There is no secret that back on March 26, I clearly stated that the San Francisco 49ers would trade up and draft Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks. A bold prediction I made one and a half months before the 2014 NFL Draft, I still believe that to be a likely possibility. However, with the recent annual pre-draft interview that Niners GM Trent Baalke provided us on Friday, I still believe they will trade up and draft a wide-receiver but not Cooks, as Texas A&M WR Mike Evans will be their No. 1 target.
Another scenario I envisioned on March 31 that was later featured on NFL Network’s Path to the Draft, as I said: The 49ers will need to trade up with the Atlanta Falcons at No. 6 if they hope of landing the big bodied receiver, and I stand by that statement today. The Falcons have plenty of holes to fill and not enough draft picks, making the Niners an attractive trade partner. And with Evans being highly coveted by the 49ers brass as Director of College Scouting Matt Malaspina attended and held a private meeting after his Pro Day, it’s a positive sign that the 49ers already have him with a gold helmet next to his name. Not to mention Southern Regional Scout Bob Morris attended QB Johnny Manziel’s Pro Day to get a second-look at the physical freak, Evans will definitely be a topic of discussion inside the 49ers war room.
However, with the recent rumors surrounding a possible trade with the Oakland Raiders at No. 5, that ideology would not be out of the question especially since they traded down nine spots, from No. 3 to No. 12 last year with the Miami Dolphins. And with ESPN’s Chris Mortensen saying on NFL Insiders that the Niners are interested in a trade-up scenario for the Texas A&M product, that doesn’t surprise me.
So why change my pick from Cooks to Evans? Well after talking to Baalke and asking some questions in regards to this wide receiver draft class, Evans fits the bill to a tee. Of course, I need to take into account the smoke-screens, but even after dissecting that, I came away with the feeling that Evans may be his target as I specifically asked him to compare Cooks to Evans. This was before Mortensen’s news broke that the 49ers were targeting Evans, and now that Mortensen confirmed their interest, it paints a clearer picture.
On drafting players with basketball backgrounds:
“Generally speaking, guys that have basketball in their background understand the key element in the sport which is space. They understand how to keep space and more importantly create space. And that’s not easily learned, it’s a natural instinct that people have.”
Analysis: Evans was a standout basketball player at Ball High School (Galveston, Texas). At 6-4 and 231 pounds, Evans has an elongated wingspan measuring 35 1/8-inch arms, something Baalke covets. And with Evans being capable of using his long arms to his advantage to get off the line of scrimmage while boxing out his opponent for jump balls, he’s the perfect red zone target.
On possibly trading up to get a targeted player:
“The answer’s the same every year. Do we have the ammunition to make a jump and go get somebody? Yes. Are we motivated to do that? Depends. There’s so many factors that go into that but when you’re sitting at 30 where do you need to go if you are targeting someone? You saw us last year make a move to get somebody. Will we do that this year? I don’t know. I may know but I certainly wouldn’t tell you if I did know. There’s players that we certainly like, trying to determine where they may go, how high we may need to go if we choose to go. If we stay are we prepared to make a pick? Could we move back? That’s always a possibility when you’re sitting at 30, so there’s a lot of different ways we can go.”
Analysis: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and all signs point to Baalke trading up. Whether that’s for a cornerback or wide receiver, he will trade-up. And with Mortensen reporting that the 49ers are high on Evans, I have to believe that’s their No. 1 guy with a gold helmet right now, especially after he said his board was 60-65% complete at the NFL scouting combine.
I then asked him about the deep WR Draft class and what he sees in WR Mike Evans and WR Brandin Cooks:
“What are their strengths, what are their weaknesses? Obviously Brandin Cooks is vertically challenged, right. But now you got to determine does he play 5-9 or does he play 6-0 because WR Steve Smith was 5-9 but he played 6-1, right. So there’s big receivers that play small and their’s 6-1 guys that play 5-10. Can they go get the ball? Can they play the ball? There’s so many things that factor into it. And then you’re trying to marry their talents into your system. Because systems matter. I’ve said that many of times. Some people may not agree with that but I’m a firm believer in systems matter. That’s why our players tend to look similar at positions.”
Analysis: There’s no question that Cooks plays very similar to Smith. Two diminutive athletes with the ability to win 50-50 balls, you can be sure Cooks will be the 49ers No. 2 option should they strike out on a deal for selecting WR Mike Evans. However, with Evans possessing a huge catching radius with his 6-5 and 231 pound frame, he can not only “get the ball and play the ball” with his left tackle wingspan but has few drops throughout his young Texas A&M career.
Aside from his physical attributes Evans like 49ers OLB Aldon Smith was a third-year sophomore when he declared for the NFL Draft. Considered a “puppy” by ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, do not be surprised if the 49ers select another “puppy” three years later as you hear Evans’ name called as the 49ers top 10 pick.