Creating mock drafts is by no means an exact science. The narratives shaped and fueled by the Internet has made us all draft experts with a complete understanding of where teams value players, right? Wrong. In reality, all we can really do is break down tape, ask people in the know and try to come up with a reasonable analysis of what teams will do based on the needs we perceive them to have. It's relatively clear the 49ers will look at add a corner, receiver and possibly a pass rusher in the early rounds. But do any of us know that for a fact? Of course not. I'm not in their draft evaluation meetings and neither are you.
This was an exercise done to illustrate the idea that teams can address needs in different ways. More times than not just because a team needs a receiver or a corner doesn't always mean they take one in the first round. Certain evaluators look for certain traits. It's not always about production - it's about what translates to the pro level. And if a team thinks they can find a guy that fits their needs in the third round rather than the first, they'll go that route and try to find the best player they can in the first round. That's why, when looking at the available talent that's likely to be around at 30 (this was done without trading up in mind), I didn't have the 49ers landing a corner or receiver with their first pick. But it's also a testament to the depth in this class as a whole.
The picks below are a best-case-scenario for this draft. In other words, I would give the 49ers an "A" grade if they made each of these picks collectively at their given spots. There's a good chance a number of these guys won't be available at these slots because they will go earlier. I looked into my crystal ball (the internet, game tape, etc) and found players projected at certain spots that would be the best possible selection in my quasi-educated view. That being said, there's a good chance the 49ers move up from 30 to take a player of their liking. Or they can move back to obtain more early picks next year.
I worked on these picks without making any trades. So here we go. And if you'd like to yell at me, do it the appropriate way for 2014 on Twitter.
Round 1 (30 overall)
The 49ers wouldn't be addressing their needs at corner or receiver by taking Tuitt at No. 30, but they might be getting the best value at the back end of the first round. Tuitt could have been a guy teams looked at early in the first round if not for a foot injury that limited his participation at the combine to just the bench press, where he posted 31 reps, second-best at the position. He has the size and the athleticism to play all three positions on the defensive line in the team's 3-4 scheme while his 34 3/4-inch arms also measure up to Trent Baalke's preferences.
Tuitt was a key member of Notre Dame's run to the national title game during his sophomore season in 2012 when he earned first-team All-American honors. He had 12 sacks while lining up all over the defensive line and anchoring one of nation's best defensive fronts. Justin Smith turns 35 this offseason while Ray McDonald worked through arm and ankle injuries in 2013. The 49ers like what they have in Tank Carradine, but this summer's training camp will be the first of his pro career. Adding Tuitt to compete for a job along with Carradine, Quinton Dial, Demarcus Dobbs and Tony Jerod-Eddie will put the 49ers in a fortuitous situation on the defensive line both now and in the future. At 30, there might not be player available with more potential to dominate an opponent than Tuitt.
Side note: after writing this it was reported Tuitt had a visit with the 49ers Tuesday. The team doesn't often draft players who come in for official visits. So to quote Jim Harbaugh, I'm trying not to let myself get "emotionally hijacked" here.
Round 2 (56 overall, via Kansas City Chiefs)
Adams might not be available at this point in the second round if teams make a run on receivers in the first round and early portions of the second. The 49ers could certainly use some of their assets to trade up in the second round and get a corner or Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews. But at 56, Adams could be a solid find and compete with Quinton Patton right away for the No. 3 job. Sure, the 49ers could use a burner, but at this point in the draft, they'll be looking for a well-rounded wideout to compete for a starting job for years to come given Anquan Boldin's advanced age and Michael Crabtree's uncertain future with the team.
Adams has the pedigree of a former basketball player, like Boldin and Crabtree, and has the ability to adjust to balls mid-flight that is sometimes lost in today's evaluation process that so often focused on combine numbers. He might not be the downfield speed guy that many will want out of a receiver taken early in the draft, but Adams has starter-caliber traits that fit with what the 49ers like to do. And given the depth of the draft class, the 49ers could find a true speed receiver in the later rounds with someone like Martavis Bryant (Clemson), Albert Wilson (Georgia State) or another guy (keep reading).
