Regardless of the reports about Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke having their differences within the 49ers organization this offseason, they have both certainly put those rumors to sleep during the 2014 NFL Draft by further establishing the motto of "In HarBaalke We Trust". The 49ers entered the draft with 11 total picks and although many people assumed that they would trade at least of few away, they ended up selecting 12 intriguing prospects who will compete this offseason in order to grab a spot on the roster. My previous assumptions before the draft were that the organization would focus on drafting a cornerback or wide receiver early in the draft and although this did not happen until the 4th round with the selection of Bruce Ellington, I am still very pleased with the 2014 NFL Draft prospects who can now call themselves San Francisco 49ers.
Below is an inside look at each pick made by the 49ers, as well as how they will fit in with the current roster and depth chart:
Round 1, Pick 30 (30): Jimmie Ward - SS - Northern Illinois (5'11", 193 lbs)Jimmie Ward in front of Levi's Stadium
Jimmie Ward may be listed as a strong safety but, the intentions for this selection has been identified by Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke as converting Ward into a nickelback. Ward is certainly capable of this change and has the athletic abilities to become a key contributor to the 49ers secondary next season and for years to come. There is the chance that Ward can ultimately become Antoine Bethea's future replacement as well, with the option of moving Eric Reid back to strong safety where he played at LSU. The nickelback position may be overshadowed but in today's league where the 49ers face slot receivers like Percy Harvin and Tavon Austin twice a year, the importance of selecting Ward becomes very evident.
See my previous article about the 49ers selection of Jimmie Ward and how he will fit in with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's defensive scheme.
DRAFT GRADE: A-
Round 2, Pick 25 (57): Carlos Hyde - RB - Ohio State (6'0", 230 lbs)Carlos Hyde soars to the endzone
The fact that the 49ers selected a running back this early in the 2014 NFL Draft may be a bit of a head-scratcher but, Carlos Hyde was ranked by many analysts as being the No. 1 back in the entire draft. Running backs Jeremy Hill from LSU and Bishop Sankey from Washington were both taken off the board right before Hyde at No. 53 overall (Sankey) and No. 54 overall (Hill). Call it a steal or whatever else you may like but, ultimately the 49ers chose to select the best available prospect on the board and are walking away with increased depth at the running back position behind Frank Gore.
Carlos Hyde is an elusive runner (40 yard dash time: 4.66 sec.) who can also be a bruiser on short yardage carries. He also has a very solid frame at 230 pounds but, isn't your typical power back as he also has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make defenders miss in the open field. Hyde isn't going to shy away from getting carries too as he has proven to be a durable weapon while playing for Ohio State including rushing for 1,653 yard and 16 touchdowns this past season as a senior.Carlos Hyde (#34)
The current situation that Hyde enters now being a 49er is with Gore being the No. 1 guy, at the moment, but also making the future situation a bit more difficult to predict. Hyde also joins Marcus Lattimore, who will be healthy and ready to go Week 1, Kendall Hunter, and LaMichael James. Gore certainly isn't getting any younger (almost 31) and Lattimore should be very fun to watch however, there is still some uncertainly about his health since he has yet to suit up for an NFL game. Hunter has also been a solid backup the past few seasons and has been a key contributor to the recent success the 49ers have had running the ball. The situation with Hunter is that his current rookie contract ends after this upcoming season (Gore's contract ends as well) and he could very well grab the attention of another team looking to pay generously in order to bring him in as a starting running back. The most reasonable situation, in my own opinion, is that the 49ers should stick with Gore until he is unable to produce, which he certainly hasn't shown signs of, and then Hyde and Lattimore will be able to take over creating an interesting two-headed backfield that should be fun to watch.
Regardless of how Hyde is utilized his rookie season and even further down the road, I am a big fan of this pick by the organization as well as Trent Baalke's impressive ability to maneuver through the draft in order to grab solid prospects like Hyde.
DRAFT GRADE: A
Round 3, Pick 6 (70): Marcus Martin - C - USC (6'3", 320 lbs)Marcus Martin at Radio City Music Hall
Martin is debatably one of my favorite picks that the 49ers made during the entire draft. Not only was he rated by many as the top center in the draft but, he also was also a steal going in the 3rd round when many analysts had him projected in the 1st-2nd round. Martin is a physical specimen who anchored the USC Trojans line for three seasons switching from left guard to center before his senior season. The need for interior linemen may be at its peak within the NFC West as the competition consists of the Seahawks dominant front-seven, Cardinal's DT Darnell Dockett, and the improved Rams who have added two successful collegiate pass rushers in Aaron Donald from Pittsburgh and Michael Sam from Missouri. Donald and Sam both join Robert Quinn, Chris Long, and Michael Brockers and, as good as that trio already is, it is only getting stronger through the 2014 draft.Marcus Martin (#66)
Marcus Martin joins center Daniel Kilgore on the 49ers roster who was given a contract extension this offseason however, do not be surprised to see Martin beat him out for the starting job before the season kicks off in Dallas. Whether the final choice is either Martin or Kilgore to start, 49ers fans should be very optimistic about the future of the team, knowing that Martin could serve as a perfect complimentary addition to lead the way for Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde for years to come.
