Blessed with double-digit draft picks and roster depth that will make it impossible for more than a handful of rookies to make their Week 1 roster, the 49ers masterfully maneuvered their way through the draft by trading up for three of their first four picks. Even after using their later picks to move up for their main targets, San Francisco still managed to make 11 picks and the players they drafted should help the team either this year or in the future. Chris Tripodi breaks down one of this year’s best draft classes.
Eric Reid/S/LSU (Round 1/Pick #18): The 49ers wasted no time replacing departed strong safety Dashon Goldson, trading their 31st overall pick and a third-rounder to Dallas for the rights to take Reid. A second-round pick on our board, Reid fits very well in San Francisco’s secondary and has the hard-hitting mentality to step right into Goldson’s starting spot alongside Donte Whitner. He lacks great range in coverage and has just average ball skills but is an intimidating presence inside the numbers and has the ability to make 49ers fans quickly forget about Goldson, especially since he left the division completely by going to Tampa Bay.
Cornellius “Tank” Carradine/DE/Florida State (Round 2/Round #40): San Francisco used the 34th pick they got from Kansas City for Alex Smith to trade back in round two, picking up a seventh-round pick and a 2014 third-rounder in the process. If Carradine hadn’t torn his ACL in Florida State’s final regular season game, he may have been a first-round pick; we had him graded as a top-20 prospect anyway. The 49ers have the luxury of taking his recovery slowly but with Justin Smith succumbing to age and entering the final year of his contract, Carradine looks like his obvious successor. Intense rehab may allow him to add more weight to his 276-pound frame and if he returns bigger and with his explosiveness intact, Carradine will be an even more complete three-down lineman who can team up with Aldon Smith to terrorize opponents for years to come.
Vance McDonald/TE/Rice (Round 2/Pick #55): With backup tight end Delanie Walker leaving via free agency and the 49ers not needing to fill many starting positions, they could afford to trade up for a player who won’t be expected to play every snap. Michael Crabtree’s torn Achilles may force the 49ers to use more two-tight end sets than usual and while McDonald isn’t as good of a blocker as starter Vernon Davis, he’s a big athletic pass catcher who can get up the seam and become a favorite target of Colin Kaepernick. This pick is less of a luxury after Crabtree’s injury and playing behind Davis should be great for McDonald’s development, although he may need to wait until his next contract to flash his ability as a starter.
Corey Lemonier/DE/Auburn (Round 3/Pick #88): After moving down a round earlier to give San Francisco a chance to draft Vance McDonald, Green Bay moved down again as the 49ers gave up a seventh-round pick for the opportunity to draft Lemonier. They likely don’t view him as a starter with Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks locked in at outside linebacker, but Lemonier has 4.6 speed and tangible upside as a pass rusher. He struggled to produce as a junior after a breakout sophomore campaign and has shown signs of being an underachiever, but the 49ers feel he can improve their pass rush if he takes to coaching and is used in the right spots.
Quinton Patton/WR/Louisiana Tech (Round 4/Pick #128): Branded with the small-school tag after a 100-catch senior season, Patton proved he belonged with this year’s top college talent after a great offseason and was rated as a second-round prospect by most draft outlets, including Draft Insider. A very polished receiver, Patton runs great routes and shows both soft and strong hands. He lacks great deep speed but is dangerous after the catch, especially on underneath routes. Michael Crabtree’s injury opens up a starting spot opposite Anquan Boldin and if the battle comes down to Patton, Mario Manningham and 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins, our money is on Patton. Once he breaks the starting lineup, it may be tough to take him off the field.
Marcus Lattimore/RB/South Carolina (Round 4/Pick #131): After stealing Quinton Patton three picks earlier, the 49ers took a chance on a running back who likely would have been the first ballcarrier selected if he hadn’t suffered a second straight season-ending knee injury last year. Early reports on Lattimore’s rehab have been positive and while it’s tough to say how he will recover, San Francisco is a great fit for both the team and the player. Like Tank Carradine, Lattimore can take his time getting back to full strength and will likely start the season on the PUP list. Starter Frank Gore recovered from a torn ACL himself in college and has a contract that ends after the 2014 season, making Lattimore the 49ers running back of the future if he can get close to his prior form. An instinctive downhill runner who never relied on blazing speed to begin with, Lattimore could make the 2013 fourth round a goldmine for San Francisco along with Patton.
