San Francisco 49ers: 5 Realistic Draft-Day Trade Options
When mocking draft-day trade options for the championship-contending San Francisco 49ers, aggressive, slam-dunk moves are often the point of prognostication.
Yours truly entertained these possibilities just last week.
Trading all the way up into the top seven for Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans would indeed qualify as such a maneuver. Selecting the former NCAA standout would require sacrificing extensive draft picks in both 2014 and next year’s draft.
But what about the more realistic scenarios for the Red and Gold? What realistically could happen with 11 tradable assets?
Take last April’s selection process for example.
Niners’ general manager Trent Baalke moved up 13 spots in the first round and took LSU safety Eric Reid. Ascending from No. 31 to No. 18 only necessitated a third-round pick.
Baalke then moved both up and down over the next two rounds.
He went from No. 34 to No. 40 and grabbed Florida State defensive lineman Tank Carradine. He then climbed from No. 61 to No. 55 for Rice tight end Vance McDonald in exchange for a sixth-rounder.
And in Round 3, he maneuvered up five spots from No. 93 to No. 88 for Auburn pass-rusher Corey Lemonier. The seventh-rounder he netted from the Carradine trade enabled this latest acquisition.
All of these moves were reasonable, prudent and didn’t involve the proverbial breaking of the bank. Baalke merely made sensible use of a bevy of draft capital at his disposal.
Many an analyst, scribe and 49ers fan believe that this team only needs an offensive red-zone threat or shutdown corner on defense. These folks—and I would tend to agree—argue that San Francisco is just one, maybe two pieces away from securing the franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Can you blame them? There really is ample corroborating evidence behind these assertions.
One need only recall the back-breaking touchdown catches allowed and the ones that didn’t materialize on offense in crunch time during Super Bowl XLVII and last season’s NFC Championship Game.
That said, there are also plenty of ways in which Baalke can elevate this squad without “mortgaging the future”—much like he did in 2013.
On that note, let’s detail the five realistic draft-day trade options for the 49ers.
Unrealistic vs. Realistic
We would be remiss if we didn’t explain the difference between unrealistic and realistic and eliminate the former as it pertains to the 49ers draft.
The word-savvy folks at Merriam-Webster define unrealistic as “based on what is wanted or hoped for rather than on what is possible or likely.” Or put more succinctly, “inappropriate to reality.”
For the 49ers in the realm of the NFL draft, that would entail trading up to No. 1 for pass-rushing extraordinaire Jadeveon Clowney, No. 2 for wideout Sammy Watkins or No. 3 for Buffalo’s Khalil Mack as a potential Aldon Smith replacement.
Moving anywhere for Johnny Football and subsequently kicking Colin Kaepernick to the curb epitomizes any such draft-related unreality—that’s a given.
Now, Baalke ascending into the top 10 for Evans or Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert lies right on the fringe of hope versus realism. These trades wouldn’t negate the chances for a sustainable future like the other four, but they would come close.
At the other end of the conservative-but-aggressive spectrum exists the idea of trading out of the first round entirely.
Baalke would in this case acquire multiple good (but not great) players and prepare for football life beyond 2014. Passing up on a potential game-breaker in Round 1 could easily fall into the category of “inappropriate” to the 49ers’ win-now “reality.”
In any case, a quick Google search of “realistic” explains the word as “having or showing a sensible and practical idea of what can be achieved or expected.”
Again, the stuff that actually could happen.
With that in mind, let’s explore the draft-day trades that Baalke can achieve and that 49ers fans can expect come May 8-10.
5. Trade LaMichael James for a 6th-Round Pick
We’ll address at the outset that Baalke has stated publicly that he doesn’t have any intention of trading LaMichael James.
CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco reports that he’s actually “glad that there’s some disappointment” on the part of James due to a lack of playing time.
Said Baalke: “I’d be disappointed, if he wasn’t disappointed that he wasn’t getting on the field as much as he wanted to. I’d [be] much more concerned about that than his frustration of not playing.”
