Niners: Jason Verrett. #KRM
San Francisco 49ers
2013 Record: 12-4, 2nd in NFC West
Playoffs: Lost in NFC Championship, 17-23
By most teams’ benchmark, the 2013 season had to be measured as a success. The 49ers should not be disappointed either; With the ball on the Seahawks’ 18-yard line going in for the win, however, one could understand the feeling of disappointment. The Niners are not only one of the most competitive teams in the NFL but also part of the newest burgeoning rivalries with the Seattle Seahawks and that should continue given that they’ll see each other at least twice per year.
If you are an NFL GM and your roster boasts 10 Pro Bowlers as well as FIVE All-Pros, you have to feel good about the job you’ve done and the potential of the team. A closer look will show areas that may or may not be of concern here.
There has been some turnover on this roster in the free agent period:
- S Donte Whitner signs with Cleveland Browns
- RB Anthony Dixon signs with Buffalo Bills
- CB Tarell Brown signs with Oakland Raiders
- WR Mario Manningham signs with New York Giants
- QB Colt McCoy signs with Washington
These are simply the highlights. Center Jonathan Goodwin remains a free agent and is rumored to be close to signing with the New Orleans Saints. Carlos Rogers was cut and signed with the Raiders.
- S Antoine Bethea (Colts), free agent
- CB Chris Cook (Vikings), free agent
- QB Blaine Gabbert (Jags), trade for 2014 6th round pick
- OT Jonathan Martin (Dolphins), trade for conditional 2015 7th round pick
A few areas on the roster stand out as needing help and this is somewhat unusual for a team that has the recent success of this 49er team.
- Cornerback- With the loss of both starting corners, this has to be an area of concern. The current roster corners of Cook, Tremaine Brock, Perrish Cox, Chris Culliver, Eric Wright, Dax Swanson and Darryl Morris aren’t going to excite anyone and this is definitely an area to address in the draft.
- Wide Receiver- It’s always great to have Anquan Boldin on your team. He is so talented and strong. He always seems to be open even when he’s not. Michael Crabtree has been impressive when healthy but there’s very little depth here and today’s NFL demands at least 3 wide receivers ready to go at all times. Crabtree’s absence for a large portion of 2013 was noticeable as the depth here was weak. There is also a need at this position for speed. Between Crabtree, Boldin and the tight end, coverages will stay honest but there is no speedster to take the top off of the defense and open up spaces.
- Center- Daniel Kilgore figures to be elevated to the starter position absent any addition. Center is vital to this team as a good center will take pressure off of Kaepernick with the line adjustments.
- Linebacker- I don’t know what is more remarkable. The injury sustained by Navorro Bowman or the fact that he actually held on to the fumble that wasn’t but was. At this point, you have to figure that Patrick Willis’ running mate to start the season will be Michael Wilhoite and the depth has to now be suspect. At OLB, Ahmad Brooks will be over 30 this season so age is starting to creep in as a factor for him.
- Defensive Line– As wonderful a player as Justin Smith has been, he’s 35. He and Ray McDonald are over 30. DE Tank Carradine and DT Ian Williams both hit injured reserve last season. Glenn Dorsey did good work as the next man up. Couple that with the Aldon Smith Saga and this becomes an area of need.
- Quarterback- THERE! I said it! At first glance, you really have to wonder about the abilities of the players behind Kaepernick. If he were to go down with an injury would Blaine Gabbert be able to play well enough against Seattle or even Arizona? That may not be the whole story here though; Kaepernick is clamoring for a new deal and this may force Trent Baalke to decide what the future of Colin Kaepernick is with this team. Is he going to invest $18 million a year into this player or move on? I’m not trying to suggest that Kaepernick isn’t a stellar athlete nor that he hasn’t achieved a lot by making it to a Super Bowl and a conference championship. It’s simply to note that he does have his critics. This is the player who came out of the half in the Wild Card round of the playoffs and had to burn a timeout. A timeout to START the half. Why? Because he forgot his wristband with the plays on it. Really?! Perhaps I’m nitpicking there but that’s just not a man who’s focused to me. That’s not even to speak of the criticism of his play. I know it probably is not fair to criticize a young player who is still trying to develop but if you want the team to commit to a long-term deal then you want an analysis of where you stand right now. To me, Kaepernick has obvious dominating athleticism. Dare I say his long strides against the defense remind me of Vince Young (when he was good). As a passer however, he still has big strides to make and I wouldn’t be surprised if people doubted that he can do it. He’s been criticized for not going through his progressions. I don’t know if I agree with that but he certainly has his fair share of “what was he thinking?” throws. The last play we saw of him last season he was throwing deep on Richard Sherman and regretted it. Some will say that Crabtree had a step on Sherman and it was simply a bad throw but in that game situation, I don’t see why there weren’t several higher percentage plays on that play. Last year had some really hot and cold moments for Kaepernick and he’s forcing this issue with contract demands. I guess we’ll find out what San Francisco’s brain trust really thinks of Colin.
With eleven draft picks in the 2014 NFL Draft, I would not be at all surprised to see the 49ers move up from this spot. Obviously, that many draft picks means one thing: mobility. The Niners hold the 30th pick and one would think that the pick here would be “best player available”. Unfortunately, the above logic probably dictates significant areas of need will force a play here and I will offer that the success of this pick will hinge on how true they stay to their board. A big reach here will not bode well. We’ve seen quite a few players at cornerback, an area of huge need, start rolling off the board. At this point, Niner Nation has to be a bit concerned. Dennard, Gilbert, Roby and Fuller have all gone off the board.
