We’ve heard what the 49ers have said about the team’s draft board remaining virtually unchanged even with the exit of Scot McCloughan as general manager. Director of player personnel Trent Baalke, the so-called trigger man on draft day, said the 49ers’ internal draft rankings were 85- to 90-percent set. Team president Jed York estimated the board as 90- to 95-percent finalized.
But I can’t help but think there will be – and have been – some changes on the big board inside the team’s Santa Clara draft room.
After all, if McCloughan liked a player more than most of the others in the organization – or if he thought less of a player than the general consensus of 49ers scouts and coaches – the elimination of his voice in the process must impact the way the 49ers stack their board.
There are a number of draft-eligible players whose stock with the 49ers could rise or fall before the April 22-24 NFL Draft. We’ll focus on some of the higher-profile prospects:
RB C.J. Spiller, Clemson: I just never got the impression the 49ers were all too keen on selecting a change-of-pace back/return specialist in the middle of the first round. McCloughan often spoke about football being a “big-person’s game.” That credo seemed to fit nicely with the power-running mentality of the 49ers’ offense, too. But director of player personnel Trent Baalke intimated a player’s size is not a big deal. “There is no 6-foot policy in this building in terms of players,” he said. “You’ll find guys like Frank Gore on this team.” But Gore was also a third-round draft pick. Since the combine, I’ve felt if the 49ers were going to take a running back in the first round, Ryan Mathews (6-0, 218) of Fresno State would be the pick. In the second round, Stanford’s Toby Gerhart (6-0, 231) was a solid choice. Now, maybe guys like Spiller (5-11, 196) or Jahvid Best (5-10, 199) aren’t out of the question.
S Taylor Mays, USC: Word was that McCloughan was not sold on Mays as a first-round pick. McCloughan seemed to prefer a cover safety, more along the lines of Earl Thomas of Texas, than the physical marvel of Mays who recorded just five interceptions as a four-year starter. McCloughan seemed to value safeties with cover skills. He drafted cornerback/safeties, such as Dashon Goldson, Reggie Smith and Marcus Hudson. Mays showed virtually no cover skills in college, but he is freakishly big, strong and fast. Perhaps with a different group of folks making the decisions, Mays becomes a serious option with the No. 17 overall pick.
Offensive tackles: Is it possible the 49ers could still be looking for an offensive tackle after the first round? You betcha. Russell Okung (Oklahoma State), Trent Williams (Oklahoma) and Bryan Bulaga (Iowa) will likely be the first three tackles off the board in the top 10. There are a lot of questions about the commitment level of Anthony Davis (Rutgers). He met with the 49ers last week in Santa Clara, and this is where coach Mike Singletary’s “gut” comes into play. Based on Singletary’s instincts, he could sway the argument in either direction. And if those four tackles are gone, the 49ers might hold off on a tackle until the second round. The vibed I picked up around the 49ers was McCloughan liked Charles Brown (USC) but others were less-convinced he is a mid-first-round talent.
And that brings us to . . .
QB Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame: The 49ers’ roster is in much better shape than the one McCloughan and Mike Nolan inherited in 2005. Still, McCloughan’s legacy with the 49ers will hinge greatly on the fate of quarterback Alex Smith and the team’s performance this season. In my previous mock draft, I had Clausen going to Washington with the No. 4 pick. With the ‘Skins trading for Donovan McNabb, I can’t see Mike Shanahan taking a quarterback there. Now who takes Clausen? The Seahawks at No. 6? The Bills at No. 9? And what if he’s available when the 49ers go on the clock with the No. 13 selection? Do the 49ers take him or look to trade back? Smith is under contract to the 49ers for just this season, while David Carr has a two-year deal. If Baalke and the consensus is that Clausen will be a standout quarterback, team president Jed York probably would not be opposed to having a another fellow Golden Domer join the organization.
QB Tim Tebow, Florida: When SI’s Peter King speculated a while back that Singletary would become enamored of Tebow and San Francisco was a possible Tebow draft-day landing spot, I rolled my eyes. (Sorry, Peter, but I did.) After all, I didn’t think there was any football logic behind it. Well, I’m no longer of the mind that Tebow on the 49ers is so far-fetched. Of course, I still question why the 49ers would invest a high draft pick on a quarterback who is just now beginning the process of learning how to throw a football properly. But as Singletary takes on more of a role – and don’t kid yourself, he is taking on more of a role – it would not shock me if the 49ers used the No. 49 pick on one of the all-time great college football players.
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