San Francisco 49ers: Complete 2014 NFL Draft Wrap-Up and Analysis
Armed with 11 picks heading into the draft, general manager Trent Baalke and the 49ers' front office stood poised to bolster an already elite roster—adding to the notion that the rich keep getting richer.
While a number of experts mocked San Francisco as taking either a wide receiver or cornerback in Round 1—areas of substantial need—the 49ers did neither. Instead, they tabbed strong safety Jimmie Ward with pick No. 30.
Beyond that, the 49ers continued to address need and depth. (The entirety of the team's draft can be viewed here.) The actions, especially in later rounds, showed that San Francisco was willing to "let the board do the talking"—an aspect pointed out by head coach Jim Harbaugh on ESPN's coverage of the draft.
This draft had a bit of everything for the 49ers. There were a flurry of mid-round trades, the addition of injured players who will likely spend rookie seasons on reserve as well as an apparent mindset to get the franchise on par with the division rival Seattle Seahawks.
The multitude of picks employed by the 49ers during this draft not only gave them the ability to match such expectations but also to reinforce positions of need.
San Francisco had a lot riding on this draft even if it was already poised to return one of the best rosters in the NFL in 2014. Fortunately, the 49ers have appeared to strike hard in this draft—both in terms of immediate and future impact.
In this slideshow, let's break down and analyze San Francisco's actions, picks and expectations in the wake of the 2014 NFL draft.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated. Contractual information courtesy of Spotrac.com. Additional draft information courtesy of CBS Sports.
In spite of having one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the NFL, the 49ers came into the 2014 draft with a number of specific needs.
These needs—as further elaborated upon by Curtis Crabtree of NBC Sports—included, but were not limited to, the following: cornerback, wide receiver, center, linebacker and quarterback.
With 11 picks, San Francisco was in good shape to address these areas.
How did they do so? Let's take a look.
Round 1, Pick No. 30 Overall: Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois
Round 2, Pick No. 57 Overall: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Round 3, Pick No. 70 Overall: Marcus Martin, C, USC
Round 3, Pick No. 77 Overall: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
Round 3, Pick No. 100 Overall: Brandon Thomas, G, Clemson
Round 4, Pick No. 106 Overall: Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
Round 4, Pick No. 129 Overall: Dontae Johnson, CB, North Carolina State
Round 5, Pick No. 150 Overall: Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida
Round 5, Pick No. 170 Overall: Keith Reaser, CB, Florida Atlantic
Round 6, Pick No. 180 Overall: Kenneth Acker, CB, Southern Methodist
Round 7, Pick No. 243 Overall: Kaleb Ramsey, DT, Boston College
Round 7, Pick No. 245 Overall: Trey Millard, FB, Oklahoma
Overall Draft Grade: B+
San Francisco's approach to the 2014 draft proved to us a number of things.
First, it showed that the 49ers recognize the primary strength that catapulted them to the elite level they are—defense.
Out of San Francisco's 11 picks in the draft, seven of them were on the defensive side. While there were some needs here, the 49ers did not hesitate to make this side of the ball even stronger moving forward.
The 49ers' first pick of the draft emphasized this theory. Strong safety Jimmie Ward should not be expected to take over the starting job at the position in his rookie year. Offseason acquisition Antoine Bethea—signed to a four-year, $21 million contract—should do that.
Instead, we should expect to see Ward shift over to the nickel cornerback slot—a position the 49ers utilize frequently.
#49ers sounds like Ward will be nickel. Safety with corner skills. So this does helps defense immediately— Bill Williamson (@BWilliamsonESPN) May 9, 2014
According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, the 49ers utilize a nickel formation roughly 60 percent of the time. Ward will get his snaps as a result and should eventually be groomed into a long-term solution at safety.
From there, San Francisco tabbed Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde.
Hyde may be the new heir apparent to the veteran Frank Gore, who will turn 31 years old at the start of the season—ancient for NFL running backs.