Looking back at recent history, Trent Baalke’s first draft was technically the 2010 draft where he took over for Scott McCloughan. There isn’t a real pattern in the first two rounds of these draft except perhaps to say that in the first season he went heavy with team need at offensive line and the other picks are mostly reflective of need at skill positions on offense and a safety in Eric Reid last year.
In looking at the above, I think we can take quarterback off of the list. The center position can easily be filled in the second or third round as that position is rarely a first round fill. The likely best centers here are Travis Swanson (Arkansas) and Weston Richburg (Colorado State). I think the Niners pass on them as this may be too high a position for them or other areas are simply too pressing. There are a couple of journeymen centers still on the free agent market, including David Baas, ex of the NY Giants who could plug in here should they choose to not take a center. Wide receiver is an outside consideration but this draft is so deep at that position that it might be a reach in round one if you’re trying to add speed.
To me, this pick comes down to three players: ILB CJ Mosley, Cornerback Jason Verrett and Defensive End Stephon Tuitt.
A month ago, you hoped this was a pick that came down to simply CB with or without some hesitation to consider a wide receiver.
Enter one Aldon Smith.
Being that Mr. Smith has been part of a professional sports franchise for several years now, you assume that he’s been through an airport more than once. You’d also have to assume that Mr. Smith has seen the sign that says you can face criminal penalties for making a joke or threat about a bomb. For the record, it carries a penalty of up to a year in jail in California. Considering the fact that Mr. Smith faces multiple felony charges stemming from possession of illegal assault rifles in addition to his previous DUI troubles, I would say that the Niners will be forced to part ways with him sooner or later and he likely will be suspended by the league at some point simply for violating the conduct code.
To win, you need character not characters. Do they all need to be choir boys? Probably not, but the ones who aren’t have to be policeable by a strong team leadership. If you’re a linebacker playing behind or outside of Smith or the zero technique inside of him, he’s let you down. Again. Perhaps he got away with DUI charges by doing the lip service to alcohol rehab. Well, there’s no “Falsified Bombers’ Rehab” to get you out of this one Mr. Smith. I think that there is a certain segment of society that cannot handle their own success and Mr. Smith may be one of those people. He may be sabotaging his own success or he could simply just be a sociopath who thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Either way, the Niners figure to pay for his actions. As such, a man built to play 3-4 DE like Tuitt makes a lot of sense here. He has question marks. He is an underclassman who is widely noted to have work ethic concerns. He did not return strong from rehab of a sports hernia prior to last season. His 2012 tape looks significantly better than that of 2013. He comes up with “Wow!” plays but will have long stretches where he does nothing. He is athletic but doesn’t always clear traffic well. He tends to play a bit upright. His hip roll is average at best and he does not consistently bend well. He holds the point of attack very well against the run and considering that team up in Seattle likes to run, his value may increase based on that. As a pass rusher, he is unpolished.
It’s worth noting that CJ Mosley is sliding in this mock draft and he does fill Navorro Bowman’s spot but in the long term, he probably doesn’t fill any of the holes that are glaring. At this spot, Mosley would likely be the least risky pick of the three.
Jason Verrett is the only remaining CB with a first round grade and he’s definitely an option. He’s exceptionally fast with fluid hips and outstanding football instincts. He’s tenacious and a physical player. Given that the Niners will see Percy Harvin (twice), Wes Welker and Randall Cobb next year, Verrett makes a lot of sense as a slot corner. The problem? He’s small. As in 5’8” and 189 lbs. That’s if you believe the weight. Greg Gabriel of National Football Post is on the record as saying he could be as light as 170 lbs. For all of his athletic gifts, Verrett is diminuitive in size and thinly built. He has short arms. None of that typically works in a 3-4. 3-4 corners are generally big (6’ and about 200 lbs) with long arms. As you’d expect, he can be overwhelmed by bigger blockers. Don’t you think Pete Carroll would run Marshawn Lynch at this guy all day long? Do you spend this pick on a guy who may never be more than the slot corner? Do you take this guy when a player with more prototypical size (Philip Gaines of Rice) can be had in round 2?
So, at the end of the discussion we are left with a sliding Mosley who fills only a short-term need, a risky Tuitt with some work ethic and medical concern and an undersized Verrett. First round picks need to help now unless you just won the Super Bowl. This pick doesn’t look to be easy in any way.
With the 30th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers select:
CB, Jason Verrett, Texas Christian
This may be the riskiest choice of the three players mentioned but there is no doubting this man’s will to compete and his athleticism. Even if he’s the nickel corner, he makes this team better and more athletic. There are no work ethic concerns as in Tuitt’s case. This unfortunately could backfire and in reality, I don’t see the Niners sitting pat at the #30 spot and depending on the scheme fit or lack thereof, they may pass on Verrett.
Strengths: Tremendous straight line speed and short area quickness. Excellent in the back pedal with fluid hips in his transition. Mirrors receivers well. Good jam at line. Anticipates the routes and the ball very well. Very disciplined in both man and zone. Good ball skills. Very competitive and resilient player. High football IQ.
Weaknesses: Thinly built and will have suspect durability. Overpowered by bigger blockers. Not a fit for 3-4 scheme.
Terrific write-up as usual Rod, thank you.
Up next is Pete Franklin and the Broncos.