49ers have no simple solution to Willis’ absence

This is my Friday column.

It was a test.

I knew the correct answer to the question I was going to ask Trent Baalke. I wanted to see if Baalke knew the answer, too.

Baalke was sitting in the 49ers’ media room facing a semi-circle of reporters, answering questions about the state of the franchise.

This was Wednesday, March 11 — the day after Patrick Willis retired.

Losing Willis is no small matter. Willis was one of the greatest inside linebackers of all time. He was the Bo Jackson of inside linebackers.

When Jim Harbaugh was the 49ers’ head coach, he compared Willis to Willie Mays. Harbaugh liked to use baseball terminology to describe Willis’ greatness. Football terminology couldn’t quite capture it.

“The five facets of being a great baseball player:” Harbaugh said at a press conference in 2011, “hit for power, hit for average, catch, run, throw; be able to do those five things at an elite level. Patrick, as a linebacker, played downhill as a linebacker, number one, to be able to drop into coverage, be active and good in the coverage. Be able to tackle in open space, be able to blitz strong with tempo, and also be able to run from sideline to sideline with the agility and the speed to do that and make plays.

“Those five things, he’s doing at an elite level … I think just like Willie Mays. To me, five facets of baseball, Willie Mays is the greatest of all time. Patrick Willis has a chance to be one of the all-time great linebackers.”

There have been very few five-tool linebackers in the history of football. Willis was rare.

How do the 49ers go about replacing him?

I asked Baalke my question in an earnest tone. I didn’t want him to know I was testing him.

“Do you have a linebacker on the roster who can legitimately replace all the things Willis did?” I said.

Baalke sat up straight. “When you’re replacing a great player, a player that has earned that term, that is a true three-down impact player, sometimes you can’t replace that one individual with another. You’ve got to replace those roles with multiple players. So we’re going to look inside. We’re very confident in the ability of Chris (Borland) and Mike (Wilhoite). Obviously they played very well a year ago. And look at other ways within the scheme and the system to cover up for anything that we do lose.”

Perfect answer. No, the 49ers do not have a replacement for Patrick Willis. Willis is irreplaceable, a one-of-a-kind.

The wrong answer would have been, “The defense didn’t miss a beat last season when Chris Borland replaced Willis in the starting lineup. We feel Borland can legitimately replace all of the things Willis did.”

Borland is not a five-tool linebacker. He’s a three-tool linebacker at best.

Borland is a terrific “downhill” run defender. That’s one tool. “Downhill” is Harbaugh’s term. It means running straight to the line of scrimmage and tackling the running back in the hole.

Can Borland run sideline to sideline with the agility and speed to make plays? Absolutely not.

Is he active and good in coverage? No.

Can he tackle in open space? Yes.

Can he blitz? Yes.

Three tools. Not bad, but not Willis.

Borland can replace Willis on first-and-10 if the opponent runs between the tackles. If the opponent runs to the outside, Borland is a liability. If the opponent passes, Borland is a liability.

On third down, Borland should go to the bench. Third down is a passing down. Borland’s tools do not fit passing downs.

That means Baalke must replace Willis with a platoon—Borland on running downs and someone else on passing downs. That someone could be a linebacker, a safety or a cornerback. If it’s a safety or cornerback, that’s called a Dime defense.

“Would you consider using Dime in passing situations?” I asked Baalke. “You haven’t used that much in the past.”

“We’ve been able to play Nickel and not have to jump into Dime very often because the skill level and the different ability levels of the players we had on the field,” Baalke said. “Now, once again, do we have to play a little more dime to cover up for Pat? That all remains to be seen.”

Baalke passed the test.

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

This article has 283 Comments

  1. There is no replacing Patrick Willis that’s for sure but they can get better at other positionslike more pass rush so quarterbacks won’t have time to throw or better press coverage corners

    1. Can these guys ever be straight with us (Baalke & Jed)???….. Are you rebuilding?
      “No, we’re reloading.”
      You expect us to believe that after 11 plus players vacated your roster??!! that’s
      enough to field the offensive or defensive side of the ball!!
      Grant: “Can you replace willis?” …Baalke answered that no, but they’ll try make up for it by scheme and 3rd down role players…? This is not the 50’s Trent, the NFL has the no-huddle and will not let you bring in you’re roll players…Us fans can hadly wait until the 49ers face adversity, and the adjustments this staff brings to the table.

      1. The front office Jed & Trent have ran this team into the ground. They are going to see worse days ahead too.

        1. Based on their track record, I’d have to say you’re 100% correct. And, since the offense scored less than a Jimmy Raye career offense, 49er fans would have to admit, that it was defense and Frank Gore that carried us through the last 4 seasons….Since they have their F/A WR’s and are pursuing OL Peate, and Based on Baalke’s statement, we’re going to run, and Charlie Casserlies mock draft today 3/13/15 on the NFL Network that the 49ers would draft DL Danny shelton while other mock draft websites say Arik Armstead, I’d say Defensive Lineman also.