While Hyde is a beast, San Francisco's backfield is already crowded behind Gore. Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore will be vying for carries.
49ers have a ton of depth in their backfield: -Frank Gore -Kendall Hunter -LaMichael James -Marcus Lattimore -Carlos Hyde— NFL Access (@NFL_Access) May 10, 2014
For James, who has voiced displeasure over his offensive role, the Hyde acquisition could spell the end of his tenure in San Francisco.
Does this move indicate the 49ers do not have nearly as much faith in Lattimore as we thought awaiting his much anticipated NFL debut?
The 49ers also added bulk to their offensive line, recognizing both immediate and potentially future needs. Marcus Martin may step in at center over the recently extended Daniel Kilgore if Kilgore fails to earn the starting job.
Brandon Thomas also fills a pending need in case Pro Bowler Mike Iupati walks after his 2014 contract year. Coming off an ACL injury, Thomas will likely redshirt his rookie season. But according to Bleacher Report NFC West lead writer Tyson Langland, Thomas could have easily been a first rounder had it not been for the injury.
As far as addressing another need—cornerback—Trent Baalke looked as if he was going with a "shotgun" approach—grabbing a multitude of guys and hope one or two of them turn into something substantial.
Ward fills the immediate need, but behind him lay Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker.
Johnson is a little raw and will require some coaching per Mike Mayock of NFL.com, but he's a good athlete and is solid is press coverage. The 49ers like that.
Reaser is another pick who will land on the physically unable to play (PUP) list this season, but the 49ers probably could have gotten him much later than Round 5. More on Reaser later.
One of the bigger needs San Francisco had to address during this draft was the addition of a wide receiver.
As it turned out, the 49ers did this twice—once during the draft and also by trading for Buffalo Bills wideout Stevie Johnson in exchange for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2015.
49ers draft WR Bruce Ellington after trading for WR Stevie Johnson. Only 3 players caught a TD for the 49ers last season #SFpick— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 10, 2014
Both Johnson and Ellington add speed to the 49ers' passing game, which ranked 30th in the NFL last season with 2,979 yards.
This element, combined with the physical, hands-on presence of incumbents Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree gives San Francisco's passing game a much more dynamic look.
Linebacker Chris Borland and defensive end Aaron Lynch also look to shore up some of the vacancies the 49ers should encounter in 2014 along the defensive front. With NaVorro Bowman expected to miss half the season and Aldon Smith's potential NFL suspension looming, the added depth is a nice feature to have.
San Francisco rounded out its draft with two other players likely to spend their first season on the PUP list—defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey and fullback Trey Millard.
For a full rundown on each of the 49ers' draft picks in 2014, visit this author's pick-by-pick analysis here.
Best Pick: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Carlos Hyde, Running Back, Ohio State
I'll have to admit, I wasn't a big fan of this pick when I first heard of it. My initial analysis and grade earned a C- for the 49ers' move in Round 2.
But after sleeping on it and giving some further consideration, I changed my mind.
It's a great pick.
Running back Carlos Hyde was projected by many—including CBS Sports—to be the best back in the 2014 draft class.
We all know how much the 49ers love to run the football. Even with the maturation of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the additions of players like Anquan Boldin and now Stevie Johnson and Bruce Ellington, San Francisco is still going to be a run-heavy team in 2014.
With Frank Gore pushing 31 years old and entering a contract season, the 49ers are obviously looking towards the future.
My initial setback with this pick was based on the hopes that San Francisco already had done that when they drafted South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore in the 4th round of the 2013 draft—redshirting him his rookie season while he recovered from a gruesome collegiate knee injury.
The acquisition of Hyde appeared to thwart that, at least initially. Why draft yet another back when San Francisco's backfield is as crowded as it is?
Perhaps this move indicates the 49ers are not totally comfortable with Lattimore's recovery process. Perhaps they are.
