San Francisco 49ers: Trends in Mock Drafts for First Round Wide Receivers
The San Francisco 49ers will almost assuredly be drafting a wide receiver or cornerback early in the 2014 NFL draft. There is really no question as to need. The question, then, is which players will be available when the 49ers draft, and who they would have to move up to get. That’s a tougher problem to solve.
Mock drafts can be hard to parse, sometimes. You see one expert guaranteeing a player is a top-10 selection, while another questions whether the same player will even crack the first round. The odds that any expert will nail a pick precisely are very low. The most accurate draft around last season only hit 12 out of 32 first-round picks right.
Therefore, the best way to use mock drafts is in bulk. If a consensus develops around a player in a certain range, then you can feel fairly confident that they’ll be drafted somewhere around that slot. Maybe the precise team and position combination won’t be right, but you’ll at least have a gist of where a player is going.
With that in mind, I looked at 20 mock drafts, from CBS, ESPN, NFL.com, Sporting News, Rotoworld and Sports Illustrated. From there, I found the average draft position for the top players in the draft.
With this information, we can have a rough consensus ranking for the top players in the draft and also a clearer picture of who might fall to the 49ers, who they might have to trade up for and how far they might need to go to do so.
In this article, we’ll look at the potential first-round wide receivers.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Highest Selection: St. Louis at No. 2 (NFL.com’s Charles Davis)
Lowest Selection: Tampa Bay at No. 7 (six different writers)
Median Selection: Oakland at No. 5 (seven different writers)
Most common selection: Oakland at No. 5 (seven different writers)
The 49ers aren’t sniffing Watkins without making a massive move; he’s clearly the top receiving prospect in this year’s draft.
Davis has him going all of the way to the Rams at No. 2, saying Watkins is the most dynamic playmaker in the draft. It feels like the Rams have bigger needs than that, but a Watkins and Tavon Austin pairing would be a dynamic duo, especially if Kenny Britt bounces back as a third receiver.
Even the most pessimistic prognosticators don’t see Watkins lasting long on draft day. No one sees him getting by the Buccaneers, despite Tampa Bay’s lack of need at the position. The logic is that such a player is just too talented to pass up at No. 7.
For the 49ers to be assured of getting Watkins, they’re probably going to have to jump the Raiders at No. 5, and that’s a high price to pay, even for a potentially great player like Watkins. This would likely involve trading up with the Jaguars; if they’re not sold on a quarterback available that early, they may want to trade back. It does seem like too much of a pipe dream, however.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Highest Selection: Tampa Bay at No. 7 (CBS’ Will Brinson)
Median Selection: Tennessee at No. 11 (two different writers)
Most common selection: St. Louis at No. 13 (four different writers)
Evans is the consensus second-best wideout, but his actual draft slot is a bit more up in the air than Watkins’ is.
I find it hard to agree with Brinson, who has Evans replacing Mike Williams as the second receiver in Tampa Bay. He would play an Alshon Jeffery or Brandon Marshall-type role for the ex-Chicago Bear quarterback Josh McCown, but Tampa has more pressing needs.
At the same time, I find it very hard to believe he’d slide all the way down to No. 17, like Pete Prisco predicts. I don’t think the Steve Smith signing takes Baltimore out of the receiver market, but it’s hard to see Evans getting past Buffalo, Detroit, Tennessee and St. Louis. If he does fall that far, expect the 49ers to move up like a shot to grab him.
Realistically, though, Evans is quite possibly going in the top 10 to one of the teams listed above. He’d be a great pick for St. Louis, assuming they don’t take Watkins with their first first-round selection.
The 49ers would have to move up into the top 10, quite possibly with Buffalo at No. 9, if they wanted to be fairly sure they could take Evans. Even then, they might be hard-pressed to do so; the Bills could easily be in play for a top receiver to start above Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods. Keep an eye out if Evans drops, but don’t count on it.
Odell Beckham, LSU
Highest Selection: St. Louis at No. 13 (Sports Illustrated’s Doug Farrar)
Lowest Selection: San Francisco at No. 30 (CBS’ Pat Kirwan)
Median Selection: Philadelphia at No. 22 (two different writers)
Most common selection: Kansas City at No. 23 (seven different writers)
From here on out, the pecking order becomes a little less clear and has more to do with fits of players in systems than overall talent.
Farrar has the Rams taking Beckham right after Mike Evans leaves the board, continuing the trend of receivers to the Rams; only Pete Prisco has one of the top two receivers passing St. Louis. While it’s far from a given that the Rams will take a receiver, it seems fairly certain that the best aren’t getting past them, at the very least.
