After an offseason of researching prospects, watching game tape and waffling on who the San Francisco 49ers will take with their first round pick, I've finally made a decision I feel comfortable enough to publish. Yes, San Francisco will trade up, and yes they will find a player that addresses a significant need, says I.
First, let me explain how I came to this decision and which other players received consideration.
When watching receivers at the scouting combine, one receiver stood out physically: Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews. He measured as one of the best combinations of size (6-3, 212 pounds, 33 1/4-inch arms, massive 10 3/8-inch hands), speed (4.46 in the 40), production (SEC record holder for receptions and yards, 262 for 3,759). He was a squeaky clean team captain whose work ethic is second-to-none. And he happens to be a cousin of Jerry Rice. His college tape is impressive, although he made a bad habit of dropping too many passes.
Given the depth of the receiving class, using pick No. 30 in the first round on Matthews might be somewhat of a reach. And it doesn't help that there will be a number of good receivers available after he is taken in the second and third rounds. I still view Matthews as a good fit for the 49ers, but question whether or not he could contribute on special teams as a rookie. The best situation for him would be a team where he can start right away, like with the Carolina Panthers. Or a team that uses a volume of three-wide receiver sets.
So scratch Matthews from the list.
If you follow me on Twitter, you've probably noticed my liking for Stephon Tuitt, the hulking defensive lineman from Notre Dame. After watching his tape from 2012 when the Irish went to the National Championship Game, Tuitt was an absolute force playing all over the defensive front. He lined up inside and outside. At 6-5 with 34 3/4-inch arms, he put up 31 reps on the bench press at the combine. The Tuitt I watched in 2012 would be a perfect fit on the team's defensive line rotating in behind Justin Smith and Ray McDonald while developing into a long-term answer next to Tank Carradine. There were some questions about his snap-to-snap energy level, but molding Tuitt would be a perfect project for defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.
The problem is Tuitt's production dropped his senior season while dealing with a foot injury. He gained weight, slowed down a touch and wasn't the same dominant force he was in 2012. I still believe a 3-4 team will take Tuitt either late in the first or early in the second and be thrilled to have him - if he's completely healthy and gets back to his 2012 playing form.
It won't be Tuitt for the 49ers.
Reasoning: as the evaluation process has gone on, Fuller's named has gained traction. He didn't light up the combine, but he didn't post any numbers that would hurt him either. Fuller ran a 4.49 in the 40 (although he plays faster than his time), jumped an impressive 38.5 inches in the vertical and 128 inches in the broad jump. His tape showcasing his versatility, game speed, length, ball skills and willingness to help in run support will make him a first-round pick. Perhaps he would have slipped to lower than 19, but the recent arrest of Ohio State's Bradley Roby caused Fuller's stock to rise.
At 6-0 and 190 pounds, he will definitely benefit from getting on an NFL weight lifting program. But Fuller has good length (32 7/8-inch arms) akin to another recent draft pick of Trent Baalke, Chris Culliver. Both were known for their athleticism and ability to play the ball. They will like Fuller for his ability to play both in the slot and outside on an island. Carlos Rogers' departure in free agency left a big hole at nickel. Fuller could compete for the nickel job right away.
Fuller spent a good amount of time early in his career with the Hokies playing nickel and "whip" linebacker, which is similar to a strong safety position. He won't have a problem adjusting to whatever role Vic Fangio gives him initially. He was a team captain and has two brothers that have NFL experience. Vincent played seven seasons with the Titans and Lions while his brother Corey is currently playing for Detriot.
Why 19? The Dolphins will be in the market for an offensive tackle, and there might not be one worthy of a pick at that point. This first round will see a ton of tackles jump off the board early - especially if Baltimore uses No. 17 on a tackle - which will give Miami the option of trading back. Corner is also a need for the Dolphins, but if they took the 49ers' pick at 30, they will still be able to land a quality talent like Jason Verrett, Roby or Lamarcus Joyner. The 49ers would likely offer a third-round pick, or perhaps more in a trade with the Dolphins.
The 49ers would like to move up to 19 to get in front of teams like Arizona, Philadelphia and Cincinnati, all teams that will be looking at corners in the first round.
Many hope the 49ers will take a receiver with their first-round pick. Two days out, it appears LSU standout Odell Beckham will likely get taken in the 10-13 range, which might be too rich for the 49ers' blood when it comes to trading up. They have their starting receivers in Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree, for now. And Baalke has only traded up in the first round for players he knows will start right away (Anthony Davis, Eric Reid). That's not to say the 49ers won't heavily consider moving that high for Beckham, but the more pressing need is at corner and it will cost them less to find their man in Fuller at 19.
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