    2. PW one of the ll time greats.Bowman pre injury is right on up there.Borland is very talented but not there yet.Howz about Denzel in the mixhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTS9L_wODNU

  2. We need time to grieve before we can move on to planning for the future.
    The 5 stages of loss and grief are as follows:
    1. Denial and Isolation – It’s a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
    2. Anger – As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger.
    3. Bargaining – The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control. Secretly, we may make a deal with our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.
    4. Depression – Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. We worry about the costs. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words. The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a hug.
    5. Acceptance – It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression. Coping with loss is a ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.
    We need to grieve the loss of our beloved Pat, Grant.
    We need to grieve.

    Let us grieve.

    1. Kauai Robert….That was beautiful and painful at the same time….you have experienced grief before, as many of us have….very nice

      1. Thanks Oregon.
        They say that time heals all wounds.
        Apparently, they didn’t have Willis’ feet in mind when they said it…

        1. Wow .. KR ..

          That was great … but ..

          I always thought “Denial” …
          was a river in Egypt

  3. Grant, great points. Its not just players that need replacing, its the capabilities. For years the 49ers could use Willis-Bowman on all downs because of their speed and coverage tools. That’s over.

    I keep thinking back to the Denver game. All those crossing routes to tall pass catchers. It was like stealing candy from a baby for PM.

    If Bowman can come back at 90% or better, that will help. Not counting on it.

  4. Its like trying to replace Joe Montana or Jerry Rice or Ronnie Lott. You don’t. Its the only downfall having a super star on your roster – you don’t replace them.

  5. 49ers run defense in Willis’ 5 full games – 3.94 yards per rush given up.

    49ers run defense in Borland’s 5 full games – 3.96 yards per rush given up.

    1. That was, as we know now, a diminished, since 2013, Willis playing on chronic bad feet.

    2. O.K. O.K.,….we’ve grieved long enough….either find a way to clone him, or let’s just move on….He was probably the best inside LB I’ve ever seen, but as we have been saying far too often this year…move on. Jack’s 11:50 post points out that either there was sliding, or Borland wasn’t giving up that much.Yeah, it’s a helluva loss, but the sun’s coming up tomorrow….and we’d better be prepared….GO NINERS!

      1. I’ll miss Pat, but I feel good that he’s happily embracing his future. So he’s good.
        From fans & team perspective, I think of it as a military platoon. When somebody gets killed or wounded, the rest have to suck it up and drive on without them. You don’t like it, its not OK, but it is what you have to accept. Help the next man up be good. Continue the march……
        The grieving part is correct; you’ve got to get that out of you eventually.

  6. Are we moving the convo to this page?

    I’ll post this again.

    Ian Rapoport ✔ @RapSheet
    Former #Chargers starting CB Shareece Wright is visiting the #49ers today, source said. Lot of mutual interest here. May take more visits.

    1. This is from the San Diego UT in January:

      Better fit elsewhere: Wright generally has looked more comfortable in man-to-man, press coverage than off man and zone coverages. He’s more assertive and decisive when not lining up 5-10 yards from receivers. He may fit better with teams that run less off coverage than San Diego, such as the Raiders, Chiefs and Washington (though it fired its defensive coordinator last week). Wright’s former college coach Pete Carroll, who recruited him to USC, praised his toughness leading up to San Diego’s 30-21 win over Carroll’s Seahawks in Week 2 last season.

      Grant will love his high 90’s passer rating against if they sign him.

    2. If he comes cheap then I’m all for the added competition, but CB is looking like the team’s biggest hole at the moment.

  7. There’s no doubt in my mind that Patrick Willis would’ve been back on the sidelines in street clothes again after a couple games. He knew his feet wouldn’t allow him to play any longer and it’s the reason he retired at the age of 30. The 49ers had way too much money tied up in the linebacker position.

    1. Ifs not way to much money when it’s the best in the league. And the heart of the whole team.

  8. (A)
    Solution: Nickle more often
    Risk: Run defense weakened. Match up issue with tight ends.

    Solution: Make Bowman the “QB” of the ILBs. This frees up Borland to take the aggressive risk taker role blitzing or hitting gaps.
    Risk: More burns for big gains. Bowman’s play speed, instincts compromised.

    Solution: Sit ILBs in zones. Provide safety help.
    Risk: Reduces safety help for corner backs. Creates openings deep and soft spots in coverage underneath

    Solution: Draft Waynes to be the shut down corner. Drop a safety into the box for TE coverage.
    Risk: Waynes becomes a good player, maybe even pro bowl, but lacks rare “true” shut down corner skills. He gets burned. The 49ers have to drop the strong safety deeper, leaving ILB exposed.

    I’m thinking the 49ers will employ combinations of A, B, C. Even if Baalke thinks Wayes can be a pro bowl corner, if he can’t cover receivers without safety help, use pick 15 for someone else.

    1. Scooter and I have talked about Waynes a bit – here would be the CB depth chart with him

      Brock/Waynes – starters outside
      Ward/Johnson – Depth at slot (with the opportunity for some size matchups)
      Reaser/Aacker – depth

      Not a bad young athletic group.

