Breaking Down Expert Mock Draft Picks for the San Francisco 49ers
The mock draft firestorm has been in full swing since the end of the regular season, but the delayed NFL draft has made the 2014 offseason feel longer than ever.
Eleven total draft picks leave the San Francisco 49ers in excellent shape, but an unpredictable first round should command a large share of the attention. With the big day just two weeks away now, there's never been a better time to take note as the final mocks are polished up.
Draft experts have been working tirelessly to forecast this year's first round, only to be undone by the first shocking trade of the weekend. With that in mind however, these exercises are great for a look into the type of players that could be available late in the round.
Earlier this week, Bleacher Report's Nick Kostos provided a roundup of select expert mock drafts, including:
- Daniel Jeremiah (NFL.com)
- Mel Kiper Jr. (ESPN)*
- Todd McShay (ESPN)*
- Matt Miller (Bleacher Report)
- Evan Silva (Rotoworld)
The 49ers have been widely speculated to trade out of the No. 30 overall pick, but anything can happen at Radio City Music Hall on the night of May 8. Assuming that general manager Trent Baalke does stand pat, which name will be read at the podium?
With the selections of these five experts in mind, we'll break down the ideal choice in value and fit for the upcoming season and beyond.
*Note: Subscription required for full access to both ESPN mocks drafts. All statistics according to sports-reference.com.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State (NFL.com)
Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard lasts all the way to pick No. 30 in Daniel Jeremiah's mock draft, leaving the 49ers with an incredible value in not trading up.
Ranked as the No. 14 overall prospect by Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com (via CBSSports.com), a slip into the late end of the round would help San Francisco shore up the secondary immediately. As Rang writes in his scouting report of Dennard:
Well-built for the position with broad shoulders, long arms and good overall musculature. Confident, physical defender on the perimeter at his best providing man to man coverage and when attacking in run support. ... Good patience and body control to adjust when the ball is thrown. Doesn't panic, instead reaching to rip the ball away as the receiver attempts to catch it.
Jeremiah also cites Dennard's physicality, which sure sounds like the perfect formula for this hard-nosed defense, doesn't it?
In the video above, B/R's Matt Miller expresses concerns over Dennard's overall athleticism and fluidity but also sees the positive total package. Smart coverage instincts and a willingness to play the run would fit right in with coach Jim Harbaugh's 49ers, should this indeed be the pick.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt (ESPN)
Mel Kiper Jr. projects wide receiver Jordan Matthews at No. 30, providing a big and athletic target for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The Vanderbilt product tallied 112 receptions in his final season, including 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns through the air. Matthews' 6'3" frame alone would present a new type of weapon for the San Francisco offense, but the overall package does leave some to be desired.
As B/R's Matt Miller points out in the video above, Matthews' athleticism and strength often overshadowed his lack of true top-end speed. While his height and discipline appear to translate at the professional level, the 49ers are starved for playmaking speed in the passing game.
Miller is not alone in this concern, as noted by the receiver's NFL combine scouting profile:
Adequate line release. Fairly linear. Not a quick-twitch athlete. Does not show elite explosion to separate vertically. Lets some throws into his body and is not immune to concentration drops. Limited creativity and elusiveness after the catch.
Matthews could be a great balanced receiver at the next level, but his overall skill set doesn't appear quite right for San Francisco. That said, a productive pass-catcher would be far from a worst-case scenario for a first-round pick.
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU (ESPN)
Todd McShay goes against his ESPN colleague with the mock projection of TCU cornerback Jason Verrett, a short but quick defender in the secondary. The 49ers are clearly in need of help at the corners, and Verrett is very likely to be available at the end of the first round.
Verrett's 5'10" frame is compensated with aggressive and physical play, as noted by B/R's Matt Miller in the video above.
