San Francisco 49ers: Darqueze Dennard

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers were supposed to be powerbrokers of the first round.

Everyone was expecting them to go make the big move for a top-end receiver in an effort to compete with Super Bowl champion -- and heated NFC West rival -- Seattle.

Instead, the 49ers ended up addressing their one true need -- albeit in an unexpected way.

Instead of trading up for stud LSU receiver Odell Beckham or taking one of the glamour cornerbacks, the 49ers grabbed Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward with the 30th pick.

At first glance, it smacked of a curious reach. Yes, Ward was a scout's favorite, but he was considered more of a second-round pick. And he played a position the 49ers made their biggest offseason investment at -- by signing veteran Antoine Bethea to a four-year, $23 million deal.

With receivers Cody Latimer and Marqise Lee still on the board, picking Ward did not initially appear to make much sense. But after digesting the pick, I could see why the 49ers made this pick.

The 49ers' benchmark is defense. With star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman out until about midseason with a torn ACL and star linebacker Aldon Smith's future clouded by a potential NFL suspension, the 49ers need to keep their edge in the early season.

This move should ensure they stay stout in the secondary. In addition to safety Donte Whitner (who Bethea replaces), the 49ers parted ways with their second and third cornerbacks -- Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers -- this offseason. Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver are expected to start.

The 49ers want to see Ward become the nickel. He played there often at Northern Illinois. Some teams are using safeties as a nickel and it seems the 49ers are going that route.

There were rumblings the 49ers didn't like any of the four cornerbacks that went in the first round -- Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard and Jason Verrett. They had the means to trade up and pick any of them and didn't.

Instead, they eyed the hard-hitting, competitive and smart Ward.

This may be out of the box, but it seems like a 49ers move. Having Reid, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season, the steady Bethea and Ward on the field together makes this a strong secondary.

49ers general manager Trent Baalke raved about Ward's competitive nature. Coach Jim Harbaugh simply said: "He loves football."

Baalke, who saw Ward play live once, said it was telling that when he asked scouts which games of Ward's he should watch, multiple scouts said, "Pick one." It was Ward's consistency that stood out to the 49ers.

Ward, who had the second most interceptions in the country last season with seven, led his team in tackles and interceptions the past two seasons. Baalke doesn't think coming from a smaller conference will be too much for Ward.

"The stage isn't too big for him," Baalke said.

Ward showed he had the mental toughness for the NFL when he ran for scouts with a broken foot, which is expected to be completely healed by training camp. Ward posted a 4.48 40-time on a bad wheel. That made Baalke smile.

The 49ers may not have stolen headlines with this pick, but they did add a key component to what makes them the 49ers -- an ornery defense.
Earlier Tuesday, we looked at why a trade with Baltimore to move up to No. 17 in the first round of next week’s draft would make sense to the San Francisco 49ers.

Truly, any team is a potential trade partner when the clock starts and the board starts to fall, but here are some teams that could stick out as other potential trade partners for the 49ers:

Oakland Raiders

Where they pick: No. 5

Cost range: It would probably cost the 49ers No. 30, No. 56, No. 61, No 77 and perhaps even No. 94.

Possible targets: Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.

How it could happen: Only if the 49ers felt Watkins or Evans was the missing link to a Super Bowl win. I’m sure the Raiders, who need all the help they can get, would jump at this. I’d say it’s a longshot.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Where they pick: No. 15

Cost range: No. 30, No. 56, and No. 94 or No. 56 and No. 61. and No. 77

Possible targets: Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

How it could happen: I’m not sure the 49ers would give up their first three picks for any of these prospects, but if they are desperate for a particular player it could happen.

Kansas City Chiefs

Where they pick: No. 23

Cost range: Perhaps No. 56 and No. 61.

Possible targets: Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller, Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks.

How it could happen: I’m sure the Chiefs would like to get back No. 56, which was part of the Alex Smith trade last year.

Cleveland Browns

Where they pick: No. 26

Cost range: No. 56 and No. 61

Possible targets: Cooks, Indiana receiver Cody Latimer, TCU cornerback Jason Verrett

How it could happen: The Browns are reloading. They could be interested, especially if they get their quarterback at No. 4.
There has been speculation throughout the NFL draft season that the San Francisco 49ers could be a prime candidate to move up in the first round next Thursday.

A potential trade partner could be the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens hold the No. 17 pick. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome told reporters Wednesday that they have already received calls for the pick.

Let's look at some reasons how the 49ers (who have the 30th overall pick in the first round) and the Ravens could be trade partners.

49ers have done it before: This move up would be 13 spots. The 49ers did exactly that last year when they went from No. 31 to No. 18 in a trade with Dallas to take safety Eric Reid, who became a Pro Bowl player as a rookie. In addition to No. 31, the 49ers gave Dallas No. 74, in the third round.

Teams work well together: We know these two teams communicate. Of course, Jim and John Harbaugh are the respective coaches of the 49ers and the Ravens. Plus, the two teams have been in contact this spring putting together a joint workout in August. Newsome and 49ers general manager Trent Baalke have had dealings in the past. And the Ravens sent receiver Anquan Boldin to the 49ers last year.

Potential targets: The 49ers' top needs are at cornerback and receiver. The cornerbacks expected to go in the top 20 are Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard and perhaps Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller. The receivers who could be taken in that range include LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks. The 49ers have been studying both players intensively.