In a much more likely scenario, Hyde was simply the best player available on the board when the 49ers were called at No. 57 overall.
Trent Baalke said Carlos Hyde was the best player on their board. It's no slight on Marcus Lattimore. #49ers— Chris Biderman (@ChrisBiderman) May 10, 2014
Whatever the case with Lattimore may be, there is no doubting that Hyde fits the bill eventually to be vacated by Gore. His attributes—which are further described in the above video—lend credence to Hyde being the featured back for San Francisco's future.
Hyde totaled 1,521 yards on 208 attempts last season at Ohio State—good for 7.3 yards per carry and netting 15 rushing touchdowns. He is also a capable receiver out of the backfield—an aspect Gore was known for early in his career as well.
New #49ers RB Carlos Hyde: "I’m so excited to get out there. They have frank gore. That’s a guy I compare myself to."— Cam Inman (@CamInman) May 10, 2014
Hyde's addition does create quite a logjam in the backfield, at least in 2014.
Gore should be the No. 1 back, perhaps to start the season or maybe down the stretch. Kendall Hunter is a No. 2 back at best, while LaMichael James' tenure with the 49ers may be even further in doubt.
Lattimore will also vie for touches.
49ers have a ton of depth in their backfield: -Frank Gore -Kendall Hunter -LaMichael James -Marcus Lattimore -Carlos Hyde— NFL Access (@NFL_Access) May 10, 2014
This author is going to take a guess and state that James will be gone by the start of the 2014 regular season. That leaves Gore, Hunter, Lattimore and Hyde.
Both Gore and Hunter are signed through 2014 and it is plausible, perhaps even expected, that both could be on their way out pending Gore's abilities and Hunter's contractual obligations.
While 2014 may feature a crowded position, 2015 could be the year where both Hyde and Lattimore are the featured, two-headed monster coming out of the 49ers' backfield.
But if we had to take a guess which one would be the primary back, no doubt that accolade goes to Hyde.
Carlos Hyde not insurance for 49ers, he's the feature back of the future http://t.co/NE573OQ9pB— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) May 11, 2014
Worst Pick: Keith Reaser, CB, Florida Atlantic
Keith Reaser, Cornerback, Florida Atlantic
In one of the few questionable moves by general manager Trent Baalke during the draft, the 49ers selected Florida Atlantic cornerback Keith Reaser with their second fifth-round pick (No. 170 overall).
Like so many other players drafted by San Francisco this year, Reaser will spend his first season on the PUP list as he recovers from an ACL injury.
CB Keith Reaser is 5-10, 189, from Florida Atlantic. Another redshirt, expected to miss rookie season after undergoing ACL surgery Feb. 27.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) May 10, 2014
With this pick, the 49ers are unquestionably looking to build up their secondary in coming years. Reaser will not have an impact in 2014, but should be vying for a roster spot thereafter.
At 5'10" and 189 pounds, Reaser is a bit undersized for the position. Compared to some of the other larger defensive backs San Francisco took in this draft, Reaser will have some work cut out for him if he wants to compete at the next level.
Size aside, we must focus on some of the other attributes that must have attracted the 49ers' brass.
According to his CBS Sports draft profile, Reaser has excellent strength and can play in both off-man and press-based coverages. He also has experience in the return game.
Yet his smallish frame may prove to be problematic taking on receivers at the NFL level. The injury concerns also parallel this worry.
Acquiring Reaser in of itself is not a bad move from the 49ers' standpoint. They needed corners coming into the draft. If the current crop of veteran and rookie corners needs some work, Reaser at least gives San Francisco some options heading into 2015.
The biggest problem with this pick is Reaser could have most likely been had as an undrafted free agent (UDFA).
According to CBS Sports, Reaser was touted as being an UDFA considering his injury.
While the 49ers had plenty of picks with which to utilize, their fifth rounder could have easily been spent to upgrade or add depth to other areas of need. Perhaps they could have even traded it off for additional considerations.
