Since Trent Baalke officially took over as San Francisco 49ers' general manager in 2011 his background in scouting has led to a different approach at the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis.
In fact, the team doesn't send scouts to the scouting combine.
Why? The answer is simple: the information from the combine can be gathered remotely and it allows the team's scouting department to spend more time at the team's headquarters watching film on prospects projected to go later in the draft. The 49ers are one of the few teams in the NFL to keep its scouts at home.
"A big part of it is the interview process and it's the first time the coaches ever get a chance to interview guys," a team source said this week.
"Scouts interview and dig background on guys in their areas throughout the process - school visits, all-star games, pro days - so by the time the combine hits, they have at least a familiarity with the top guys."
Last year, the 49ers identified first-round pick Eric Reid before the combine. His 4.53 time in the 40-yard dash, 17 reps on the bench press and 40.5-inch vertical jump only cemented what they already knew about the former LSU safety.
"Eric was a young guy we identified on film and we're film guys. What they do here, we gather the numbers like everybody else, but it still comes down to the film. What do they do on film? That remains the most important thing for us as evaluators. And we'll continue to going forward," said Baalke.
San Francisco was able to take Reid after trading up from No. 31 to 18 in a draft-day deal with the Dallas Cowboys. He started all 19 games at free safety earning All-Rookie Team honors by the Pro Football Writers of America and a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Baalke told 49ers.com in an interview this week that roughly 60-65 percent of the team's draft board was already complete prior to combine. That evaluation is done by the scouting department during the season through hours and hours of film study. The 49ers use the combine to get to know players on a personal level through the interview process. Only Baalke, Jim Harbaugh, select coaches and high-ranking members of the personnel department are currently in Indianapolis seeing the draft prospects first hand.
With the draft pushed back two weeks to May 8 from it's normal date in mid-April, it gives teams two more weeks to ponder who will be available when they make their selections. But Baalke doesn't necessarily view the extra two weeks as a good thing for the evaluation process.
"The first time you look at a player, you're usually right. Your gut's usually right. Through the process you gather more and more information, you watch more and more film, and sometimes the process is so long, it's drawn out another two weeks, that you end up talking yourself out of that first impression," Baalke said.
By giving scouts more time to look at film and do research on back-end prospects, it's allowed the 49ers to find sleepers in the late rounds of recent drafts. Since Baalke became GM three seasons ago, San Francisco hit on late-rounders Bruce Miller (seventh round), Daniel Kilgore (fifth round), B.J. Daniels (seventh round) and Marcus Cooper (seventh round).
San Francisco is projected to have 12 picks in May's draft, including six in the first three rounds. There isn't room on the roster for 12 rookies, so expect Baalke to be active in trade discussions for picks in next year's draft much like he was in 2013.
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