The San Francisco 49ers have some immediate needs that they need to address if they want to win their sixth Super Bowl. Over the next few weeks, I will identify these needs and look at some ways that the front office can address them through the draft. The most glaring need has been highlighted throughout the past two seasons. The ending to last year’s Super Bowl and the NFC Championship game this year showed the need for a big wide receiver. The 49ers need to take a long, hard look at this draft because there are a some players that can come in and make an instant impact in the red zone.
Often times, we hear about the catch radius and about being a big target when big receivers are being talked about. The ability to in effect, get a rebound by boxing out is the key to winning in the red zone. As a result, prospects that have some kind of basketball background have become attractive to general managers. They see value in the things that basketball players are taught as far as getting in position to get the ball under the basket or get a rebound from a missed shot. The translation to the NFL is the ability to high point the ball.
Here are some of the big body receivers that will be in the 2014 NFL Draft:
1) Kelvin Benjamin Florida St. 6-5 234 lbs
Benjamin showed his red zone value in the National Championship. Everyone in the stadium knew that the ball was going to him but there was nothing that Auburn cornerback, Chris Davis could do. I spoke to an ACC insider that told me not to be surprised if Benjamin becomes the second receiver selected in the draft. He said that Benjamin may run a 4.4 at the scouting combine. If he does that, watch his stock soar. It would be hard to bypass a player with that kind of height/weight/speed measurables. Benjamin still has to develop as a receiver but his immediate impact would be in the red zone. Some people are down on him due to his not running the full route tree. I do like Benjamin running the post from the slot position. He is also a down field threat on back shoulder throws. Benjamin’s size and speed make him a matchup nightmare for defensive backs. Personnel people will be impressed with his wingspan measurements at the combine. That will further show how large his catch radius is.
NFL Comparison: Brandon Marshall
2) Mike Evans Texas A&M 6-5 225 lbs
Evans was ultra productive in his two years at Texas A&M. Nick Saban is known for defense. His Alabama teams have sent quite a few defensive backs to the NFL. Evans had 279 yards receiving against Alabama. It’s not often that those kind of numbers are put up against Saban. As I mentioned earlier, general managers like players with basketball backgrounds. Evans averaged 8.4 rebounds as a senior at Ball High School in Galveston, Texas. Getting into position for the ball is no new thing to him. He was a consistent down field threat for Johnny Manziel. Unlike Benjamin, Evans is a threat when he catches the bubble screen. He is expected to run in the 4.5 range however. That’s still not bad for a guy his size. Evans’ tenacity is both a gift and a curse. He has an NFL ready body and is very physical. The problem is he relies too much on his physicality and size to win at the catch point. He will need to learn how to create more separation at the next level.
NFL Comparison: Vincent Jackson
3) Davante Adams Fresno St 6-2 216 lbs
It is hard to deny the production that Adams put up. He posted video game like numbers: 131 receptions 1,718 yards and 24 touchdowns. His Palo Alto roots certainly make him a favorite of many Bay Area fans. Adams is built for the combat that receivers go through in the NFL. He showed that he can win at the catch point with his strong hands and leaping ability. Although he isn’t as tall as the other prospects in this article, he is still a legitimate red zone threat. He clearly exhibits that hunger and relentless desire that is needed for making plays in the red zone especially when he has to high point the ball. His thick body will allow him to box out defensive backs on back shoulder throws and fade routes. If there are any knocks on Adams, it would be that he doesn’t have break away speed. Others may look past his production because of the level of competition that he went against or because of him playing in a spread offense.
NFL Comparison: Alshon Jeffrey
4) Martavis Bryant Clemson 6-4 200 lbs
Bryant can stretch the field as shown by his 19.7 yards per catch last year. His height along with his long arms make him a potential option in the red zone. Bryant also showed that he has good leaping ability. Despite his being a long strider, he has good short area quickness which will help in the red zone. Something clicked with him and it showed over the last six weeks of the season. Bryant was mostly cast in the shadow of Sammy Watkins, the top ranked receiver in this draft class. I have heard that some of the coaches on the Clemson staff feel that he actually has more potential than Watkins. The potential word is one that can be a good and bad thing though. Bryant may be the fastest of these big receivers. He has been clocked at a 4.38 recently. That may cause him to get drafted a bit earlier than he should be. He is very lean and could stand to put on a few extra pounds to go against the more physical defensive backs in the NFL. He needs to be more consistent catching the ball an needs to refine his route running skills.
NFL Comparison: Denario Alexander
5) Brandon Coleman Rutgers 6-6 220 lbs
It is easy to fall for Coleman when you see his height and weight. Many will point to that alone as a reason to use him in the red zone. There are many different opinions on this tree like prospect. I personally am not as high on him as others. Coleman is a hard prospect to really get a grade on. His numbers dipped some but that was definitely due to some rather shaky quarterback play. We also saw Coleman lose some of his explosiveness as he tried to recover from off season knee surgery. One thing that did stand out is his 18.9 yards per catch. Gil Brandt is an analyst for NFL.com and he has been doing this for longer than most of us have been alive. Brandt feels that Coleman should have gone back another year to develop more. That being said, Brandt expects Coleman to test very well at the combine. That will do wonders for his draft stock because a receiver his size is rare. The question remains, why wasn’t he more dominant at Rutgers? Some will question how fast he is and his inconsistent hands.
NFL Comparison: Plaxico Burress
These are just some of the options that the 49ers can go to at receiver. This list is solely from a red zone threat perspective. It is not an overall list. There are receivers such as Marquise Lee, Brandin Cooks and Allen Robinson that would fill the wide receiver need in a different way. Benjamin and Evans would more than likely require a trade up to secure them. The St. Louis Rams have the 13th pick and will be likely to select a receiver if they don’t with their 2nd overall pick. It is not likely that they would trade with the 49ers so the Chicago Bears at pick 14 would be the sweet spot. There are six teams in front of the 49ers that could end up selecting a receiver.