Inside 49ers' need at CB and WR
April, 25, 2014
By Bill Williamson | ESPN.com
Getty ImagesOklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, left, and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard are two players who could upgrade San Francisco's defense.When the May 8-10 NFL draft is complete, the San Francisco 49ers will likely have new players at cornerback and wide receiver who will be expected to contribute as rookies.
Those two positions are the 49ers' biggest need areas. They don’t have a ton of immediate needs, so filling holes at those two spots is expected. To go along with the fact that they don’t have a lot of needs is the 49ers, whose first pick is No. 30, have six picks in the first three rounds, which is the most in the NFL.
So San Francisco is flexible. It can trade up to get a player -- more likely a cornerback than a receiver because receiver is deeper in top-end talent and cornerback is a more pressing need. It can also find a way to trade up and select twice in the first round. Or it can keep its two second-round picks (No. 56 and No. 61).
Let’s take a look at some of the players the 49ers could take at each spot. Since the 49ers are more likely to take a cornerback first, we will look at some of the second-tier receivers instead of top options such as Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans because both players would likely require big trade-ups.
Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
- Why is he a top prospect? He’s widely considered the most complete cornerback in the draft by many scouts. He is also a dangerous return man. Of all the players in this draft, he could be worth the 49ers moving up.
- What are the risks? There is no sure thing he will be an elite shutdown cornerback. He may just be very good and not worth a high pick.
- How could he be the choice? If the 49ers think he is the missing link on their defense and he is worth a trade up of 15 to 18 spots, I could see this happen.
- Quotable: “I think I'm a dangerous return man with the ball in my hands, and on an interception there is always a possibility for me to take it back to house,” said Gilbert on his playmaking ability.
- Why is he a top prospect? He looks the part and has shown flashes of being a star.
- What are the risks? Some teams don’t think he is a true No. 1 cornerback. He may not be a perfect fit for every defense, and there are speed questions.
- How could he be the choice? If he fell a little bit and if the 49ers have him high on their board, I could see a possible trade up to get him.
- Quotable: “I know in the NFL it's a 5-yard radius. I can run with receivers, and I can go get the ball. I don't need to be that aggressive and still play good ball," Dennard said in this interview.
- Why is he a top prospect? He is versatile, strong, smart and fundamentally sound. A terrific tackler.
- What are the risks? He’s small. Many teams want their cornerbacks to be taller.
- How could he be the choice? If he is there when the 49ers pick at No. 30, he would be difficult for them to pass up. He’d be a perfect fit in the slot, and the 49ers could go get taller cornerbacks in the second or third round.
- Quotable: “If I’m 5-9, I’m 5-9. But I can compete with anybody,” said Verrett on his confidence despite his lack of ideal size.
Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesBradley Roby says he learned a lot in his final season at Ohio State.
- Why is he a top prospect? He’s very athletic, and he looks the part.
- What are the risks? He doesn’t have the greatest ball skills, and he wasn’t consistent last season.
- How could he be the choice? Maybe if the 49ers want to trade back to the 35-40 range and Roby is still there. I could see value there based on potential.
- Quotable: “I think I had a decent season. It wasn’t what I expected. The first half of the season didn’t go as I expected. Those things happen. I learned a lot from it, and I got better,” Roby said of criticisms of his 2013 performance.
- Why is he a top prospect? He’s super fast, and the game doesn’t seem too big for him.
- What are the risks? There is concern that he might be just a good college player.
- How could he be the choice? If he is on the board at No. 30 (no sure thing), I could easily see the 49ers jumping on him. They’ve scouted him hard.
- Quotable: “I moved around in our defensive backfield. I played field, I played boundary. That just shows how versatile I am. I enjoyed playing at Virginia Tech. I definitely consider myself a physical player,” Fuller said about the style of play he concentrated on in college.
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
- Why is he a top prospect? He is highly productive and polished, complete with top-shelf speed. That’s rare.
- What are the risks? He is not big and perhaps the NFL game could be too much for him.
- How could he be the choice? If he is there at No. 30, the 49ers would have a hard time saying no to him. He could be part of a trade up. I could see the 49ers maybe giving up their two second-round picks to take Cooks at No. 25 and then take a cornerback at No. 30. The Northern California native would look great in a 49ers uniform.
- Talking numbers: Cooks led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 32 receptions of 20 yards or longer.
- Why is he a top prospect? He is highly athletic, fast and productive.
- What are the risks? LSU receivers haven’t always had the greatest NFL success.
- How could he be the choice? There’s a lot to like about Beckham. If the timing is right, I could see the 49ers getting aggressive in their pursuit of him.
- Talking numbers: He had an AQ-high 26 receptions on passes thrown 15 yards or longer downfield last season. He had multiple receptions on passes of this distance in seven of 13 games.
Marqise Lee, USC
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonMarqise Lee caught 57 passes for 791 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.
- Why is he a top prospect? He has had success, and he looks the part of a stud No. 1 receiver.
- What are the risks? He is not overly fast. He is a bit on the slight side, and he wasn’t great in 2013.
- How could he be the choice? There has been talk that Lee could fall. If he’s there at No. 30, the 49ers may be tempted. Perhaps they could see how far he would drop in the second round and then make a move for him.
- Talking numbers: USC quarterbacks completed 69.7 percent of their pass attempts, with 29 touchdowns and just one interception, when targeting Lee in his career.
- Why is he a top prospect? He’s a big, strong, impact player.
- What are the risks? Some scouts think that he is a bit raw and should have stayed in school for another season.
- How could he be the choice? I’m not sure the 49ers would take Benjamin at No. 30 if one of the top cornerbacks is on the board.
- Talking numbers: Benjamin gained a first down or touchdown on 83.3 percent of his receptions last season, tied for the third-highest percentage among FBS wide receivers.
- Why is he a top prospect? He is big and strong and was ultraproductive.
- What are the risks? Some scouts worry that he hasn’t faced great competition and there could be a learning curve in the NFL.
- How could he be the choice? If Adams is on the board in the second round, the 49ers could easily take this Bay Area native. Like 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, Adams played for Earl Hansen at Palo Alto High School. Harbaugh is still close to Hansen, so he has some inside information.
- Talking numbers: Adams led the FBS in receptions (131) and receiving touchdowns (24) and ranked second with 888 yards after the catch.
- Why is he a top prospect? Polished, hard worker who has big upside.
- What are the risks? Doesn’t have great speed, and some scouts wonder if he will make a big impact in the NFL.
- How could he be the choice? He could be a possibility in the second round, although the 49ers might be looking for a receiver with more speed.
- Talking numbers: Matthews led all AQ receivers with 44 receptions and 421 yards on screen passes last season. He averaged 9.6 yards per reception on screens, which was 2.5 yards more than the AQ average.
- Why is he a top prospect? Teams are focusing on Latimer. He has top-end length and speed.
- What are the risks? Receiver is a high-bust position. There have been good college players like Latimer who have failed before.
- How could he be the choice? The 49ers could fall in love with Latimer’s speed and try to take him if he is available near the end of the first round.
- Talking numbers: In 2013, Latimer caught 72 passes for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns.
- Why is he a top prospect? Small, but strong player who is excellent after the catch.
- What are the risks? Not overly polished and doesn’t possess great speed.
- How could he be the choice? He could be a good value in the second round.
- Talking numbers: Ellington had a combed 15 touchdown catches in the past two seasons.