In short, Baalke most likely could have grabbed this player post draft, subsequently saving the pick.
We will not call it a wasted pick just yet. If Reaser turns into something worthwhile, we may end up calling it a bargain.
But at this point, this was the worst move San Francisco made in the 2014 draft.
Undrafted Free Agents
With 74 players under contract and 12 draft picks, San Francisco has room for only four players heading towards training camp.
The #49ers will have room for only four undrafted free agents. They have 12 draft picks plus 74 players under contract.— Christian Gin (@Christian_Gin) May 10, 2014
Following the draft, the 49ers can sign as many UDFAs as they want. But this means roster cuts will have to be made in order to get the total number down to 90.
In the hours that followed the draft, San Francisco inked a total of seven UDFAs—the full list of which has been published by Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
Kory Faulkner, Quarterback, Southern Illinois
At 6'3" and 229 pounds, Kory Faulkner is a strong-armed, big-bodied quarterback who looks to compete with Blaine Gabbert and McLeod Bethel-Thompson for the backup slots behind No. 1 Colin Kaepernick.
While not highly touted entering the draft, head coach Jim Harbaugh knows a thing or two about developing young quarterbacks. Perhaps he has a likable protege here.
Of course, we have to remind ourselves about the flurry of backup quarterbacks San Francisco employed last season and wonder whether or not Faulkner will be on the roster at the start of the 2014 season.
Morgan Breslin, Outside Linebacker, USC
Linebacker Morgan Breslin, a Bay Area native, was on hand for the 49ers' local Pro Day and had a good showing per David Fucillo of Niners Nation.
At 6'1" and 240 pounds, Breslin is a little undersized for the position and comes with a list of injury problems, which limited him to just five games his senior year.
There is some pass-rush potential here, which gives San Francisco added depth behind Aldon Smith—facing suspension—Corey Lemonier, Dan Skuta and rookie Aaron Lynch.
Depth is never a bad thing.
The Hurricanes probably underutilized Cleveland in their offense, especially considering his 6'5" and 260-pound frame. In all, Cleveland totaled a mere 14 receptions over four years at Miami.
If his offensive production was lacking, one cannot overlook his potential as a blocker in jumbo packages. The 49ers' struggles in the red zone could benefit from a large-bodied tight end who can help open up the lane for San Francisco's developing ground attack.
Cleveland will likely step into the mix competing with third stringers Garrett Celek and Derek Carrier for the 49ers' No. 3 tight end. Pending what happens with that competition, Cleveland may wind up earning a roster spot at some point in the future.
Dillon Farrell, Center, New Mexico
There is a bit of uncertainty at center with the 49ers heading into 2014. After parting ways with Jonathan Goodwin during the offseason, San Francisco extended the contract of Daniel Kilgore, all but indicating they were comfortable with him as their future center.
Adding Marcus Martin puts some pressure on Kilgore, and it is reasonable to assume Martin could now be the favorite to take over the job—perhaps in 2015 if not earlier.
Farrell—who is 6'4" and 303 pounds—is a bit undersized for the position and has some rawness that will need to be coached up. He did however earn All-Mountain West honorable mention honors as a senior per Barrows, so at least that's a positive.
Fou Fonoti, Tackle, Michigan State
The 49ers recognize how important their offensive line has been over the last few seasons. Heading into 2014, the team has made some moves—including adding versatile tackle Jonathan Martin to the roster.
Additionally, they added Brandon Thomas to bolster the position and potentially take over for free-agent-to-be Mike Iupati.
But Thomas will spend 2014 on the PUP list, thus requiring a little bit of insurance to bolster the offensive line. Here is where Fonoti comes in.
At 6'4" and 308 pounds, Fonoti is probably best switching over from tackle to guard. Still, familiarity with both positions gives the 49ers' coaching staff some flexibility here.
