has the size, strength and athleticism to anchor the 49ers' 3-4 defense for years to come. A solid mid round option at NT could be Missouri Southern powerhouse Brandon Williams. He's strong, put on an impressive performance at the Senior Bowl, and has a pretty impressive body of work for a Division II defender. In the event that they decide to move on a 3-4 DE, Jesse Williams should be available late in the first or early in the second round, and could provide the kind of versatile, high motor defender the 49ers like to see on their defensive line even if he isn't the best athlete at his position.
WR With last season's injuries to Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams coupled with the likely departure of Randy Moss and the non-impact of AJ Jenkins, the 49ers need receivers. Badly. Fortunately, there are some real potential gems in this years draft some of which could be available in the middle rounds. Da'Rick Rogers is an INSANE athlete with a ton of talent and a ton of baggage. He has the potential to be a possession type force in the passing game, provided that he's grown past the off field issues that got him booted from Tennessee. Another receiver worth keeping an eye on is Kansas State's Chris Harper. Like Rogers, he's strong and physical. Though he didn't have the numbers that Rogers did, this guy is a physical specimen (6'1", 229 lbs, 4.5 speed) who is an absolute train when he has the ball in his hands. Given the way that they 49ers receivers were mugged in the Super Bowl, don't be surprised if the 49ers bring in a couple of big, physical receivers to change the perception of their receiving corps.
DB While the line was at the heart of the 49ers defensive struggles in the post season, make no mistake Chris Culliver got beat on. Big time. Add to that the fact that Dashon Goldson may or may not be re-signed next season, and the 49ers could be in the market for a CB and a Safety. That stated, there are a few DBs out there that could step in and make an impact from day one. First on my list is Desmond Trufant. This guy has all of the physical tools, the demeanor, and the body of work that the 49ers look for and given the depth in the draft, he could be available in the second round where the 49ers have two picks. Another solid DB that could be around later in the draft is BW Webb. This guy has a GREAT body of work for a small school defender (46 tackles, 8 passes defensed and solid ST ability) and great athletic ability, posting great scores in the vert, broad jump and shuttle runs. As safeties go, don't be surprised if the 49ers select Matt Elam. This guy has great speed for the position (4.54 40), plays well in the box, and was often asked to cover slot receivers at Florida. His mix of speed, size, and cover ability make him an attractive target especially if the 49ers don't re-sign Dashon Goldson.
Diego: I am a PAC-12 guy, so I may be a little bit biased, but the folks at the 49erswebzone.com Draft War Room kept a detailed log of where the 49ers were sending their scouts, and two west coast schools were among the top four most visited by San Francisco scouts: Cal and USC.
Now I am a Cal fan, and naturally my favorite Golden Bear in this year's draft is Keenan Allen, but that's not the Berkeley product I see the 49ers targeting in late April. The 49ers offensive line was arguably the best in the NFL last season, but one guy in particular is significantly older than the rest, has 10 years of NFL wear-and-tear in his body, and honestly San Francisco would be lucky to get more than one more season of effective playing time from their Center, Jonathan Goodwin. Enter Brian Schwenke, a natural leader for the position who has also been steadily rising since the college season ended. Schwenke has been described by NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock as someone you can "plug in and play since Day 1". As someone who has watched a lot of Cal games I must say that is high praise, but not completely off the mark. Schwenke definitely held his own against some very good competition in the conference, but he wasn't a dominant player. He did, however, get better as he career went on, and he seems to have bookended that with a solid Senior Bowl and a strong combine where he caught the attention of many draftniks in several drills. Schwenke offers the ability to play RG in a pinch, although he projects purely as a C at the next level. He would be a very good pickup for the 49ers in the 3rd or 4th round in April who could potentially take over for Goodwin in the next year or two.
Looking at USC, they do not possess as many high-caliber NFL prospects as they usually do, but I can think of at least one former Trojan being targeted by San Francisco. While I agree that this team needs a tall receiver that can play on the other side from Michael Crabtree, perhaps a red zone target, I must admit I am a fan of Robert Woods, and although he doesn't offer the star potential that players like Cordarrelle Patterson and Keenan Allen have, Woods to me is an NFL-ready WR who could quickly become the second best receiver on this team. He was a difference maker for the Trojans right away, hauling in a team high 65 catches for 792 yards and also scoring 6 touchdowns his freshman year, second best to former 49ers 6th round pick, Ronald Johnson. Woods once again led USC's potent aerial attack his sophomore season, catching 111 passes for 1292 yards and 15 touchdowns, leading all categories even with future star Marquise Lee playing alongside him. 2012 saw USC feature Lee into stardom, but Woods had another solid season behind him, with 76 receptions for 846 yards and 11 touchdowns. Overall, the three-year starter averaged 84 catches for 977 yards and 11 touchdowns during his college career, numbers you will find hard to match for anyone. Playing in USC's pro style offense allowed him to learn an extended route tree and that plus his sharp-cutting moves will have him ahead of the curve in the NFL. He has adequate speed and solid hands, and although he doesn't possess a big frame his 6'1", 201-pound size is on par with many current NFL receivers. He could be a target for the 49ers at the end of the second round, and a definite steal anywhere in the 3rd round.
Alex Smith was traded for the 34th overall pick PLUS a conditional pick? Wow.