      1. Obviously the scheme might change with a new coaching staff, but Waynes does not fit what the 49ers did last year. Corners that don’t move well laterally and have stiffer hips don’t work in off-man.

  9. Rotoworld re Raiders and Greg Hardy:

    ESPN’s Bill Williamson reports the Raiders have not discussed signing free agent Greg Hardy.
    There have been mixed reports on Oakland’s supposed pursuit of Hardy, but most local reporters say there’s nothing cooking. It would, of course, be beneficial for Hardy to be linked to the Raiders, who have enough cap space to drive up the price on any player.

    1. Also says he lead the league in DPI last season. So he better be cheap. The San Diego paper seemed to think he would get a bit of a raise from his ~800k base salary last year.

    2. Grant he seems like a guy that can be a smart pick up considering he would be cheap and has started the last two years.

  10. “his article is dumb……. DUMBDUMBDUMB……

    No it isn’t! I’m probably the last person to defend Grant but I think this article is a good one.
    Pays homage to 52!

  11. Grant are you buying what Baalke said that the Niners have no interest and Greg Hardy because I’m not

    1. Based on the American court system, he’s innocent. I say we look into adding him. Especially as his asking price dwindles.

      1. Based on the American Court system OJ Simpson and George Zimmerman were also innocent…

      2. That’s why I say based on the American Justice system. I never I believe he’s innocent. I know it’s flawed BUT it’s what we got and Americans love it.

        1. Exactly.
          I asked the same question a few days ago.
          Can he stand up in a 3-4?
          Not a natural fit IMO.

  12. They have a solution and his name is Brooks. Brooks is arguably the best LB on the team and his natural position is ILB. THe team wisely rejected trade offers and rumors of releasing him. He needs to take more of a leadership role and responsibility. I can see him starting and rotating between ILB and OLB.

    1. You lost creditability when you said brooks is arguably the best linebacker on the team. Makes you wonder if you pay attention to Niner games. I can argue that he is not as good as Aldon for sure. Borland and Lynch are younger and better. Oh I won’t even discuss Bowman who is in a different planet. Now maybe you meant to say he is the most versatile. That’s a better argument.

      1. I don’t think that Aldon can play middle LB as effective as Brooks has. Nor could Bowman be as effective on the outside. His versatility and ability to play at a high level provides the basis of the argument. I do agree that he needs to be committed to being not only a solid player, but defensive leader.

    2. Yes, I proposed this idea a day or two ago; however, Brooks needs to be committed and come into camp in shape this year. But I admit I’m grasping at straws looking for anything that can counter Jimmy Graham.

      1. To be clear, I don’t agree that Brooks is arguably the best linebacker on the team but do agree that he might possibly move to ILB.

      2. These Graham worries are reminding me of the Harvin worries when Seattle signed him. This “one player is going to beat us” mentality by some fans really cracks me up.

        1. It’s not just one player. If it was just Graham, I wouldn’t be concerned because we contained him quite well when he was with NO.

          It’s the fact that Seattle has Lynch, Graham and Wilson. Graham will make it difficult for teams to stack the box when Seattle is near the goal line because Graham will then be one on one against an undersized DB. Double team Graham and Lynch will make you pay. Wilson is the most elusive QB in the NFL and will be able to buy time AND he throws a good, accurate air ball which will be relatively easy for Graham to catch given the short DBs that will be covering him. So it’s the synergistic effect of these three players.

          One more thing to note. Since 2011 the top three players to score touchdowns are Lynch (62), Dez Bryant (50) and Graham (46). Seattle now has two of the top three touchdown producers.

          1. OTOH, the Seachickens offensive line is now even weaker than before. They’ve lost Unger and Carpenter and don’t have a 1st round pick. This would probably be the best way to attack them (I’ll be interested to see what the Rams do to them with that tough DL; hopefully we can say the same thing about the 49ers).

            If you believe the idea that late playoff runs make a team more vulnerable to injury the following year, then the Seahags are due this year. Couple that with a weak OL and that could be a potential downfall.

          2. I thought Harvin was supposed to be have the same synergistic effect with Lynch and Wilson? There were both fans and media creating the same hype is what I am talking about. Seattle’s offense will now be unstoppable! LOL We’ll see if Graham can be as successful with Wilson as he was with Brees under center. Wilson is no Brees no matter how you want to hype him. He is decent but not in the same league.

  13. Fly sweeps.

    Tom Pelissero ✔ @TomPelissero
    Percy Harvin has agreed to terms on a 1-year deal with #Bills, as @AdamSchefter said. Rex Ryan building quite the cast of characters.

    1. Fly sweeps indeed.
      He doesn’t do much else…besides get injured and complain alot

  14. From Schefter as reported by PFT:

    “Bills agreed to terms with WR Percy Harvin, formerly of the Jets, on a one-year contract.
    Harvin is headed to his fourth club in as many seasons. For Harvin, going to a team quarterbacked by Matt Cassel and E.J. Manuel is a risky way to rehab his value on a one-year deal, but it’s a shrewd signing for the Bills. Despite his recent injury woes, Harvin remains a moveable chess piece, one who’s especially explosive over the middle of the field and after the catch. He’ll make for a game-breaking tandem with Sammy Watkins. Harvin has been in the league since 2009, but still doesn’t turn 27 until May.”