C.J. McCray, Safety, Catawba
San Francisco's secondary received plenty of reinforcements this offseason via free agency and the draft.
McCray does not figure, at least immediately, to be a part of the 49ers' defensive backfield. He does however lend some added bulk to special teams' coverage units.
He and 49ers' defensive line coach Jim Tomsula will have a bit of a rapport given Tomsula played and coached at Catawba per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
Per Barrows, special teamers C.J. Spillman, Bubba Ventrone, Dan Skuta and Kassim Osgood are entering the final year of their contracts, thus opening the door for McCray to be a contributor at some point in the future.
McCray also returned kicks at Catawba, giving the 49ers an added option in that regard.
Shayne Skov, Inside Linebacker, Stanford
This UDFA signing was perhaps the biggest steal the 49ers—or any team in the league for that matter—after the draft.
Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov was once recruited by then-head coach Jim Harbaugh, so a little bit of a reunion is in order.
Skov suffered an ACL tear in 2011 which set back his promising draft stock, but subsequent seasons in 2012 and 2013 showed everyone that he had made a full recovery.
Per CBS Sports, Skov was listed as the third-best inside linebacker in the draft—the 49ers already landed the No. 2 best linebacker on this list Chris Borland.
He is a physical, tough-minded player with a gritty attitude Harbaugh knows well.
With NaVorro Bowman on the mend, Skov will have the opportunity to compete with Michael Wilhoite and fellow rookie Borland for the immediate starting position on the inside of the defensive front seven.
For a full breakdown of each of the 49ers' UDFA signings, visit this author's analysis and grades here.
What's Next for the San Francisco 49ers?
The next few days and weeks will ultimately be spent on breaking down and evaluating the actions San Francisco took in the 2014 NFL draft and the subsequent impact this class will have upon the team's future this season and beyond.
We know this roster is stacked. We know that it became even more so after this year's draft.
With all that in mind, what are the preeminent questions the 49ers have to face as they prepare for their 2014 campaign?
Let us wrap it all up with this forward-thinking conclusion, addressing the final questions and concerns San Francisco has to face moving on from this point.
Are We Witnessing the Final Year of Frank Gore with the 49ers?
In all likelihood, yes.
Frank Gore is entering the final year of his three-year, $19.213 million contract. He will be 31 years old to start the 2014 season, and this may very well be his swan song in the NFL.
With Marcus Lattimore awaiting his NFL debut and Carlos Hyde now on the roster, expect Gore to see even fewer carries this upcoming season. Perhaps, as suggested in the above video, Gore is saved for the 49ers' stretch run where experience can prove to be the deciding factor.
Considering how much the 49ers run the ball, the reliance upon a power-running game should still remain one of the paramount weapons in San Francisco's offense. They are well-equipped to do just that.
It will be tough to bid farewell to Gore when that time comes. But we should all be thankful for his contributions and be excited that the 49ers' offense will not lose too much now when he is gone.
How Good is the 49ers' Wide Receiver Crop After the Draft?
San Francisco's 30th ranked pass offense in 2013 will ultimately be better in 2014. That is an easy statement to make.
For starters, Michael Crabtree will be back for a full season. Anquan Boldin returns. While both are solid, physical receivers, the 49ers still needed speed.
They added that during the draft—first trading for Stevie Johnson from the Buffalo Bills and then drafting Bruce Ellington out of South Carolina.
Quinton Patton and Brandon Lloyd also figure into the mix on the depth chart.
49ers are now stacked at wide receiver: -Michael Crabtree -Anquan Boldin -Stevie Johnson -Quinton Patton— NFL Access (@NFL_Access) May 9, 2014
Speed was the key need this offseason. Johnson—who netted over 1,000 yards receiving in three of the last four seasons—combines both speed and size. In addition to stretching the field, Johnson can also work as a bona fide red-zone threat.
Adding Ellington as a fast slot receiver also gives quarterback Colin Kaepernick another viable weapon on offense.