AJ: As anyone that reads this blog is well aware I am a fan of Trent Baalke, and a fan of Alex Smith. The aforementioned noted, there is no way in God's great green creation that I thought Baalke would land a second rounder plus a conditional pick for Smith. I figured Smith's ability might net the 49ers a 3rd rounder. At the end of the day, however, things broke exactly as the 49ers needed them to. Geno Smith turned out to be just okay, the Chiefs' QB situation is easily the worst in the league, and Andy Reid has the tools in place to run a West Coast style offense that would suit Alex Smith's strengths. The move is a huge win for the 49ers, and about the best outcome that Alex could have hoped for.
Any way you slice it this trade was a little bit luck, but it was also a perfect illustration of what a home run Jed York hit when he tapped Baalke to be the 49ers' GM. Thus far, he's managed to take a 6-10 roster of also-rans and turn it into one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. Sure, some of his moves that still need some time to cook (AJ Jenkins, come on down!), but all told he has proven himself to be a truly gifted GM and he might be a lot more than that before he's done.
Diego: Trent Baalke is paving his way to General Manager of the year. True, for that he will have to have a more difference-making draft than he had last year, but there is no doubt that today the 49ers are the clear winner in this trade.
I have been on Alex Smith's side of the argument throughout his career, understanding the difficult path he has endured in order to shake off the bust label. That being said, I didn't think he was worth the Chiefs' second rounder this year, and I argued so with AJ as we enjoyed the last tailgate of the season at the Candlestick parking lot before the 49ers beat the Packers. Getting a top-35 pick for Alex in the draft doesn't seem to have a fair value for Smith's performance so far in his career, and I stood in front of AJ and other fans as I calmly stated, beer and burger in hand, that expecting the 34th pick in return for Alex was unrealistic. Well, I was wrong.
Baalke must play a mean hand of poker, because he played his cards very well while dealing with what I can only think were multiple trade offers from different teams. Midway through the combine CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora was already reporting that the 49ers had a deal in place for the University of Utah product, and that said deal would essentially be finalized by the beginning of the Free Agency period (March 12). A few days later a more reliable insider, Jay Glazer, broke the news that a deal was indeed agreed upon between San Francisco and Kansas City and that the Chiefs had, "made a clear commitment to Smith." Not only has Baalke reportedly been able to obtain the 34th overall pick from the Chiefs, but apparently he was also able to muscle out a conditional mid-round pick in next year's draft.
So, technically, I wasn't the only one who was wrong, both AJ and I were wrong, because Baalke apparently is able to get much more for Smith than both of us thought he could, and that makes Baalke one of the best GM's in the NFL these days. Since becoming the 49ers' GM in 2011, Baalke hired Jim Harbaugh, had a solid 2011 draft, and has constantly made the right decisions in free agency (sans Brandon Jacobs). Unless Alex Smith wins a Super Bowl in Kansas City or wins several playoff games for the Chiefs over the next few seasons, the 49ers will forever be the winners in this trade hands down.
Two Minute Drill
- Is anyone else hoping that Darelle Revis and Richard Sherman throw down the next time the Seahawks and the Jets (or whatever team agrees to pay Revis a gazillion dollars next season) face off?
- It looks like Randy Moss won't be back with the 49ers next season. In other news, the 49ers are likely to have a #2 receiver that can actually get open.
- Some of the folks I've been talking to think that the 49ers should draft Frank Gore's replacement this season because he's on his last legs. Count me among these that think he's got a lot more left in the tank.
- In the event that the 49ers decide to let RJF walk in free agency, they should look at a few reasonably priced veteran 3-4 linemen. Look for the Niners to kick the tires on Richard Seymour, Chris Canty and Cullen Jenkins in the next few weeks.
- Some of the folks I've been speaking with think the 49ers should let Delanie Walker (aka Droptimus Prime) go in Free Agency. Count me among those that vehemently disagree. Walker is a matchup nightmare, a GREAT blocker, and his productivity erupted when Kap took over under center. Here's hoping we see him in red & gold next season.
- Our readers by now should know how I feel about the 49ers' need to address the CB position, but don't count me as someone wishing that the team pursue a trade for the Jets' Darrelle Revis. He may arguably be the best CB in the game, but unless Baalke can pay the price of a 1-year rental, I don't want any part of Revis and his demands for a high-paying contract. This team needs to take care of a lot of in-house contracts before they shell out money to a new guy.
- On the topic of CB's, color me unimpressed with Alabama prospect Dee Milliner. The more tape I watched on him the more I felt like he benefited from the best defense in college football, and I don't see him as a number one shutdown CB. He is not a top-10 pick for me.
- Reports suggest the 49ers will not place the franchise tag on Dashon Goldson and may not bring him back next season at all. Obviously I will give Baalke the benefit of the doubt but that is a true roll of the dice because San Francisco does not have a FS that can step into that role on their roster and bringing in a rookie to take over isn't an easy task. Ed Reed anyone?
- It looks like Randy Moss will not be back next season and I really hope Ted Ginn isn't back either. That leaves Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams, and AJ Jenkins battling out for number two (Sorry Ricardo Lockette). Suddenly, drafting a WR early doesn't necessarily mean that the team is giving up on Jenkins, who is now in Atlanta training with Colin Kaepernick.
- Finally, I want to give a shout out to Al Sacco and John Croston, two of the newest writers for the 49ers webzone team. My sources tell me we should have two more writers on board pretty soon, so welcome to all the new staff and I encourage all of our readers to give them a look in our Commentary Section.
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