Coincidentally, Verrett is also the pick in Rob Rang's mock draft for NFLDraftScout.com (via CBSSports.com). Much like Miller's analysis, Rang sees an undervalued talent with a lot to like if you can get past his height:
Adding former Viking Chris Cook helps alleviate the hole left by the release of Carlos Rogers but the 49ers need more help at cornerback. What Verrett lacks in size he makes up for in tenacity and athleticism. Verrett ranks as the top cornerback in the draft for some scouts and would be a top 15 pick if just a few inches taller.
Size is impossible to ignore, however, and Verrett sometimes struggled against tall receivers on the outside. GM Trent Baalke has tended to favor taller corners over his tenure as well, as noted by Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
While a talented player, Verrett may not be the best overall fit for what the 49ers like to do on defense.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State (Bleacher Report)
B/R's Matt Miller narrates all of the "Pro Player Comparison" videos that you've seen throughout these slides but somehow found extra time to update his own mock draft. At No. 30 in Round 1, Miller also sees the 49ers targeting a cornerback in Ohio State's Bradley Roby.
Miller cites Roby's timing and anticipation as favorable attributes in addition to his natural size and speed. This is also a player who Miller once saw as the top cornerback in the 2014 draft class, as seen in this October tweet.
While Roby's athletic ability and instincts are hardly in question, there are concerns pushing him to the latter half of the first round.
Roby was suspended by the Buckeyes for the 2013 season opener in the aftermath of an offseason arrest, per Austin Ward of ESPN.com. Given the troubles that the 49ers have had with off-field incidents in the past few months, a high-risk player could be a tough sell.
An aggressive and talented player is difficult to pass on, but San Francisco already has the spotlight of the league office. If there's faith in his ability to follow the straight and narrow, however, Roby possesses all the potential of a starting NFL cornerback.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State (Rotoworld)
Oregon State's Brandin Cooks is the first-round pick in Evan Silva's mock, presenting the speed and elusiveness that Matthews simply can't provide.
No current 49ers receiver can match Cooks' unique skill set, coming in as a burner that offensive coordinator Greg Roman sorely lacks. While concerns exist over his 5'10" frame and slender build, Silva sees the former Beaver as the missing weapon in the San Francisco offense:
The 49ers lack a field stretcher to fully capitalize on Colin Kaepernick's hose of an arm. Although Cooks' most common player comparison is Tavon Austin, San Francisco could use him in a Victor Cruzian or DeSean Jacksonian role, threatening the perimeter and running vertical routes out of the slot. Cooks is going to be a far better NFL receiver than Austin.
That's lofty praise over Austin, who the St. Louis Rams made the No. 8 overall pick just one year ago. However, this type of playmaking ability isn't available late in the first round without question marks.
Aside from his sheer lack of size, B/R's Matt Miller failed to see Cooks tested by press coverage at the college level. With the physical Seattle Seahawks on the schedule twice every year, this inability would be significant against a top division competitor.
On the other hand, Miller also stated in the video above that Cooks is "the draft's best receiver with the ball in his hands." That sure would look good in red and gold next season.
The experts have hardly reached a consensus for the 49ers in the first round, but potential trade scenarios could alter the projections. However, several of these players could rise depending on the flow of the draft, which could still leave Baalke trading up for one of the names you've seen here.
All things being equal, cornerback is probably the bigger need for the team on the surface given the lack of proven starting experience.
Verrett and Roby each have concerns, but Dennard appears to have what it takes to contribute from Day 1 in a 49ers uniform. Dennard's lofty scouting reports should also have him off the board before pick No. 30, which could put the trade winds in motion for San Francisco.
Should receiver be the target, a player like Cooks or LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. would fill a need for speed on the offensive side of the ball. While Matthews represents a solid all-around talent, the desperate need for a playmaker is just too difficult to overlook.
With that in mind, Rotoworld and NFL.com seem to have the right ideas for the 49ers in the first round in an ideal world. The question is, will the 49ers be able to position themselves as the draft process begins to take shape?
At long last, the answers will come soon enough.
Tom Smeaton is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. For more news and opinions throughout the week, follow @smeaton49 on Twitter.