Now, Kaepernick just needs to be able to get these guys the ball effectively and often.
How Will the 49ers' Linebacker Situation Shape Up to Start the Season?
The 49ers have two preeminent questions to answer kicking off the 2014 season—how will the team replace NaVorro Bowman and who will generate the pass-rushing capabilities of Aldon Smith?
Bowman is expected to miss at least half the season while recovering from ACL surgery per Taylor Price of 49ers.com.
In his stead, San Francisco initially would have tabbed Michael Wilhoite as the favorite to earn the starting job. Now after adding linebackers Chris Borland and Shayne Skov, the competition gets a little more stiff.
49ers get NaVorro Bowman insurance in round 3, at 77th overall pick, with Wisconsin LB Chris Borland. 49ers acing this draft.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 10, 2014
Barring setbacks, Bowman will be the unquestioned starter at the position upon his return. Yet the added depth will help keep him fresh during the second half.
The situation with Smith is a little trickier.
A suspension handed down from the NFL is imminent per NFL media insider Ian Rapoport (h/t Dan Hanzus of NFL.com), and while we cannot totally predict what the length of that might be, an estimate of eight games seems about right.
Then there are the legal implications which, although time consuming, will certainly carry consequences.
That leaves San Francisco's defense with a considerable hole to fill.
Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta are obvious favorites to fill the void. Yet after adding defensive end Aaron Lynch—likely to shift to outside linebacker—San Francisco may have another amicable option.
Cam Inman of The San Jose Mercury News describes this further:
The 49ers picked up potential pass-rushing help Saturday by using a fifth-round pick on South Florida’s Aaron Lynch, who’s college career began at Notre Dame before getting sidetracked by what Lynch called “mistakes.” Lynch (6-foot-6, 255 pounds) could help at defensive end and outside linebacker in case 49ers premier pass rusher Aldon Smith is disciplined by the league or team for off-field issues.
Whether it be Lynch, Lemonier or Skuta, the 49ers are in good shape to ride out this storm.
Can the 49ers Match the Seattle Seahawks in 2014?
If their 2014 draft approach had anything to say about it, yes.
Looking back at almost every pick the 49ers made, signs would point to Trent Baalke and Co. executing almost every single move with the Seahawks in mind.
The defense, already solid, just got better. The secondary, once a question mark in San Francisco, has now added both strength and depth.
Power running, a boon for both Seattle and San Francisco has been upgraded and reinforced with the addition of Carlos Hyde.
Then there is the passing game.
Say what you want about the Seahawks' ability to "shut down" Michael Crabtree, but now the 49ers have added one more element for Seattle to consider—speed. San Francisco did not have that last year.
They do now, and plenty of it.
Last season, it was Boldin and Crabtree with a little bit of Quinton Patton sprinkled into the mix.
Add Stevie Johnson and Bruce Ellington to that equation, and suddenly the 49ers' receiving corps looks as if it can be one of the strongest elements in the NFC West.
In short, the 49ers are far better prepared to take on the Seahawks in 2014.
Beyond that, San Francisco is in great shape knowing that they have depth behind pending free agents like Crabtree, Gore and Mike Iupati.
In summation, Baalke and the 49ers did a whole heck of a lot right in this draft.
They addressed each of their pressing needs, often grabbing guys at tremendous value. The team also "let the board talk to them" and they weren't afraid to simply grab the best player available.
San Francisco also showed its willingness to take a gamble on injured players in later rounds. These developmental prospects may wind up being key elements to the 49ers' potential success in coming years.
All-in-all, it is hard to argue with almost every one of San Francisco's actions during this draft. There were some surprises and a number of steals.
Now comes the big task—putting all these pieces together en route to securing a sixth Super Bowl.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive, including draft analysis and insight from the 49ers in the 2014 NFL draft.
Follow @PeterMcShots on Twitter.