Your mission, Mr. Baalke…

This is my Wednesday column predicting what Trent Baalke will do in the upcoming draft

This is not a column telling Trent Baalke what to do in the upcoming draft. We know what he has to do. He knows what he has to do. This is a column predicting how he will do it.

What we know: The 49ers have two major needs. Just two. Wide receiver and cornerback. Michael Crabtree will be a free agent after next season. Anquan Boldin turns 34 in October. Brandon Lloyd – the Niners recently signed him – turns 33 in June, and didn’t play in the NFL last season. Those are the Niners’ receivers.

At cornerback, the 49ers have Tramaine Brock – gave up six touchdown catches last season – and Chris Culliver – gave up a 110.9 passer rating in 2012, tore his ACL during the 2013 training camp. This offseason, he was arrested and charged with hit-and-run on a bicyclist. The Niners can’t depend on Culliver on or off the field.

The good news: The 49ers have 11 draft picks and cannot use all of them – half wouldn’t make the final 53-man roster. Rather than waste those picks, Baalke probably will use some of them to trade up and get a wide receiver or a cornerback who can make a big impact, even start right away if the Niners need him to.

Based on Baalke’s draft-day tendencies, here’s what he might do:

Baalke targets a specific player in the first round. He said it himself at this year’s Combine: “The No. 1 thing is targeting the players you want, indentify those and find a way to go get them.” Last year, Baalke targeted Eric Reid, traded up 11 spots to get him. In 2010, Baalke traded up to get Anthony Davis.

This year, there are three cornerback prospects Baalke probably is targeting: Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert and Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller. Those three could start right away for the Niners. Ideally, Baalke would trade up for one of them.

Why them?

Baalke values on-field play over combine stats, and Dennard was the best cornerback in college football last season.

Baalke likes freak athletes like Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith, and Justin Gilbert has a freakish combination of size and speed.

Baalke wants players who fit his coach’s system. “That’s why our players tend to look similar at positions,” Baalke said at his recent pre-draft interview. Fuller is almost identical to Carlos Rogers, the 49ers’ former No. 1 cornerback the past three seasons.

The rest of the cornerback prospects in the draft need to develop and probably would not win a starting job as a rookie on the Niners.

Baalke can trade his first-round pick – No. 30 – and his first third-round pick – No. 77 – to the Jets for their first-round pick – No.18. At least one of Dennard, Gilbert and Fuller will be available at pick No.18.

The Jets probably would say “yes” to this trade because their No. 1 need is wide receiver – the deepest position in the draft. Fifteen receivers could make an impact next season. The Jets could trade down and still get an excellent receiver.

The Niners need a receiver, too. Baalke could take advantage of the deep receiver class, take a receiver in the second or third round. But, I doubt that’s Baalke’s plan. Remember, he targets a player and gets him. Baalke is not passive, does not risk another team stealing his target.

So, which receiver is Baalke targeting? Let’s narrow it down.

We know Baalke drafts players based on their best college season, not their most recent one. Eric Reid and Aldon Smith did not play particularly well during their final college season, but dominated their second-to-last season.

We know Baalke wants players who play in spite of injuries. Aldon Smith played on a broken leg for a few games at the University of Missouri.

We know Baalke wants to add a deep-threat receiver to the Niners’ offense. That’s why he drafted A.J. Jenkins in the first round two years ago.

Is there an explosive receiver in this draft who had a monster season two years ago, and has played through injury?

Absolutely. His name is Marqise Lee.

If the NCAA had allowed him to enter the NFL Draft after his sophomore season at USC, during which he caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns, he would have been a top-15 pick. But he injured his knee during his junior season and caught just 57 passes and 4 touchdowns. Now, draft gurus say he will not get drafted until the end of the first round, the late 20s. Perfect for the Niners.

Baalke can trade both of his second-round picks – Nos. 56 and 61 – to the Browns for pick No. 26. And then Baalke can draft Lee. Baalke still would have two third-round picks, one fourth-rounder, one fifth-rounder, one sixth-rounder and three seventh-rounders to fill out the Niners’ roster.

