Once again, the San Francisco 49ers entered the NFL Draft armed with double digit draft picks – eleven including compensatory selections. The entire nation knew that with those eleven total draft picks, the 49ers could be extra aggressive in pursuing players they coveted. Although they did not execute any major trade-ups or trade-downs during the draft, there were plenty of storylines associated with the 2014 San Francisco draft class. Let’s take a look:
Good Pick: Round 1, No. 30 overall – S/CB Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois)
Trent Baalke did it again. Every year we, as 49er fans, attempt to uncover Baalke’s draft plan, and every year, we swing and miss. This year, armed with a multitude of draft picks, all signs were pointing to a trade-up into the middle of the first round. With this year’s draft class stacked at the receiver and cornerback positions, our primary area of need, a trade-up seemed like a no-brainer. But as the first round went on, Baalke sat pat at No. 30. When they drafted the small-school stud, Jimmie Ward, we were shocked.
Why did Baalke not trade up and draft a higher profile cornerback like Darqueze Dennard out of Michigan State or Kyle Fuller out of Virginia Tech instead of reaching for a prospect who could have easily been had in the second round? Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh are masters at identifying talent, and seeing Jimmie Ward play football, they knew they had their man. Ward is as polished a defensive back as they come out of college. At 5’11” 192 lbs, he is a little on the smaller side for his position, but once he gets put on an NFL weight lifting program, he’ll bulk up as necessary.
Ward has the speed and hip flexibility to stay with receivers downfield and the ball skills and eye discipline to locate the football and highpoint it. While he can be overpowered by bigger receivers at times and can take overaggressive tackling angles, his flaws are easily correctible. All in all, Ward’s versatility, high-character personality, and technical skills make him a perfect fit in Vic Fangio’s defense.
Bad Pick: Round 2, No. 57 overall – RB Carlos Hyde (Ohio State)
It’s not so much that this is a bad pick. Ultimately, it could very well be the best pick the 49ers make in this draft. It’s just that it seems to raise more questions than answers.
The San Francisco 49ers, at this point, have the deepest running back depth chart in the entire league, and it might not be a good thing. Frank Gore, at age 31, is likely looking at the end of his glorious career in Red and Gold. For years, he has been the heart and soul of this team. As Gore enters the final year of his contract, the 49ers have been preparing for the future. Kendall Hunter is a talented running back who the Niners drafted in the 2011 draft and has been among the best backup running backs in the game. His contract is also set to expire after this season. With his ability, plenty of other teams will reach out to him in free agency about starting for them.
Then the 49ers drafted Marcus Lattimore out of South Carolina in the last draft. Lattimore, who was once among the most prolific running backs in the college, had suffered a horrific knee injury that would require him to spend the entire season on the Physically Unable to Perform List. With his college success, obvious physical talents, and tremendous work ethic, Lattimore seemed to be the heir to Frank Gore in San Francisco. He even suffered the same injury fate Gore did while he was playing for the University of Miami. But now the 49ers drafted Carlos Hyde, the top running back in this year’s draft class. Hyde is also an exceptional talent who compares very favorably to Gore with his downhill, physical running style.
Ultimately, this looks more like a best-player-available pick than a fill-a-need type of pick. Honestly, this is the only questionable selection made by the Niners in this draft. Until Hyde proves that he was worth passing over a receiver for, this pick remains a question mark.
Good Pick: Round 4, No. 106 overall – WR Bruce Ellington (South Carolina)
This was a terrific value pick for the San Francisco 49ers. They needed some wide receiver depth, and they got it with Bruce Ellington. I haven’t seen too much film on this receiver, but he was an extremely versatile player at South Carolina, a trait Jim Harbaugh loves. He is an extremely good athlete, with a 4.45 40-yard dash, excellent lateral quickness, and a supposedly fiery competitive spirit.
The 49ers will likely use Ellington in the slot as a speed/quickness receiver for Colin Kaepernick to throw to on underneath routes. What I find most intriguing about his pick is that Ellington can return kickoffs and punts. The return game was the only thing that allowed out-of-favor running back LaMichael James to retain any value. With his selection, his eventual departure is all but confirmed.
Very Good Pick: Round 3, No. 70 overall – C Marcus Martin (Southern California)
With the selection of center Marcus Martin out of the University of Southern California, the Niners may have found the final piece to the puzzle in their offensive line. With Joe Staley and Anthony Davis holding down the edges and Mike Iupati and Alex Boone providing the inside punch, the only piece missing on San Francisco’s offensive line was a center. With Marcus Martin, they found exactly what they were looking for.
Incumbent backup Daniel Kilgore was recently signed to an extension and was looking to be in position to inherit the starting job. Marcus Martin is not guaranteed to win the job, but he looks like a key piece for the future. Jonathan Goodwin was clearly the weak line on the offensive line last season. Even if Kilgore beats him out for the job this season, Martin retains value as an insurance policy in case Mike Iupati leaves in free agency.