DRAFT GRADE: A
Round 3, Pick 13 (77): Chris Borland - ILB - Wisconsin (5'11", 248 lbs)Chris Borland (#44)
The 49ers welcome in Borland, the 2013 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, to their linebacker core joining Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Michael Wilhoite. Borland may be a bit undersized for the position but, he certainly does not let that affect his game as he is very instinctive and a sure-tackler at the position. His non-stop motor also contributed to his presence always being known on the Wisconsin Badger defense as he always seemed to be around the ball. Recent shoulder injuries may have led to Borland's fall in the draft but, when healthy, he was one of the top linebackers in all of college football.
Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are both in no hurry to leave the 49ers and still remain as the top linebacker duo in the NFL but, Bowman is recovering from a torn ACL that should keep him out for at least half of next season. This injury highlights the importance of this pick as Borland will have a chance to compete with Michael Wilhoite this offseason in order to start next to Patrick Willis at the beginning of the season. If Wilhoite wins the job instead, there should still be no worries for Borland as he has joined a team where he will get to learn from two of the best linebackers in the league and will also have time to fully heal his shoulders.
DRAFT GRADE: B
Round 3, Pick 36 (100): Brandon Thomas - OT - Clemson (6'3", 317 lbs)Brandon Thomas (#63)
Thomas is a three year starter (27 starts at left tackle and 9 at left guard) from Clemson who was rated by many analysts as a top-50 prospect heading into the 2014 NFL Draft until he suffered a torn ACL. This injury happened during a private workout which makes the situation even worse but, the fact of the matter is that Thomas will have time to heal on the 49ers which will be similar to Marcus Lattimore's redshirt season this past year.
The 49ers currently do not have an immediate need for more depth at offensive line but, once Thomas is healthy, he should be able to fill that void for the team. Another thing to consider is that Mike Iupati will be set for free agency after this season and will be given much attention by other teams as he is one of the top guards in the entire NFL. Hopefully Trent Baalke wants to make sure that Iupati stays a 49er for more years to come but, unfortunately if he does leave the team in free agency, the importance of picking Thomas skyrockets.
DRAFT GRADE: B
Round 4, Pick 6 (106): Bruce Ellington - WR - South Carolina (5'9", 197 lbs)Bruce Ellington (#23)
It wasn't until the 4th round when the 49ers finally addressed the wide receiver position by selecting Bruce Ellington. Ellington may not necessarily be the biggest receiver but he has the ability to take the top off the defense which is exactly what the 49ers have lacked the past two seasons. As a gifted athlete who played two sports at the collegiate level (point guard for South Carolina's basketball team) Ellington brings an element to the 49ers offense and special teams unit that could be taken advantage of immediately during his rookie season. Although he is a bit smaller than most receivers in the NFL, Ellington is an explosive, sure-handed receiver who has exceptional route-running abilities as well.
Ellington joins the 49ers as most likely being behind Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, newly aquired Stevie Johnson, and Quinton Patton on the depth chart but will have the entire offseason to prove otherwise. However, Ellington has an even better chance of seeing the field on special teams as a return man just as he was able to do so for the South Carolina Gamecocks. There will most likely be shared reps between LaMichael James and Ellington in the return game but Ellington is definitely capable of contributing to this phase of the game as a rookie.
DRAFT GRADE: A-
Round 4, Pick 29 (129): Dontae Johnson - CB - N.C. State (6'2", 200 lbs)Dontae Johnson (#25)
Jimmie Ward can definitely be considered as the 49ers first initial effort to address the cornerback position in the draft, but Dontae Johnson was the first true cornerback taken off the board by the 49ers after being selected in the fourth round. Johnson is a physical cornerback who has the size to compete with larger receivers in the NFL. Due to his large frame and athleticism, Johnson split time at both the cornerback and safety positions in 2013 for the N.C. State Wolfpack. Another interesting fact to consider is that Jim Harbaugh has some previous connection to Johnson as Harbaugh attempted to recruit Dontae to come play for Stanford ultimately before he decided to stay closer to home and play for the Wolfpack.
Although Johnson may not see a lot of playing time as a rookie there is definitely a strong possibility that he could be seen on game day shadowing receivers all over the field. Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver appear to be the front runners to start for the 49ers week one in Dallas, but the depth behind the two can certainly be up for grabs during this offseason which Johnson should work hard to take full advantage of.
DRAFT GRADE: B
Round 5, Pick 10 (150): Aaron Lynch - DE - South Florida (6'5", 249 lbs)Aaron Lynch (#19)
Lynch was a highly recruited prospect coming out of high school when he decided to attend Notre Dame. After starting 12 games and recording 33 tackles and 5.5 sacks as a true freshman for the Irish, Lynch decided to return closer to home by transferring to South Florida. His production dropped a bit (still earned first-team All-AAC honors) after sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer regulations and decided to forego his senior season by entering the 2014 NFL draft where the 49ers called his name in the fifth round.