Quinton Dial/DE/Alabama (Round 5/Pick #157): Despite signing Glenn Dorsey and drafting Tank Carradine, the 49ers added to their defensive end depth even further by drafting Dial. While he was never more than a rotational player at Alabama, Dial showed enough upside and growth potential at 6-5, 318 to be an intriguing late-round prospect. Explosive and athletic for a big man, Dial has to develop more moves to get off blocks but could find his way into the 49ers’ defensive line rotation as a run stopper in the future.
Nick Moody/LB/Florida State (Round 6/Pick #180): Moody had a strong sophomore year at safety but his play leveled off before he moved to linebacker as a senior. At just 236 pounds, his speed and athleticism are his best assets as he flies around the field but struggles with coverage instincts and timing. Moody is a prospect that needs time in the weight room to develop into a good NFL player, something he will be able to focus on while buried on the depth chart at outside linebacker. He’ll likely need to make an impact on special teams to avoid the practice squad.
B.J. Daniels/QB/South Florida (Round 7/Pick #237): An undersized college quarterback who struggled with his accuracy, Daniels was listed as a running back on our board but the 49ers are expecting him to know the playbook as a quarterback. He saw time at running back and as a kick and punt returner during rookie mini-camp and San Francisco will look to use his athleticism any way they can. Daniels could run San Francisco’s read option package if something were to happen to Kaepernick and has a strong arm that would force defensive backs to run downfield with receivers. Daniels could be a fun player to watch if the 49ers can find a good way to use his skills.
Carter Bykowski/T/Iowa State (Round 7/Pick #246): A tight end entering college, Bykowski was moved to the offensive line and cracked the starting lineup for the first time as a senior. An athletic prospect who needs to gain strength like Nick Moody, he’s likely bound for the practice squad while he hits the weight room and works on his fundamentals with the coaching staff. If he can continue to improve his game, he has enough upside to crack the roster in the future.
Marcus Cooper/CB/Rutgers (Round 7/Pick #252): Like Quinton Dial, Cooper never started during his college career but has the size (6-2, 192) and speed to make him a nice upside play this late in the draft. He will be expected to compete for a gunner role on special teams but if not, he’s another 49ers’ rookie ticketed for further development on the practice squad. He defends the run well and his measurables make him a worthy developmental prospect for San Francisco.
Grade: A. San Francisco was in a great position to come out of this year’s draft with a deep, talented group of rookies and they did just that. Five of their first six picks are arguably top-50 talents and their deep roster allowed them the luxury of stashing injured stars like Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore. Their draft was as good as it gets and with 11 picks, value at positions of need, no big reaches and more picks on the way next season, the 49ers should remain a Super Bowl contender for the next few seasons if their core stays healthy.
Held back by pathetic quarterback play last season, the Cardinals decided to trade for Carson Palmer rather than take a chance on any of this year’s QB prospects in the first two rounds. For a team with plenty of holes on both sides of the ball and a star receiver going to waste this was probably a wise move, especially after Arizona used their first pick to provide some protection for Palmer and whoever winds up succeeding him. Chris Tripodi breaks down the Arizona draft class.
Jonathan Cooper/G/North Carolina (Round 1/Pick #7): One of the two elite guards who bucked typical draft trends this season, Cooper started the offseason as the #2 guard prospect. He gained steam over Chance Warmack late in the process thanks to his elite athleticism and ended up being drafted higher than the Alabama stud. Cooper is a quick, explosive and fundamentally sound lineman who is great blocking in motion. If there is one area to nitpick about Cooper’s game it’s a lack of lower body strength but he shouldn’t have a problem adding muscle in an NFL weight training program and once he does, Cooper has the ability to quickly develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber guard.
