San Francisco 49ers: 2014 Draft Grades

Bay Area News Group/Dai Sugano

Bay Area News Group/Dai Sugano

With the San Francisco 49ers making their final selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, it is now time to analyze the picks that were made. From picking the best player available to drafting for need, I have broken down the pros and cons of each selection. And while many other players were worthy of the selection when the Niners were on the clock, I thought they had arguably the best draft of any NFL team as they let their board talk to to them. So without further ado, the 49ers grades for each selection are:

1. S Jimmie Ward (First-Round) No. 30

Analysis: I believe the 49ers made the right choice as they nabbed the best player available. The 49ers had a need at the cornerback slot position and with Ward being versatile enough to play that and both safety positions, it was a no-brainer choice for GM Trent Baalke. A vicious hitter with the ballhawking skills to match, Ward will be a nice addition to the 49ers secondary. Not to mention, Ward is a very savvy football player who understands when to blow up or lay off receivers coming across the middle, he will be a perfect complement to FS Eric Reid and SS Antoine Bethea while pushing Bethea for starting time in year two.



On the Board: With WR Marqise Lee (Jacksonville Jaguars) and WR Jordan Matthews (Philadelphia Eagles) still on board, the 49ers opted to go defense. In a best case scenario in which the 49ers let the board talk to them, they believed Ward was the better fit for what they wanted at No. 30. A head scratcher early on, it later became known that the Buffalo Bills contacted the 49ers about their possible interest in WR Stevie Johnson after they drafted WR Sammy Watkins just 26 picks earlier. A move that made sense, the 49ers then struck a deal for the seventh-year wide receiver the next day.

Grade: A-

2. RB Carlos Hyde (Second-Round) No. 57

Analysis: The 49ers get their first steal of the draft in Hyde. After making numerous trades as they first traded down with the Denver Broncos in a three-for-two deal as they parted ways with their third-round pick (No. 56) pick and seventh-round pick (No. 242) in exchange for the Broncos third-round pick (No. 63), fifth-round pick (No. 171) and a conditional 2015 fourth-round draft pick, it was a favorable deal in favor of the 49ers. Then, just moments later, the 49ers struck a deal with the Miami Dolphins and moved back up to (No. 57) while trading away two picks they just acquired from the Broncos at pick (No. 63) and (No. 171).

With all the moving around, the 49ers then got their running back of the future in Hyde. A player that will likely push RB Marcus Lattimore for backup duties to RB Frank Gore, it will be an interesting camp battle as these two young guns go to work. A patient runner with the north-south downhill running style between the tackles, Hyde is a poor man’s Gore and will likely make a nice contribution his rookie season.

On the Board: With CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (New Orleans Saints) and DE Kony Ealy (Carolina Panthers) still on the board, they would have also been nice value selections in the late second-round. However, Hyde’s combination of running style, production, and need were just too good to pass up as the 49ers select the best running back in this year’s draft while picking up an additional 2015 fourth-round pick in the process.

Grade: A 

3. C Marcus Martin (Third-Round) No. 70

Analysis: Just minutes after wheeling and dealing in the second-round before selecting Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde, the 49ers struck again as they traded down with the Jacksonville Jaguars. A trade that saw the 49ers part ways with their second-round pick (No. 61) in exchange for the Jaguars third-round pick (No. 70) and fifth-round pick (No. 150) the 49ers parlayed their way in a two-for-one deal while only dropping nine spots in the process. 

After yet another trade, the 49ers then drafted the best center in this year’s draft class in Martin. The No. 1 ranked center on my Big Board, Martin will pay dividends immediately as he is the perfect inline blocker the 49ers need in the middle. A player that will add depth as he can also be kicked outside to guard, the 49ers have shored up their offensive line for the foreseeable future while adding an insurance policy should G Mike Iupati depart via free-agency in 2015 all while picking up an additional fifth-round pick (No. 150).

On the Board: This was an no-brainer decision in my opinion when you take into account need, value, and best player available.

Grade: A

4. ILB Chris Borland (Third-Round) No. 77

Analysis: A player I anticipated the 49ers may be targeting, it turns out that Borland was in fact high on the Niners radar. The epitome of selecting the best player available, Borland was an absolute diamond in the rough and my favorite pick of any selection made in this year’s NFL draft. A poor man’s MLB Zach Thomas, Borland’s rare combination of instincts and read-and-react style of play will only push the other inside ‘backers to be better in 2014.

On the Board: Borland, Borland and Borland! Great value, great player, great selection.

Grade: A+ 

5. G Brandon Thomas (Third-Round) No. 100

Analysis: Thomas has once again something that GM Trent Baalke covets in an elongated wingspan measuring at 34 3/4 inches. At 6-foot-3 and 317 pounds, Thomas can be a viable replacement should Iupati depart via free-agency. A player that saw his draft stock fall due to a torn ACL suffered in a private workout with the New Orleans Saints, Thomas is nonetheless a mauler in the run game if he puts in the work. Another great value selection, the 49ers shore up their offensive line despite Thomas likely redshirting his rookie season. 

On the Board: Teammate CB Bashaud Breeland would have been a nice value here while adding depth at cornerback but with the 49ers already addressing the slot position with Ward, Thomas was the best value. A likely second-round pick had Thomas not been injured, Baalke finds another injured player to groom as he recovers from a torn ACL.

Grade: B

6. WR Bruce Ellington (Fourth-Round) No. 106

Analysis: With the San Francisco 49ers swinging a trade with the Cleveland Browns yesterday, they moved down 12 spots and into the fourth-round (No. 106) and grabbed diminutive but shifty WR Bruce Ellington. At 5-9 and 197 pounds, Ellington has the speed, agility, and athleticism to make a splash on special-teams for the Niners. 