And maybe he really believes James is “settling into life” with a new child at home instead of attending the 49ers’ voluntary offseason program. It’s not entirely unreasonable.
Then again, haven’t you ever heard of a smokescreen?
Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee reminds us that Baalke “refused to say he was trying to trade quarterback Alex Smith just before completing a deal with the Chiefs last year.” Even though the class act didn’t necessarily articulate it to the media, everyone with a logical brain knew Smith was upset over being benched in favor of Kaepernick.
Worse yet, the explicit unhappiness displayed by James on Twitter also doesn’t bode well for the former Oregon record-breaker.
Barrows notes that “players who express discontent on the 49ers—such as receiver Braylon Edwards or running back Brandon Jacobs—typically have not remained on the team for very long.”
Plus, the Bee’s all-knowing scribe reported back on April 16 that San Francisco has been shopping James for some time.
So, for our purposes, a very much realistic trade option includes swapping the understandably frustrated back for a sixth-round pick.
To those who would demand more in return for the former second-rounder, remember that running backs are a dying breed in today’s NFL.
James’ versatility in the return game could up his value to a fifth-round price, but it isn’t likely.
4. Package 6th-Rounder, Trade into Top 5 on Day 3
Recall that sixth-rounder Baalke just hypothetically landed in exchange for James?
Note that the 49ers’ all-too-wise draft strategist wouldn’t merely dump such a talented running back for a low-round pick. It would belong to a grand, greater and more overarching plan.
To wit, Baalke would move into the top five on Day 3 by packaging that selection.
He would survey the prospect landscape after teams made the first 100 picks and pounce on one who had invariably fallen. Year after year marquee players see their draft stock diminish due to any number of reasons.
In 2013, quarterback Matt Barkley—a once-considered No. 1 overall pick—fell to the Philadelphia Eagles at the very top of Round 4. The 49ers wouldn’t target Kaepernick’s backup so high, but they would seek immediate depth at another important position in potential flux.
See: Outside linebacker.
Much like the James situation, Baalke has pledged vociferous support for the embattled Aldon Smith. In a media session last Friday, he stated that “You continue to work, just like you would with any family member,” when responding to Smith’s ongoing legal troubles, per Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
At the same time, he also said that “You continue to work”—and here’s the kicker—“until they leave you no choice.”
It is well documented that Smith has generated 42 sacks in 43 games. The 2012 first-team All-Pro has also ranked top-five in run defense among 3-4 OLB the past two seasons by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Despite those laudable achievements and his game-changing skills, Smith may have already left Baalke “no choice.” The GM must decide by May 3 whether he will pick up his fifth-year option for 2015.
As for the prospect who could drop down into the top 100s, Stanford’s Trent Murphy fits the bill.
The man ESPN Insider (subscription required) awards an exceptional grade in intangibles and who CBS Sports calls a “classic ‘tweener” who will “ultimately out-play his draft selection” could fall to the fourth round.
The 49ers need high-character guys who are simply good all-around football players. And ones who can neutralize the opposition’s quarterback—take a gander at 25 sacks since 2012—well, Murphy fits that bill too.
3. Trade for No. 38 in Round 2
Just FYI—the theme of trading up will continue for the next three slides.
And that includes moving up for a wide receiver and cornerback.
Both of those outside skill positions qualify as the 49ers' top two needs. Luckily for them, Baalke commands the requisite capital with which to eliminate those deficiencies in a draft loaded with receivers and corners.
Let’s start with the former.
Wideouts who hold late-first to early-second-round status include USC’s Marqise Lee, Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, Indiana’s Cody Latimer and Allen Robinson of Penn State, among others, per ESPN Insider and CBS Sports.
They comprise the second tier who will come off the board after the more notable prospects in the first 20 or so picks (more on this later).
Since receivers coach John Morton “spent an hour and half with Latimer diagramming plays and otherwise trying to figure out how the big-bodied wideout would adapt to an NFL film room, meeting room [and] locker room,” according to Barrows, we’ll opt for the Indiana product.
Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com highlights his notable size (6'2", 215 lbs, about 32.5" arms), strength (receiver-leading 23 reps on the bench press during combine workouts), catch radius, blocking prowess and leaping ability.
The 49ers could indeed capitalize on this “West Coast possession receiver” who could make “contested catches to beat zone coverage and succeed in the red zone.”
Concerning logistics, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would emerge as a viable trade partner.
They are under a new regime with general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith. As expected, these two surely desire bringing in their own scheme-specific players.
And without a fourth-round selection (and just six in total), they could net more picks (and thus more prospects) by trading back with San Francisco.
In this scenario, Baalke would send No. 129 to Tampa Bay and move up from No. 56 to No. 38 in Round 2 for Latimer.
The size-speed dynamo would then compete for the No. 3 receiver spot with incumbent Quinton Patton and free-agent addition Brandon Lloyd.
2. Trade for No. 24 in Round 1
Understand that predraft maneuverings foreshadow in contrasting directions.
San Francisco positional coaches met extensively with offensive linemen Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati in 2010 before selecting them in the first round. Yet, according to Barrows, they had no such contact with Eric Reid before taking him No. 18 overall last year.
Knowing the general unpredictability of one Trent Baalke, we’ll opt for the approach he employed in 2013 when describing this next realistic trade.
Maiocco details that nine cornerbacks have visited the 49ers thus far. Of that group, the versatility of Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller and outright talent of Ohio State’s Bradley Roby would merit their mid-first-round selections.
But the best-fit prospect outside of Justin Gilbert was not mentioned on that list—and that’s a good thing.
Jason Verrett of Texas Christian University possesses the speed, toughness, intelligence and pro-ready cover skills. He will at the very least replace Carlos Rogers in nickel coverages and could certainly start in Week 1 for the Red and Gold.
Said Miller in his latest mock draft: “If you get past his lack of elite height, Verrett’s tools scream ‘Day 1 starter.’”
According to BR’s NFL draft lead writer, the Cincinnati Bengals will take the stellar TCU product at No. 24. Dane Brugler and Pete Prisco of CBS Sports agree, while ESPN Insider Todd McShay predicts No. 27 as his landing spot.
For the purposes of this article, let’s side with the consensus among this respected foursome.
As such, Baalke would move up just six spots in Round 1. He could offer pick No. 77—one of the 49ers’ three third-round selections—for Verrett.
The 85 additional trade value points would surely serve as adequate compensation for the decision-makers in Cincinnati.
1. Trade into the Mid-Teens in Round 1
If the inscrutable Baalke didn’t meet with Verrett but still took him in the preceding scenario, guess what happens this time around?
CSN Bay Area’s Maiocco reveals the host of wide receivers that have undergone predraft visits with the 49ers. The continually updated list refers to one Odell Beckham Jr., who met with the team prior to his pro day on April 9.
Beckham himself told SiriusXM NFL Radio, via CSN Bay Area, that he “spent time with the 49ers.”
So smokescreens be damned—Baalke will indeed move up for the former LSU Tiger in this final entry of realistic draft-day trades.
Beckham steadily increased his production during his three-year NCAA career.
He recorded over 700 receiving yards and two punt-return touchdowns in 2012. Then, in 2013, he ranked top-five among fellow SEC members in receiving yards, yards per reception and touchdowns, while leading the conference in kickoff return yards.
Here is how NFL.com’s Nawrocki encapsulates the size- and speed-proficient wideout:
Talented, competitive, productive…projects as a big-play receiver in the pros. Offers versatility to toggle between "X," "Z" and slot given his ability to stretch the field and run after the catch. Brings added value as a kick returner.
Say adios to the 49ers' shortcomings on offense and special teams if that projection comes to fruition.
Baalke, then, would trade up 15 spots from No. 30. He ascended 13 places just last year, deeming this move completely reasonable come the second Thursday in May.
He would take care of the value difference with San Francisco’s first third-round selection (No. 77) or with pick No. 94 and a late-rounder in 2015.
We can now only hope that in the unrealistic case that Baalke actually reads these trade options, he finds them realistic and utilizes them in a week’s time.
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