Round 2 (61 overall)
Corner is the 49ers' top need (says I) without an established starter alongside Tramaine Brock and the losses of Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown across (or up?) the Bay to the Riaders. The 49ers might look at trading up in the round for Kyle Fuller or Keith McGill, but under this scenario Jean-Baptiste falls to them at 61. Although he'll be old by rookie standards, the 24-year-old Baptiste has a ton of upside highlighted by his elite size at the position. And as a former wide receiver, he has the ball skills that could give opposing offenses fits when going after him in coverage.
Baptiste is still a raw prospect but has all the tools to turn into a highly-function press corner that's become popular in today's NFL, particularly with the team's rival in the Pacific Northwest. He's still relatively new to the position, but Baptiste flashed high levels of production in just 17 starts at corner for the Huskers with 21 pass breakups and six interceptions. Baptiste will be a project and won't likely compete for a starting job right away. The 49ers could easily use their first or second picks on a corner, depending on how comfortable they are with Chris Culliver's legal situation, which could impact his status as a potential starter in 2014. But in getting Baptiste here, the 49ers are giving secondary coach Ed Donatell a talented player to work with.
Round 3 (77 overall, via Tennessee Titans)
The 49ers could be looking to add to their talented core of outside linebackers with Aldon Smith's future up in the air. If Attaochu is still on the board, he could be a worthy selection at this point in the draft given his promising skill set to pair with his production with the Yellow Jackets. Attaochu could be a starter down the road, but will need to improve his natural football instincts and add some functional bulk in the weight room.
Attaochu was forced to switch to a 4-3 defensive end in his final season after the team underwent a coaching change. Prior he played outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. The team captain as a senior owns the school's career record for sacks with 31.5. He's a high-motor and character guy, something the team will covet in this draft considering all the off-the-field issues it has gone through this offseason. But given the lack of overall depth at the position, Attaochu could be another player the 49ers need to move up to take. Otherwise, they could look towards players like Adrian Hubbard (Alabama), Kyle Van Noy (BYU) or Trent Murphy (Stanford).
Round 3 (94 overall)
The 49ers could use a developmental piece at safety with the departure of Donte Whitner and the arrival of veteran Antoine Bethea. Brooks could be that guy. The former corner has very good speed (his 4.42 40 was the fastest among safeties at the combine) and athleticism to be the future running mate with Eric Reid in more of a free safety role allowing Reid to play to his size at the strong safety position. In the meantime, Brooks could be a core contributor on special teams and compete with Craig Dahl for his spot on the roster while C.J. Spillman continues his excellence on kick coverage.
Brooks started 13 games for the national champion Seminoles at both free and strong safety spots making him a versatile fit for what coordinator Vic Fangio likes to do. If the 49ers can coach Brooks up to be more of a play maker on the ball in a true centerfield-type role, he could step in for Bethea and become a starter down the road. If he's available at this point in the third round, he could be a steal for the 49ers. And don't overlook his ability to play cornerback if he had to. He has the tools which could add to his value.
Round 3 (100 overall, compensatory)
With their last of three picks in the third round, the 49ers could grab their deep threat here in the form of Bruce Ellington, who has some of the better separation skills in this year's draft. He doesn't have great size, nor was his 4.45 40 time at the combine elite, but he plays faster than that time indicates thanks to very good acceleration. He also has very good hands and is a high-character guy not afraid to go over the middle and catch balls in traffic. Ellington could also bring value to the return game as he competes for the No. 3 or No. 4 receivers role in the offense.
Taking Ellington would exemplify the idea that needs don't always have to be addressed early in the draft. Although a player like Brandin Cooks is clearly the better prospect, there's far more inherent risk in taking a 5-9 receiver in the early rounds rather than taking someone with a similar skill set with a third-round pick. There's a volume of speedy receivers slated to go in the mid-to-late rounds which could allow for the 49ers to focus on their needs on speed later as they could here with Ellington.
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