Baalke who was looking for a slot receiver via free-agency, was unable to land WR Julian Edelman and WR Emmanuel Sanders before finally settling on Ellington. At the NFL scouting combine Ellington wowed scouts with his measurable as he ran a 4.45 40-yard dash, had a 39.5-inch vertical, 120-inch broad-jump, and 3.95 short shuttle. And while Ellington’s measurables were among the top performers, it was his character that was the icing on the cake for Baalke. A high character player that is highly respected by his peers due to his tireless work ethic, you can be sure Ellington will be ready to compete in 2014 while likely running RB LaMichael James out of town. 

On the Board: With CB Aaron Colvin on the board, I would have liked them to select Colvin over Ellington here. Sure, Ellington brings a punch as the slot receiver but Colvin’s value in the fourth-round would have been someone the 49ers could groom in case CB Chris Culliver departs via free-agency next season. And with the 49ers already finding their deep-threat in Johnson the selection of Colvin may have been the smarter choice. However, Ellington may provide that explosive spark on special-teams signaling the end of not only James’ tenure in San Francisco but become the primary return man for the 49ers over the next three to four years.

Grade: B

7. CB Dontae Johnson (Fourth-Round) No. 129

Analysis: The San Francisco 49ers continued their selections on Day three as they drafted North Carolina State DB Dontae Johnson in the fourth-round (No. 129). Another high character player as Johnson was a member of the 2013 Wolfpack Leadership Council while double majoring in sports management and business adiminstration, Johnson will be at best a developmental project at the next level. In 2013, Johnson recorded 82 tackles, five pass break-ups and three interceptions. Considered to be a tweener as he can play either cornerback or safety, it will be interesting to see how 49ers secondary coach coach Ed Donatell will utilize his skill set.

On the Board: The 49ers passed on G David Yankey (Minnesota Vikings) which is extremely surprising considering he was the top rated guard on my Big Board. And despite them drafting Thomas in the third-round, Yankey is too good of a value in the fourth-round. And if not Yankey than G Cyril Richardson (Buffalo Bills).

Grade: D

8. OLB Aaron Lynch (Fifth-Round) No. 150

Analysis: With the additional pick they received from trading down with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the 49ers selected Lynch. A pass-rush specialist with off-field issues, Lynch is a high risk/high reward prospect. No surprise to me as I thought the 49ers may target him in the fifth-round, saying:

“Red flags that include character concerns, mental makeup, and commitment to the game, one has to wonder why GM Trent Baalke brought him in for a pre-draft visit. And to add fuel to the fire, Lynch was literally thrown out of one of the NFL team’s interviews for lying at the combine.

However, Lynch’s on-field skill set can’t be denied. A speed pass-rusher with violent hands, Lynch would be a pass-rush specialist early on in his career. But the question remains, will the 49ers draft him? Considered a late fifth to seventh-round draft pick, do not be surprised if Baalke drafts him as he already drafted another USF star in QB B.J. Daniels last season.”

On the Board: I would have liked the 49ers to have drafted DT Carun Reid (Detroit Lions) here. A player that played well at the Senior Bowl while adding depth should something happen to NT Glenn Dorsey or NT Ian Williams, Reid would have been a steal in the fifth-round.

Grade: C

9. CB Keith Reaser (Fifth-Round) No. 170

 Analysis: At 5-10 and 189 pounds, Reaser is a team leader and very smart football player. A cornerback that keeps things in front of him while understanding space, makes Reaser an ideal fit in DC Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme. However, in all likelihood Reaser will not play in 2014 as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered in a game against UAB. 

On the Board: I would have liked the 49ers to have drafted OLB Jordan Tripp. Another small school kid that dominated his competition, Tripp would have been a nice project at the next level.

Grade: C-

10. CB Kenneth Acker (Sixth-Round) No. 180

Analysis: Acker is a bigger cornerback capable of contributing on special-teams early on. And while he may not be a big name player, Baalke believes he found value here in a small-school kid.

On the Board: With DE Ben Gardner (Dallas Cowboys) on the board, he would have been an absolute steal in the sixth-round. However, the 49ers opted to draft Acker who is a fast-twitch cornerback that excels in zone coverage. A player that will ultimately need to make his mark on special-teams, Acker’s return ability may be something to watch during the preseason as he has the vision to be a home-run threat. 

Grade: C-

11. DT Kaleb Ramsey (Seventh-Round) No. 243

Analysis: Ramsey who stands 6-3 and 293 pounds will likely be fighting for a roster spot along the defensive line. A strong player as Ramsey put up 36 reps on the bench press (most of any defensive lineman) he will now be trying to add depth along the defensive line as a one, three, or five technique. 

On the Board: At this point the 49ers roll the dice on a player that has the potential to be a solid one at the NFL level. Not too much is left on the board at this point.

Grade: C

12. FB Trey Millard (Seventh-Round) No. 245

Analysis: The 49ers come away with the No. 1 rated running back, No. 1 rated center, and now the No. 1 rated fullback. A great value selection at the tail end of the draft, the 49ers come away with a good one in Millard. A player who can add value on special-teams while being a valuable backup to FB Bruce Miller, Millard will be a nice addition to the red and gold.

On the Board: Millard was the Best Player Available.

Grade: A 

Throughout the process the 49ers hit on many selections from S Jimmie Ward to ILB Chris Borland, the 49ers made right move after right move prompting me to give them an A grade on their 2014 draft class.

Ryan is the Founder/CEO of NinerFans.com, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at ryan@NinerFans.com or call him at (408) 622-0996.

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