    1. Man. McCoy, Watkins, Harvin, and Manuel sounds like a university of Florida team. They should be able to make some noise.

    2. NBCdianna: Not so fast on Percy Harvin to the Bills, 49ers could be making a play per sources.

  15. Good for him.

    MaioccoCSN Matt Maiocco
    Michael Wilhoite was top #49ers player in performance-based pay. Undrafted, he started 16 games last season to earn additional $292,406.

  16. This might be stating the obvious… but the signings seem designed to provide draft flexibility.

    Baalke’s pattern has been “reach” for a need in the first round, play trade kung-fu and BPA on day two. The Smith signing’s a variation of that. Instead of draft capital, he used cap capital instead.

    The 49ers need deep #1 receiver and better interior pass rush. Torrey Smith and Docket might not be perfect. Torrey might not be a the long term #1 WR . Docket’s in the late stages of his career.

    The good news is the 49ers don’t expect perfect. They have a proven deep threat and a proven interior pass rusher. When pick 15 is up, Baalke won’t be forced to overdraft. He’s free to grab BPA or trade back.

    Its a fascinating synergy between salary cap capital and draft capital.

    For example: With Smith and Docket signed, Baalke now feels (a little) more comfortable trading back for for an extra 3rd rounder. The 3rd rounder has a cheap rookie contract. mitigating (part) of the Smith-Docket cost.

      1. I think they’d draft Parker if he fell to 15, even with the Smith signing. They could still trade up a little for White/Cooper depending on asking price.

        But Baalke won’t have to sell the store. If the price isn’t right, he can trade back with a good chance players like Perriman or Armstead are still there.

        I’m still hoping Baalke finds a way to trade up for White/Cooper/Parker. Its torture to be a fan of a team that boasts Gene Washington, Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Terrell Ownes but hasn’t had a true #1 for 12.

        The remaining need is swing tackle. Could Boone be the surprise extension?

        1. I agree with all of those picks. Extending Boone may be a good option. He has experience plus he is one person I feel could step into the leadership role easily. He seems respected by everyone.

    1. I can’t seem to find where I read it but Seattle GM John Schneider said he only had 16 first round grades in this draft. From a talent standpoint it may not be a good idea to trade back.

      1. Saw that as well. When you include 2015, they also have not had a first round pick for three years in a row.

          1. And yet they’re still one of the best teams in the league – as much as it kills me to say that.

              1. Yes. One less cheap rookie contract to balance the expensive veterans. Might be a “window” thing. Get those Lombardis while you can.

      2. Pick 15 is in a traditionally poor BPA spot.

        Picks 1-13 … 74% 3 Year Starter … 44% Pro Bowl
        Picks 14-40 … 61% 3 Year Starter … 19% Pro Bowl
        Picks 41-66 … 44 %3 Year Starter … 13% Pro Bowl


        Its a hard spot to trade up or down from, because the other teams see the shelf too.

        I think the top talent shelf is about 13 players deep. After that its players that can yo-yo anywhere from 14-28. That’s why so many mocks have players like Parker, Waynes, Scherff going before 15.

        So if your “stuck” with a Perriman or Armstead, might as well trade back (if any takers) and recover what you can.

          1. as long as we don’t get “stuck” with him. He could also drop into the late first.

        1. If if it means reversing the trade up with for Reid. Cowboy fans ripped Jerry Jones for trading all the way from 18 to 31, only getting the 49ers 3rd rounder in return. But the talent in that range is pretty flat, so it might have been the best he could do.

          Pick 15 makes GMs look like idiots. Picks 10-12 make GMs look brilliant.

          Perriman or Armstead + a 3rd is better then just Perriman or Armstead.

      3. I believe they have a pretty smart system. The 1st round is like shooting dice. How many stars on both of the Super Bowl teams were drafted in the first round. None that I csn think of. If you’re not drafting in the top15 spots you may as well do what the Seahawks did this year.

        1. I think this trade was a straight value comparison. Graham > 31+Unger.

          I’d make it in a heartbeat.

  17. From Maiocco as reported by PFT:

    “According to CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco, free agent Michael Crabtree has no interest in re-signing with the 49ers.
    Per Maiocco, “the 49ers rank 33rd (give or take) among teams on which he’d prefer to play next season.” Of course, there are only 32 teams in the league, so the 49ers are an absolute last resort for Crabtree. The problem is Crabtree has drawn zero known interest from outside clubs since the season ended, with only the 49ers rumored to have interest in a reunion. The feeling isn’t mutual. Crabtree is still just 27, but runs like he’s 32 and never had separation skills from the start.”

    I won’t miss him.