Kevin Minter/LB/LSU (Round 2/Round #45): With a hole at middle linebacker and Manti Te’o still on the board at 38th overall, the Cardinals decided to pass on the Notre Dame linebacker and trade down, picking up an extra fourth-round pick in the process. This was a shrewd move for Arizona as they still got the linebacker they wanted in Minter. With Daryl Washington’s season now in doubt thanks to a recent assault arrest on top of a four-game substance abuse suspension, Minter is assured a spot as a starter and should be a great fit in Arizona. His lack of sideline-to-sideline range will be masked in Arizona’ 3-4 defense, where his instincts and ability to quickly penetrate gaps in the offensive line will help him make an immediate impact.
Tyrann Mathieu/CB/LSU (Round 3/Pick #69): This pick was somewhat surprising and while we had Mathieu rated as a fifth-round prospect, Arizona may be a perfect fit for the troubled former Heisman candidate. On talent alone, Mathieu was worthy of a second-round pick but his dismissal from the LSU program prior to last season has been well-documented, as have his issues with marijuana which have reportedly led to more than 10 failed drug tests. On the field, Mathieu is a big play waiting to happen on defense and in the return game. At his best playing in a zone due to his lack of size (5-8, 186), Mathieu’s great read-and-react ability and break to the ball leads to turnovers and he has good enough speed to recover when he makes a mistake. The presence of former college teammate and good friend Patrick Peterson may have played a part in this pick and if Peterson and the Cardinals can keep Mathieu in line off the field, he has the talent to be the league’s best nickel cornerback.
Alex Okafor/DE/Texas (Round 4/Pick #103): A second-round prospect on our board, Okafor was very productive with the Longhorns and is a max-effort player. He doesn’t have the size (6-4, 264) to play as a 5-technique end or the speed (4.85) to be a stud edge rusher and struggled in Texas’ 3-4 last season, the same defense he’ll be joining in Arizona. On the surface this seems like a questionable fit as Okafor is better suited as a 4-3 defensive end, but the Cardinals are hoping his instincts and intelligence will help him improve with more time playing in the 3-4.
Earl Watford/G/James Madison (Round 4/Pick #116): The Cardinals traded back here for the second time in the draft, moving down six spots from 110th overall and picking up an extra sixth-round pick. Watford was a solid choice here for a team looking to rebuild their offensive line and while he needs time to develop, he could eventually earn a starting role on the other side of fellow rookie Jonathan Cooper. Watford received multiple All-American honors during his senior season, impressive for a small-school lineman, and his athleticism makes him great blocking in motion and quick to the second level. Starting left guard Daryn Colledge is under contract for another three seasons, so Watford will have time to physically mature before he’ll need to step into a key role.
Stepfan Taylor/RB/Stanford (Round 5/Pick #140): We reported on Taylor’s impressive Senior Bowl performance and had him rated as a potential third-round pick, but his fall isn’t too surprising considering his poor combine and the fact that many running backs in this year’s class seemed to go later than expected. Even still, this was a good pick for Arizona considering the uncertainty of their backfield this year and beyond. A 5-8, 216-pound bruiser, Taylor is a north-south runner who rarely gets tackled by the first defender. He has quick feet in small spaces along with good vision and may be the best blocker in this draft class, which could help him see playing time as a rookie. His upside is somewhat limited, but he could be a very good committee back.
Ryan Swope/WR/Texas A&M (Round 6/Pick #174): The Cardinals stopped Swope’s freefall in the sixth round, as he was no worse than a third-rounder on most boards. His concussion history with the Aggies apparently scared teams off and he has already missed time in OTA’s due to concussion symptoms. If Swope can get past those issues and get on the playing field, he has the talent to make an impact. He shocked many by running a 4.34 40-yard dash at the combine but he doesn’t show that speed on tape. If Swope can play closer to that time, his intelligence, route-running ability and solid hands will make him a favorite of any quarterback. With Andre Roberts entering free agency next season, Swope has upside as a very good slot receiver behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd if he can get on the field.