Lynch is a physical specimen who displays excellent speed and pass rush abilities but he definitely has some work to do before becoming a successful difference maker at the next level. Character issues may be another thing that Lynch needs to work on as he has been accused of lacking motivation and integrity. Aside from this, the 49ers organization took the risk of drafting Lynch with optimism that this will not be a problem down the road as he is still very young (21) and is now surrounded by many players to learn from and look up to. The reward of Lynch potentially mirroring the similar production he had at Notre Dame far outweighs the risks that have become evident through his college career and the entire draft process.
DRAFT GRADE: B-
Round 5, Pick 30 (170): Keith Reaser - CB - Florida Atlantic (5'10", 189 lbs)Keith Reaser (#3)
The trend of defensive players continued in the fifth round as the 49ers selected cornerback Keith Reaser with the 170th overall pick in the draft. During his time at Florida Atlantic Reaser played in 40 games and was able to register 158 tackles and five interceptions for the Owls. Reaser joins third round pick Brandon Thomas as he is also rehabbing a torn ACL, but is a bit further in the process than the Clemson guard. Reaser suffered this injury in October and although there have been slight complications with the graft that he received, all seems to be set to heal now and only time will tell when Reaser is able to suit up again. Before suffering the torn ACL, Reaser has been quoted saying that he has previously ran a 4.32 40-yard dash and although he was unable to perform in the running drills at the combine he was able to do 22 reps at 225 pounds at bench press, which is a very impressive number for the cornerback class he was included in.
Even though Reaser may be joining Brandon Thomas by having a redshirt season next year, his apparent 4.32 40 time and strength should certainly give the 49ers some purpose and will to keep him around within the organization.
DRAFT GRADE: C+
Round 6, Pick 4 (180): Kenneth Acker - CB - SMU (6'0", 190 lbs)Kenneth Acker (#21)
Following the selection of Keith Reaser the 49ers decided to select more talent to add to their secondary with SMU's Kenneth Acker. During his time at SMU Acker did not get much experience in press coverage putting his physicality in question, but he does not lack the athleticism and instincts that is takes to be on an NFL roster.
Making the 49ers roster may be an uphill battle for Acker but there is definitely a chance that he can make his mark in the offseason to become a solid contributor to the special teams unit as many of the late round draft picks will strive to do so in their first year on the team. It would also not be a huge surprise to see Acker take a few reps at returning punts and kicks this offseason as he was practicing at wide receiver prior to his 2013 season at SMU before suffering a stomach hernia. Cornerback will remain Acker's main focus now that he is in the NFL, but as a rookie he will most likely strive to make a roster spot within the 49ers special teams unit.
DRAFT GRADE: C
Round 7, Pick 29 (244): Kaleb Ramsey - DE - Boston College (6'3", 293 lbs)Kaleb Ramsey (#96)
Entering the seventh round of the draft the 49ers began to add some size to their team by first selecting Kaleb Ramsey. Ramsey is a force to reckon with on the defensive line at 6'3" and 293 lbs and certainly adds some key depth to Jim Tomsula's squad. The main negative aspect to his game is that there have been reoccurring health issues as Ramsey has been unable to consistently stay on the field during his time at Boston College.
Ramsey played defensive end for most of his college career but will most likely be moved to defensive tackle for the 49ers due to their 3-4 defensive scheme as well as Ramsey's sheer size and strength. Adding to the depth of the interior defensive line was key this offseason as Ian Williams is returning this year after recovering from a broken left ankle and there is no way of telling how he will be able to produce after suffering such a substantial injury. Another thing to consider is that Ramsey has also sacked both Colin Kapernick and Jameis Winston during his collegiate career, and although this may not say much it shows that he is definitely able to pursue and take down illusive quarterbacks.
DRAFT GRADE: B-
Round 7, Pick 30 (245): Trey Millard - FB - Oklahoma (6'2", 247 lbs)Trey Millard (#33)
With their final pick in the 2014 NFL Draft the San Francisco 49ers selected bruiser fullback Trey Millard. Millard is a versatile back who was regarded by many as the top fullback in the entire draft until he suffered an ACL injury back in October 2013. Better known for his pass catch abilities (70 career catches and 7 receiving touchdowns) Millard was also given many carries during his career at Oklahoma and made the most of these opportunities. However, due to Millard's strengths at catching the ball he could be used by the 49ers at the H-back position contributing to the offense similar to how Delanie Walker did in the past.
Millard joins the 49ers fullback group that already consists of Bruce Miller (seventh round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft) and Will Tukuafu who Millard should have a chance to compete with as the backup behind Miller. A very suitable name to give Millard is a "swiss army knife" as he has the ability to do many things for the 49ers once he is able to fully recover from his knee injury. Although he may not see the field at all next season due to his injury, Millard is definitely worth storing away for the 49ers to use in the future as she shows much promise through his playing strengths.
DRAFT GRADE: B+