    1. I said he was slow during the season and the Kaep lovers, and you know who you are, said I was crazy. I said he’s slow and gets caught from behind, and they made fun of me. Who’s laughing now, Rocket, 23, Bay dumb dumb, etc!

      1. So you are saying that Kaepernick fans on this blog were also saying Crabtree wasn’t a slower possession-type receiver? You sound like somebody who is just trying to stir up an argument and not here to discuss 49er football IMO. I read this blog everyday and don’t recall any of those you named calling you crazy — at least not for the reason you’ve stated, LOL.

      2. not for nothing, but who really cares what some person said 6 months ago. that’s not a gentlemanly thing to do. Any true niners fan has to have thick skin after watching the fiasco era between Mariucci and Harbaugh.

        Back to football, who should we target in the draft?

        I’d love a trade down to 20/25, pick up a 3rd or 4th (take a value-pick CB there, which Baalke seems to nail annual), and pick up either Gurley or DGB with the late-1st. High risk, high reward. The FA moves have shored up our immediate needs for starters, but one of those guys could provide a trump card for the red zone, and quality depth at the key skill positions.

      3. You also made a big deal out of a fourth quarter blowout TD throw an a pre season drive. So who wouldn’t laugh at you?

    2. I was hoping he would add to the compensatory haul but…

      C’mon Mark Davis pony up.

      1. Same here. I was counting on Crabs nabbing us at least a 4th rounder. However, it will be funny if he signs for a league minimum.

        If I were Crabtree, I’d shop myself in a one year deal to a team with a passing game that fits his skills. When healthy, he’s a perfect compliment to Brady or Breese.

        He was rumored to be fast in training camp, but got hurt. We never saw the alleged speed. If he can get last August’s speed back and hook up with the right team, he’ll make his money in 2016.

    3. If that”s how Crab feels than I feel like “don’t let the door hit you in the @$$!
      Crab made some great catches and plays over the years, when he wasn’t hurt,but I will always remember him most for the plays he did not make, the on’es at the end of the Super Bowl and at the end of the following NFC Title game. Maybe those weren’t his fault but still…

    4. At this point it looks like some team may get him pretty cheap. He may not be a brilliant WR, but he can be a solid starter and if he returns to pre-achilles injury form could be a bargain.

      1. I’m calling Eagles, on a 2yr/ 6mil deal. They just lost Maclin, Crabs is still a solid run blocker, could produce in that offense.

  18. This is quite a bit different than originally reported:

    Matt Maiocco ✔ @MaioccoCSN
    RT @RavensInsider Blaine Gabbert two-year 49ers deal: $4 million, $500,000 bonus. > So it’s the same $2M annual average as last season.

      1. It’s a pretty team friendly deal.

        His cap number for 2015 is $1.75k, a slight dip from last year, and they can gain cap space by cutting him which they couldn’t do a year ago.

        Contract Notes from Spotrac:
        2016 Roster Bonus: $200,000 (5th day)
        Pro Bowl: $50,000
        Incentives: $750,000

  19. From Biderman on Shareece Wright:

    Chris Biderman @ChrisBiderman · 2h 2 hours ago
    Wright’s 5-11, but, wait for it, has long arms – 32 1/4 inches. Ran a 4.46 at 2011 combine.

    1. He can run and turn but his ball skills are lacking.
      Just saying…

    2. that’s the protoype. note that there are half a dozen draftable guys in the 6-0 to 6-1 range, 4.5 speed, 32 in arms. Most are projected mid-round picks. Baalke loves them more than Madonna loves latin dudes

  20. So with the Saints trading Graham and Stills, and Colston getting on in years, does WR become priority #1 for them?

    I think the chances of one of the top 3 WRs in this years draft falling to the 49ers is looking very bleak.

    On the plus side, the Saints were one team considered a possibility of drafting Waynes. The top CB in the draft may just fall to the 49ers.

    1. I heard they like Peters and then Darby. I could see Parker going to the Saints, but that would still leave us a very nice consolation prize in DGB….

      1. At least you don’t have to worry about the squawks taking him at 31. Although the Saints could go that way.

          1. Do you recall where he got the idea from? I know the team met with Peters at the combine, so wondering if that is where he got his idea from.

            If so, its worth mentioning that a lot of teams tend to meet players with a checkered past at the combine to hear what they have to say for themselves.

            1. Found it for you Scooter-http://stockpricesnow.com/nfl-draft-2015-matt-millers-free-agency-week-1-notebook-bleacher-report/

              1. I thought he said they would be looking at him in the second round, but maybe he’s moving up draft boards. Not sure atm….

              2. Though I will say he reminds me some of Desmond Trufant. That same sort of speed, agility and explosiveness.

              3. If memory serves correctly, didn’t he start as a freshman and proceed to win DROY?

              4. I believe Trufant won DROY as a rookie in 2013, but don’t quote me on that.

                Another interesting point is that Trufant started the draft season as a 3rd round prospect from most draft gurus, and steadily climbed boards as people watched more tape on him and saw how he performed at the Senior Bowl, combine and pro day.