Baalke’s clever. He may have a different way to get an impact corner and an impact receiver in this draft. Fine. As long as he gets one of each, the Niners will become Super Bowl favorites.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at


This article has 19 Comments

  1. I approve of this message…

    Seriously though I love Lee, perhaps a little bias because I am a USC fan, but the guy can play and produces. Out of the 3 corners I would like Dennard, but I’m comfortable with either of the 3. I love these moves, plus like Grant said we still have two 3rd round picks. That leaves us room to move up again back in the second for another pass rusher, OL, or DL. Or we can just keep the 2 picks.

    Make it happen Baalke.

    Finally draft is tomorrow!!!

    1. I definitely approve. We threw this around yesterday and as much as I want them to make as many of the top 6 picks as possible, I’d settle for 4 if it meant coming away with Fuller and Lee, or Dennard and Lee. It would be an amazing feat to come out of round one with both of your biggest needs taken care of by this kind of talent.

      With the 3rd rounders we’d still be in position to get 2 of CB, DL or OLB.or C. The more I think about this the more I want it to happen. Get it done Trent.

    2. Agreed as per my mock a while back M.Lee is my first slot pick as well,the second guy I choose was D.Moncrief and I knowGrant doesn’t agree on that one .As of late however I’m leaning toward Landry as a perfect replacement for Boldin/ Crabs (if he goes) as the second WR pick.

  2. That would be a stroke of genius if he could get Fuller/Lee. I find it amusing all the defecate you threw my way for stating why Lee would be a great pick. None the less, great read and plan……

  3. Good article Grant. Well described and explained. It’s not the only way to judge this draft, but I agree in principle. I think TB has a very high, perhaps urgent priority for a fast WR; only guessing that means Round #1.

  4. Baalke can trade both of his second-round picks – Nos. 56 and 61
    But how would he draft Murphy then?

  5. Grant, The two first rounders scenario is one I haven’t thought of. I’d be thrilled with a top corner (Fuller, Dennard, Gilbert) and Lee in the same draft.

    The trick is getting to 18 with the 30+77. Baalke pulled off a similar trade last year with Dallas. They might sweeten the pot with a face saving gesture (from the Jets perspective) by offering 30+77+LMJ. If not, Fuller could drop to within range of 30+77. Its a deep draft, and teams are exacting a big price to trade down (like the raiders and Cowboys last year, who lost the charts big time).

    That still leaves plenty of picks for depth, a running back or a big developmental big receiver.

  6. Which of those three CBs has the best body control/ball skills? Anybody know?

    By the way, ridiculously fine work product comes from Grant when he puts his mind to it.

    Nice job, not only in making a resounding and specific case, grounded solidly in fact, but also in acknowledging that other pathways exist for Baalke to achieve the singular objective you isolated.

  7. Grant for starters it’s documented that Brake didn’t want Kaepernick. Jim had to fight for Kaep.

    And you’ve told us for the last month the Niner would go CB first. Now you have us trading up for a WR. #alloverthemap

  8. Love the idea of trading up twice, and landing 2 first round picks. Was thinking the same myself yesterday :-)

    The thing that worries me is that the 49ers needed to draft a good corner last year, but didn’t. Surely they won’t do exactly the same thing again?! But you just never know with Baalke.

  9. good stuff, Grant. I agree with (dare say it, i was ahead of) the recent consensus that the Niners need to heavily draft at WR and CB, and this amateur GM will be happy if we spend our first 4 picks (or more, if we trade any of those) as follows: WR, WR, CB, CB. Our #1 need are WRs who can match up with big/fast/strong D-backfields like Seattle’s; our 2nd need is obviously plugging holes/adding depth at CB, altho I wonder if there arent FA bargains still out there now and via camp cuts. I’m guessing Baalke goes CB first given the apparent hole there and the fact that we have 2 putative starters at WR, at least thru 2014. But I’d like to see a trade up for a WR. One man’s opinion.

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