On the flip side, one writer sees Beckham lasting to where the 49ers naturally draft. Kirwan has Marqise Lee, Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin all leaving the board before Beckham, putting him alone in his rankings there, but speaking to a more universal truth—16 of the 20 writers have at least one of the next four receiving prospects falling to the 49ers at No. 30.
The reason to trade up, then, would be to ensure you get the name you want, but if you think this tier of receivers are all in the same boat, the 49ers would be fairly safe waiting to draft the top pick.
To be fairly assured of grabbing Beckham, the 49ers will likely have to jump the New York Jets at No. 18, as they’re in the market for multiple receivers. A second consecutive first-round trade with the Dallas Cowboys, sitting at No. 16, could be in the cards if the 49ers want Beckham.
Marqise Lee, Southern California
Highest Selection: NY Jets at No. 18 (seven different writers)
Lowest Selection: San Francisco at No. 30 (two different writers)
Median Selection: Kansas City at No. 23 (six different writers)
Most common selection: NY Jets at No. 18 (seven different writers)
There’s a bit of a split opinion about Lee. A lot of people see the Jets taking him, which makes sense—he fits a need, and the Jets did have a private meeting with Lee at his pro day. Lee has a lot of big-play ability, solid route running and would provide an immediate weapon for either Geno Smith or Michael Vick.
More people see him sliding past the Jets, however, and from there, he gets strung out a bit. Both Rob Rang and Pete Prisco of CBS see Lee falling all the way down to the 49ers, with Prisco openly questioning how a receiver with so much talent is “dropping down so many boards.”
Lee really isn’t dropping down so many boards, and it does seem like he’d be a very logical choice to the Jets at No. 18. Beckham and Lee should be roughly equally difficult for the team to grab. If that’s the case, I’d rather see San Francisco take Beckham, as his 4.43 40-yard dash would give the 49ers a dimension lacking in their current receiving corps.
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Highest Selection: Baltimore at No. 17 (ESPN’s Mel Kiper)
Lowest Selection: Not a first-round pick (two different writers)
Median Selection: Carolina at No. 28 (five different writers)
Most common selection: Carolina at No. 28 (five different writers)
Ignore the two drafts having Cooks out of the first round; both are older mocks from Rotoworld, and Cooks’ stock has been flying upward recently.
Kiper has Cooks flying all the way up to No. 17, before either Beckham or Lee gets taken. It seems a little high to me, considering Cooks is only 5’10”, and not the perfect replacement for Anquan Boldin. His blazing 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine led all receivers, however, so it’s easy to see why teams might get excited about him.
Cooks will realistically go anywhere in the 20s; various mock drafts have him going to Green Bay at No. 21, Philadelphia at No. 22, Kansas City at No. 23, Cleveland at No. 26 and Carolina at No. 28.
The Packers aren’t particularly in the market for a speedy receiver like that; they’re more likely to go defense with their first-round pick. They could be a target for the 49ers to trade with if they decide Cooks’ lightning speed is what their offense needs.
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Highest Selection: Pittsburgh at No. 15 (Rotoworld’s Evan Silva)
Lowest Selection: Not a first-round pick (five different writers)
Median Selection: Seattle at No. 32 (six different writers)
Most common selection: Seattle at No. 32 (six different writers)
Silva’s draft came before free agency and is probably a bit out of date. He points out that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers promised Ben Roethlisberger a tall receiver in the draft, but even still, Benjamin’s stock has been falling to the point where he’s probably a high second-round selection rather than a first-rounder.
Twelve of the writers have Benjamin slipping past the 49ers at No. 30, with only four having them take a receiver before Benjamin. Will Brinson of CBS has the 49ers taking Benjamin, as he’s a massive red-zone target, but I think the team is looking for a player more ready to contribute.
The 49ers could probably sit back and let Benjamin come to them, but if they wanted to make sure they grabbed the player, skipping past Carolina at No. 28 would be a way to ensure that—the Panthers are fairly wide-receiver hungry. It almost assuredly wouldn’t be worth making the effort to move up such a short way, however.
Jarvis Landry, LSU
Highest Selection: Carolina at No. 28 (NFL.com’s Charles Davis)
Lowest Selection: Not a first-round pick (19 different writers)
Median Selection: Not a first-round pick (19 different writers)
Most common selection: Not a first-round pick (19 different writers)
The only other receiver mocked in the first round in any of the 20 drafts is Jarvis Landry, who Charles Davis has as the seventh receiver taken in the first round. His logic is that the Panthers are so needy at the receiver position that they’d take Landry, even if all the other solid picks were gone.
Landry’s really more of an option for the 49ers in the second round, if they opt to take a corner in the first. Even then, a player like Davante Adams out of Fresno State would be more appealing to me than Landry, who crawled to a 4.77 40-yard dash at the combine.