                Darby is a junior so didn’t get to play at the Senior Bowl, but his combine opened some eyes and his tape is good, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he does indeed rise into first round consideration.

              5. Ha! Thanks, but I believe you are the one that is onto something. I’m just coming along for the ride.

                Definitely worth keeping an eye on. See if Mayock starts moving him into his top 5 lists.

              6. You won’t find a CB with better physical attributes in this draft, hightop. Very similar to Trufant and Roby, and both were first rounders. And he’s proven he has what it takes to stick with WRs down the field.

              7. I have consistently mocked Darby here Scoots -just don’t see him in the first …could be wrong

              8. I know you have hightop. But he’s quickly moving up from the 3rd/ 4th rounder most sites have been listing him as. Drafttek is already on it. They have him ranked 41st overall. Walterfootball has also gotten on board and now has him as the 4th best CB.

                I don’t think its likely he drops out of the mid second round, and he could well slide into the first round due to his cover skills and elite athleticism.

            2. I have a friend whose a saints fan. He said there are rumbles about them taking Vic Beasley with their 1st.

    2. Scratch the Jets off that CB list as well. But we still have to worry about those aquatic mammals…

    3. Baalke said last year the late May draft allowed the “less organized teams to catch up their draft boards.” Hinting there were less blue chip players falling in the draft.

      This draft is a week earlier, but still two weeks late. I think fallers and trade-ups will be hard to come by.

      1. A good player will still likely be available at #15. It may be an OL or OLB, but the 49ers can do with either of those positions.

        1. Talent level of OL is not commensurate with the top 15 picks is what I’m hearing….

          1. That’s because teams don’t place a high value on OGs and RTs. The talent is there, the players just aren’t LTs outside of maybe Peat.

              1. Peat would be a smart pick. He’s yo-yoing on mocks from 14-24.

                Peat would mean all major “needs” will be covered, freeing Baalke to do his usual second day trade kung-fu.

            1. Anthony Davis had a high price on his head by Baalke. I’m hearing only Scherff is a day one plug and play at LG….

              1. So did Iupati. The 49ers aren’t afraid to draft an interior OL or RT early if the talent is there.

              2. Baalke (lost most GMs) will pay more for OT. I think Marcus Martin or Thomas can play LG.

    4. They are claiming defense is a priority. Which that in mind I would expect them to draft defense first. Once again, “they claim”

    5. Saints will go defense at #15 pick with Beasley. Devin Smith could be their #31 pick for a WR.

    6. I doubt it Scooter. I can’t remember where I saw it, but the Saints are expected to concentrate on the defensive side of the ball during the draft.

        1. Actually it was a recent article that reiterated it Scooter. It indicated that the resigning of Ingram along with the trade of Graham and Grubbs was a notice that the offense was going to shift from its high level passing game to a more balanced offense that leaned more towards a run-first system. The article also reported that Ryan believed that his defense failed because he didn’t have his type of players on it and that it’s expected that the Saints will gut the defense even more in order to focus on it early and often during the draft in order to get Ryan the type of players he wants.

          1. Given they have signed Browner and traded for Ellerbee, the only real defensive area they absolutely need is pass rusher. Rumours they are after Beasley. With two first rounders they have the ammo to move up and get him.

            1. Unless they plan to move Lewis as well. Then CB could become a need. Plus the article also said the gutting isn’t finished on their defense.

    1. Nothing as classy as signing a guy who wore out his welcome quickly on two separate teams, one of which went to the Super Bowl in back-to-back years.

  21. I don’t mind it. The Bills were offering him a 1yr deal. He’ll be cheap with some decent upside. I wonder if Harvin is a plan B to Bush

    1. I’m conflicted on this one. Sheer excitement about the possibilities tempered by trepidation with the realities.

  22. I would be all for signing Harvin if it wasn’t for the fact that we have a cheaper, younger player with his skillset already on the roster. #FreeEllington

    1. Don’t worry.

      ProFootballTalk ✔ @ProFootballTalk
      Source on report 49ers may jump in for Percy Harvin and grab him from Buffalo: “100 percent Bills.”

      ProFootballTalk ✔ @ProFootballTalk
      Percy Harvin contract isn’t signed, but the language has been hammered out and both sides regard the deal as done.

      1. Uh oh. Reports that contradict one another.

        Diana has been pretty strong this offseason.

      2. @NBCdianna 7m
        Multiple sources say it’s not over until Percy Harvin signs. Told “he will probably wind up in Buffalo but SF is trying” #Bills #49ers

        Kinda funny to watch two folks affiliated with NBC duke it out on this one.

            1. I’m pretty sure Roman is heartbroken over the possibility of losing Harvin while still having McCoy in his back pocket.

          1. Maybe he thinks he can drive the price up for the Bills and “stick it” to Roman. It’s the Baalke family way.

      3. Enough. He’s a Bill. 1 year for $6mil, per rapsheet. That was fun while it lasted.

  23. This may have been covered already, but how realistic of an option would it be to move brooks inside this year?

    1. Already some posts on that. Try searching for Brooks (Ctrl F will bring up the search box).

  24. Great article. It will be very difficult for the 49ers to try to replace one of the greatest to play the position.

  25. Charlie Casserly’s updated mock has SF taking Shelton at #15
    But with both Amari Cooper and Parker still on the board!

