Here is my Monday column grading the 49ers’ draft.
Before we grade the 49ers’ draft, we have to agree on a grading criterion.
I propose a simple one: Are the 49ers better than the Seahawks now? That’s the only question that should matter. That’s a pass-fail question.
The 49ers added depth. They addressed needs. They drafted 12 players. But are the Niners better than the Seahawks?
The first player the 49ers drafted was Jimmie Ward, a 193-pound strong safety. He is 15 pounds lighter than Donte Whitner, the 49ers’ strong safety the past three seasons. Ward also is lighter than both of the 49ers’ starting cornerbacks – Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver.
Ward will play nickel back until he gets bigger. Ward will cover Percy Harvin when the 49ers face the Seahawks.
In college, Ward played in the Middle Atlantic Conference. He never covered a receiver who was anywhere near as good as Harvin. Harvin was the 22nd pick in 2009 and is one of the best players in the NFL when he’s healthy. The best receiver Ward ever covered in college was Dri Archer from Kent State, who was the 97th pick this year.
The second player the 49ers drafted was Carlos Hyde, a running back from Ohio State. Ohio State hasn’t produced a dominant NFL running back since Eddie George 20 years ago. And the Big Ten hasn’t produced a Pro Bowl running back since Marion Barber, a fourth-round pick in 2005, who made one Pro Bowl appearance in 2007. But he never rushed for 1,000 yards in a season. He retired in 2012.
Here is the list of Big Ten running backs who have been drafted in the first two rounds the past 10 years: Le’Veon Bell, Montee Ball, Mikel Leshoure, Beanie Wells, Rashard Mendenhall, Laurence Maroney and Chris Perry. Zero Pro Bowl appearances among them.
Hyde might be an effective goal-line back in the NFL, but he probably won’t be a difference-maker, especially against Seattle’s lightning fast, swarming defense.
Instead of running back Hyde in Round 2, the 49ers could have drafted a wide receiver, a difference-maker at wide receiver – Cody Lattimer or Allen Robinson. Both guys are big – Robinson is 6-3 and 220 pounds. Lattimer is 6-2, 215. And both guys are fast – Robinson ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. Lattimer ran a 4.38.
Those two receivers have the size to improve the 49ers’ red-zone offense and the speed to force opposing defenses to back off the line of scrimmage, which would open up running lanes for Frank Gore. Either Lattimer or Robinson would have given the 49ers an advantage over the Seahawks.
But after Day 1 of the draft, the 49ers traded with the Bills for veteran receiver Stevie Johnson. He put up good numbers for poor teams in the past, but he played poorly for a poor team last season and he is not the deep threat the 49ers need. He is a possession receiver, like Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree.
Not one player the 49ers acquired during this draft will make the Seahawks’ defense back off the line of scrimmage when these teams face each other in December and January.
On the other hand, the first player the Seahawks’ drafted, Paul Richardson, will make the 49ers’ defense back up. Richardson was one of the fastest receivers in the draft. He ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the Combine.
He will face Chris Culliver, the 49ers’ starting left cornerback. Culliver gave up 11 catches of 20 yards or more during the final 14 games of 2012. Richardson caught 19 passes of 20 yards or more during his 12-game 2013 season at the University of Colorado.
Culliver, who did not play last season because of injury, struggles to turn and locate deep passes while running full speed. So, the Seahawks spent their first pick on a deep threat who can exploit Culliver’s weakness, the biggest weakness on the 49ers’ defense.
The 49ers drafted 12 players. Many of them may become good down the road. The 49ers may even win more games than they won last season. But the Niners still are the second-best team in the NFC West.
FINAL GRADE: FAIL. Ask the Seahawks.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.