What would it cost? The 49ers have a few packages to offer. They could offer No. 30 and No. 77, in a similar deal to the Dallas swap. Or they could offer No. 56 and No. 61, and perhaps even those two picks with No. 84 or No. 129.

Have they already talked? Newsome said they’ve had preliminary talks with teams, and Baalke said last week it is routine for him to have initial talks prior to the draft with potential trade partners to discuss potential scenarios.

It’s already been suggested: Former Tampa Bay general manager and current ESPN analyst Mark Dominik suggested a 49ers-Ravens trade for No. 17 Insider in an Insider piece last week.
Todd McShay has been studying the San Francisco 49ers spot at No. 30 in the first round of the May 8-10 draft.

McShay thinks they may be in a rough spot.

While their top needs, receiver and cornerback, are the two deepest positions in this draft, McShay thinks seven receivers and five cornerbacks could go in the first round.

Here are the receivers he thinks can go in the first 32 picks: Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M's Mike Evans, LSU's Odell Beckham Jr., Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, USC's Marqise Lee, Indiana's Cody Latimer and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin. Here are the cornerbacks McShay thinks will go in the first round: Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, Ohio State's Bradley Roby and TCU's Jason Verrett. Roby, however, is coming off an OVI incident in Ohio, which he disputes. That could take him off team's boards and lessen the first-round market. UPDATE: Roby pled guilty to a lesser charge Tuesday.

McShay says that several teams that pick right in front of the 49ers need a receiver or a cornerback. He thinks the teams drafting from No. 22-28 could easily take a player at one of those two spots.

That would create two problems for the 49ers.

All the players in this group could be off the board when the 49ers pick at No. 30. Plus, because so many teams are in the market for cornerbacks and receivers, the 49ers may have a difficult time trading up in the 22-28 range because few teams want to avoid the dilemma that may be facing San Francisco.

The 49ers may have to trade in the 15-20 range to get a player they covet. They have six picks in the first 100 picks, so they do have picks to trade. Plus, they have shown they aren't afraid to move up. The 49ers traded up from No. 31 to No. 18 to grab safety Eric Reid last year.

McShay said the receiver class is much deeper, so it may behoove the 49ers to try to take a cornerback in the first round and then grab a receiver later. McShay believes there are 21 receivers who could be taken in the first four rounds.
Gilbert/DennardGetty 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.

Cornerbacks

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.
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

  • 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.
Jason Verrett, TCU

  • 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.
[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesBradley Roby says he learned a lot in his final season at Ohio State.
Bradley Roby, 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. He was arrested on OVI charges in Ohio last weekend.
  • How could he be the choice? He fits on the field, but I just can't see the 49ers taking a player in the early rounds who is fresh off an arrest because of their rash of off-field issues this offseason.
  • 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.
Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

  • 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.
Receivers

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.
Odell Beckham, LSU

  • 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.
[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonMarqise Lee caught 57 passes for 791 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.
Marqise Lee, USC

  • 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.
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State

  • 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.
Davante Adams, Fresno State

  • 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. Adams was at the 49ers' pro day for local prospects Friday.
  • Talking numbers: Adams led the FBS in receptions (131) and receiving touchdowns (24) and ranked second with 888 yards after the catch.
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

  • 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.
Cody Latimer, Indiana

  • 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.
Bruce Ellington, South Carolina

  • 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.
Former Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby was arrested over the weekend for OVI -- operating a motor vehicle while impaired -- in Ohio. He is considered a top NFL draft prospect and could be a target of the 49ers at pick No. 30.

However, because of all the off-field issues surrounding the team this offseason, it would create a major stir if the 49ers used an early pick on a player fresh off an arrest.

Roby’s problems could make it difficult for the 49ers to grab a cornerback at No. 30 because it lessens the potential options. There are a lot of teams looking for a cornerback in the first round. Along with Roby, the top cornerbacks available are Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller and TCU’s Jason Verrett.

All four of those players could be taken before the 49ers choose.
In no surprise, fans want to see the San Francisco 49ers go big in their quest for a rookie cornerback.

In our poll this week, we asked readers which cornerback fans want to see the team take in the first round. As of 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, the winning vote is for the 49ers to trade up to take Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. He received 31 percent of the vote. He is widely considered the best cornerback in the draft.

Other cornerbacks receiving votes were in this order: TCU’s Jason Verrett at No. 30, trading up for Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, taking Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller at No. 30, and taking Ohio State’s Bradley Roby at No. 30.

Given these choices, I’d take Verrett at No. 30 because of the value and his potential. But if a trade for Gilbert presents itself, I can see the 49ers, with plenty of trading pieces, making the move. Thanks to everyone who participated.
SportsNation

Which of these should the 49ers do in the first round?

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    13%
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    9%
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    24%
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    23%
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    31%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,593)

We asked fans last week in this online poll if they wanted to see the San Francisco 49ers draft a receiver or a cornerback in the first round. Cornerback won in a landslide.

Now we ask which cornerback do you want to see the 49ers take?

This is a draft with many quality cornerbacks and the 49ers, who have plenty of trading power with six picks in the top 100, have the No. 30 selection. They could stay where they are, trade up slightly, or trade up 10-15 picks to get a top player at the position.

The two players who would likely require a big trade are Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard and Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert. The players the 49ers could likely get toward the end of the first round include TCU's Jason Verrett, Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller and Ohio State's Bradley Roby.

Please take our poll and explain your reasoning in the comment section below. We will review the poll results Wednesday.

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