  26. PFT reporting on Russini tweet regarding Stevie Johnson:

    NBC Washington reports the Patriots are targeting free agent WR Stevie Johnson.
    New England is the first team that’s been linked to Johnson since his release from the 49ers. He doesn’t project for a starting role with the Patriots, but would contribute in three- and four-wide sets. Coming off a 35/435/3 line, Johnson won’t require much guaranteed money.

  27. This one is for Scooter.

    On PFT:

    CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reports the Saints are shopping LCB Keenan Lewis.
    Lewis asked for his release from the Saints earlier this week. He reportedly has concerns about his long-term future with the team, but is unlikely to draw any trade-interest with three years remaining on his contract. Coming off a down 2014, Lewis is owed $3 million in salary and bonuses.

    1. 49ers really should be on this like a rash.

      PFF graded him pretty poorly last year, but its no coincidence he was voted team defensive MVP by Saints fans.

      1. I agree Scooter. Lewis would be a great pickup. If the Saints do put him on the market I hope the Niners jump at it.

    2. @RapSheet 35s
      In random #Saints news, they are in the process of re-doing the much-discussed contract of CB Keenan Lewis to make him… happier

    1. Cordarelle Patterson has to be on his way out then.

      Would Vikes still look at WR in the first round? Highly doubt it with other needs such as CB, OG and LB.

      1. On PFT:

        Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson’s agent tells CBSSports’s Jason La Canfora his client is not being shopped by the Vikings.
        Long rumored to be on the trade block, the rumblings around Patterson have grown louder following the Vikings’ acquisition of Mike Wallace. Patterson does not appear to be well liked by Minnesota’s coaching staff, and he would not seem to have a role in the Vikings’ re-shaped offense. Even if he sticks with Minnesota, Patterson’s inability to run routes will limit his opportunities in OC Norv Turner’s offense.
        Source: Jason La Canfora on Twitter Mar 13 – 7:36 PM

        1. It’ll be interesting to see if Baalke discusses a trade for Patterson. He could be the KR/PR for the team while learning the offense, giving Ellington more opportunities to become integrated in the 49ers offense. I’m not a fan of trading for Patterson, but I can also see it happening.

    1. @Cubus….
      Thanks for the link…Wouldn’t it be nice to have ‘our’ situation spelled out that succinctly? While at Oregon, we were just happy with the decisions that Chip made to keep us in the Win column….now we can see that the wizard can operate within the confines of a salary cop….excellent post!

    2. Kelly is going to fail spectacularly next year. He’s let his top producers go and replaced them with overpaid and injury prone players. No real rhyme or reason to what he’s done this offseason. He’s essentially just moved pieces around and wound up owing more money than he did when he started. This is what happens when you give a HC too much control.

      1. Rocket….you mean Chip let those top producers go WITHOUT CONSULTING YOU ? What audacity!! Just watch, when next year rolls around, ‘Our ‘ 49ers will be looking up at both the Eagles and the Chiefs, unnecessarily….we made several changes from last season, and came up just a few short of great success. There’s still time and room to rectify that, and that is why we’re still following the blog. Did you even read cubus’ link ?

        1. Oregon,

          I did read it and I think Kelly has done nothing but make cosmetic changes and spend more money.

  28. From what I see on overthecap.com, the 49ers have just under $19mil in cap space once the Gabbert contract is factored in.

  29. @NBCdianna 26s
    Reggie Bush left New England without an offer per sources. #Patriots

  30. Domestic scene just now:
    My Wife: it says on line Putin is missing
    Me: yeah, I saw that
    My Wife: What did you DO?

      1. Putin and Kim Jong Un were last seen shooting hoops at Dennis Rodman’ Basketball Camp.

    1. I though Putin missing was a joke within a joke, but apparently he hasn’t been seen for quite a while.

      Maybe Cooper really will fall to the 49ers. And maybe the 49ers will pass on him. And maybe the 49ers will let me sit in the war room and give Baalke advice on VGs and cap management.

      1. Putin apparently caught pneumonia ..
        ya know .. riding around too often ..

  31. Great article Grant. The 49er front office really took a bat to our team over the last few months. But this wasn’t a self inflicted wound. It’s not like they let Willis go to another team. It’s not like they mistreated him. This is just an unfortunate turn of events…..

  32. Sometimes the answer is right under your nose! The Niners should just have Kaep keep working out until he gets to be Willis’ size. And then we just convert him to be an ILB. He would be awesome!

    1. What about converting him to safety? Baalke said he wanted a 6’6 safety. Someone who can cover Graham. What’s CK, 6’4? And he can run!

    2. I’d love to see you tell Kaep that to his face. Odds are you would find out how hard he can ‘hit like an ILB’. Odds are you would also be hospitalized thinking your name was Roadkill.