Andre Ellington/RB/Clemson (Round 6/Pick #187): Using the extra pick Arizona got from the Giants for their fourth-rounder, the Cardinals got great value on Ellington. If Rashard Mendenhall doesn’t impress on a one-year deal and Ryan Williams continues to struggle with injuries, the Clemson product may team up with Stepfan Taylor as a thunder-and-lightning combination in the Arizona backfield. Despite his size (5-9, 199), Ellington runs with good power and is quicker than he is fast, making him effective as an interior runner and also a receiver out of the backfield. He probably won’t hold up as a feature back but he is a playmaker who should provide a great return on investment late in the sixth round with a running style that complements Taylor’s nicely.
D.C. Jefferson/TE/Rutgers (Round 7/Pick #219): Jefferson is a late lottery ticket for the Cardinals, who have struggled to get much production out of the tight end position in recent seasons. His talent level is matched by his inconsistency but at 6-5, 255 pounds, he has the skills to be a mismatch down the field. Jefferson’s hands and blocking remain inconsistent but if Arizona can develop him, he has starting-caliber talent and could be in line to take over in a few years if starter Rob Housler doesn’t fulfill his own untapped potential.
Grade: B+. The Cardinals did a great job maximizing value in the later rounds, picking up multiple players that can help their offense in the future. Jonathan Cooper and Kevin Minter will be immediate starters who can make a big impact in their rookie seasons but this draft grade could go even higher if Tyrann Mathieu can fly straight and reach his potential. Every pick Arizona made has legitimate upside and their draft should build a nice foundation for the team in the future. It’s hard to see Arizona competing for a playoff spot in the NFC West and with another high pick likely on tap next season, the Cardinals may be able to find a quarterback that can take them to the next level in the years to come.
The Saints were a bit pick deficient entering the draft and came to the event with several needs on defense. Moving to a 3-4 next season, the team needed scheme specific players and did a good job drafting value most of the way through.
Kenny Vaccaro/S/Texas (Round 1, pick #15): The consensus around the league had the Saints selecting defense in round one and they did not disappoint when called to the clock. Passing on linebacker Jarvis Jones, the team selected Vaccaro with their first pick. The Texas product should be a day one starter for New Orleans and is a complete safety proficient covering the pass or defending the run. Vaccaro will be a productive starter in the NFL if he consistently plays at the level he’s capable of.
Terron Armstead/T/Ark Pine-Bluff (Round 3, pick #75): In 2007 the Saints selected little known Jermon Bushrod out of Towson in the fourth round. He went on to be a four year starter and two-time Pro Bowl left tackle for the franchise before signing a large free agent deal with the Chicago Bears. In Armstead the team drafted a prospect that’s more NFL ready and offers greater upside compared to Bushrod in ‘07. Armstead stood out on film the past two years but it wasn’t until his performance at the Shrine Game did we come to accept the fact he’s left tackle material rather than a guard prospect. Armstead won’t be forced into the starting line-up and will gradually be fed into the system, just like Bushrod.
John Jenkins/DT/Georgia (Round 3, pick #82): Jenkins was highly rated entering the season and received first round consideration for a time. But the fact is he just doesn’t make enough plays on film, does not dominate the way he should and is woefully out of condition. In many ways he’s a similar version of Terrence Cody, the talented but conditionally maligned Alabama product who’s been in and out of the starting line-up for the Baltimore Ravens. Jenkins was worth a roll of the dice in round three and has great upside but must make a fulltime commitment to football if he’s to see significant playing time.
Kenny Stills/WR/Oklahoma (Round 5, pick #144): Stills was great value in round five. Yes, many of the receivers who come out of Oklahoma are a product of the system and often don’t live up to expectations in the NFL but considering his pass catching skills and surprising forty time at the combine, Stills may break that cycle.
Rufus Johnson/DE/Tarleton State (Round 6, pick #183): Johnson was a surprise pick but from a measurables point of view, he’s a good fit for New Orleans. The Lone Star Conference Defensive Lineman of the Year racked up 10 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss as a senior. He later timed under 4.8-seconds during his pro-day after tipping the scale at 265 pounds. While he was a bit of a reach in round six Johnson should find his was onto the practice squad if he doesn’t make the Saints roster.
Grade: B. There’s not much to dislike about this draft other than the limited picks. They should get instant impact from Vaccaro, selected terrific potential in Armstead and took a solid risk in Jenkins. Still could be the sleeper in this draft.