      1. Grow up…he’s a QB not a street punk…..besides he’ probably run out of bounds

  33. I wonder how safe it would be to wander into an NFL locker room, introducing yourself as “that guy that grades players on PFF.”

  34. Uh Grant, if you’re reading this, then please explain why in your poll you include a kicker and punter as options in the first round of the draft?

  35. This season I hope the 9ers can at least be relevant for half the season. I for sure will NOT be watching from that disaster called Levi’s Stadium.

    1. The 49ers better become relevant in the second half of every game, and particularly the 4th quarter. If not, those empty stands in the second half are going to start showing up at kickoff!

  36. I saw where Stevie Johnson is visiting the Bolts. That’s where I thought would be good for him. He wants to be in the west coast, and his eclectic style requires a veteran QB like Rivers or Brady to take advantage of. Wish him well.

    1. Who taunts Lynch? Good golly, it takes 2,3 or more huge NFL guys just to get him off his feet when he’s carrying a football. I gotta believe he’d be an All Day Dawg in a brawl.
      Oh, yeah, they did say a drunk guy. Actually kinda embarrassing for us……

    1. Nothing to get excited about but he is experienced at least. Hopefully he doesn’t have to see much action.

      Like the Bush signing though. He was banged up last year and any contribution he makes will depend on him staying healthy, but if he does he can add some big plays to this team.

        1. Tyler was a more well-rounded back than Reggie. He could take it inside or outside, catch, pass protect and was a good lead blocker for Roger in that two back set. But boy oh boy could he put the ball on the ground at inopportune moments.

          1. You mean, “Fumbell Tyler”? Yep, every carry with that guy was exciting. He was an effective ball carrier, but man, he could cough it up at just the wrong time, too…

  37. I’m a huge fan and admirer of Pat Willis, but Harb’s statement is absolutely not true. Willis was never even average as a blitzer, and that, plus the shortened career keeps him easily out of HOF consideration…

    1. I’d be willing to bet you a pint that Patrick Willis does indeed make the HOF. Maybe not first ballot; but he’ll get in imo. That based on a random sample of conversations around the usual media sources after he announced his retirement. Best at his position for enough years.

    1. I just saw that. I actually attended the “Bush Bowl.” Alex Smith threw his first TD as a pro… during the last game of the season.

      OL Erik Pears also signed.

        1. If the draft goes well and red shirts do as we hoped, neither Bush or Pears won’t survive training camp.

        2. Well, you have to admit that Reggie is a LOT more athletic than George or Jeb, and besides, both those guys tend to only run to the right.

            1. Haha. Actually I was just a tad disappointed I didn’t get a snicker on that one earlier.

      1. Brodie ..
        They dubbed the game that because .. whoever
        lost .. would get 1st pick in the draft.. and
        hence .. Reggie Bush …
        (but the Texans didn’t want him) … so..
        it seems that Alex’s 1st TD .. put us out of the running
        for Bush.. and now ..?

        He’s a Niner ?

        That’s weird !

      2. Do you remember how bad their kicker missed the go ahead chip shot with no time left after the kickoff return plus 15 yard penalty? he got the call from upstairs, do not make this kick!!!!! He missed it so bad, had it been a punt, it would have been downed on the two yard line, lolll

    1. My crush from years ago, loll man I rooted against my team the whole season in order to get him….

  38. Reggie could be a nice “fill-in” on some plays. But the 49ers still need to find someone on day two of the draft that could compliment CHyde and be a better long term prospect than Bush.

    I’m ok with the signing but need to remind myself that we are getting ah-hum, old Bush vs young Bush (watch it fellas, lol).

    1. Nothing wrong with old Bush once in awhile AES.

      I don’t think they will be drafting another RB until day 3. Maybe a Karlos Williams or somebody of that nature.

      1. rocket,
        I like K.Williams as well and would be happy with him at our 3rd pick if he’s on the board. I’m happy with the RB crop coming out this year and think it will be deep well into the 3-4 rd.

        1st and 2nd picks will be Defense!
        What do you think rocket?

        1. rocket,
          Picking at 15, there is a very good to outside chance that some of these players could still be available.
          La’el Collins
          Malcom Brown

          I would go with Shelton because he would immediately be the day one starter.
          Shelton is regarded as the best DT and may be gone at 15, but if Brown is there he’s my selection.
          Of course in a perfect world I would hope the Vic Beasley slides to 15 but he won’t.

          1. Shelton would be good, as would Dupree and Parker. I understand the reasoning behind taking an Olineman, but I’d look skill position or Dline first.

  39. Now everyone will see kap can make all throws. Watch for screens, flat passes, tosses, sweeps behind our beastly line.

    1. AES ..

      Dunno much about the guys you listed ..
      I’m waiting for the prospective
      draftees youtubes to be posted) … but
      among the guys you listed ..

      I’m intrigued by Scherff

      1. MW,

        I can’t post a link at the moment, but go to a site called Draft Breakdown and you’ll find footage on pretty much everybody.

  40. I agree that losing Willis is a big deal – losing Crabtree won’t hardly be noticed.

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