It was believed that San Francisco would trade up in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. They did not. It was also widely speculated that they should select a wide receiver with their first pick but that did not happen either. Instead–going against the grain of draft enthusiasts–they held firm at pick number 30 and selected defensive back Jimmie Ward to bolster their already dominant defense. On Friday, nothing changed, as the 49ers remained unpredictable as ever on day two of the NFL draft, making moves and filling needs.
First, San Francisco traded the 24th pick of the second round–originally acquired from Kansas City in the Alex Smith deal–to the Denver Broncos for the 31st pick of the second round, Denver’s fifth round pick, and a fourth round selection in 2015. They then flipped Denver’s second and fifth round picks to the Dolphins for their second round pick (25) and selected Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde. A bit of a surprise to many considering running back was not thought to be a need, but this is a great value pick for the 49ers. Frank Gore is over the dreaded 30 year old mark for backs. It unknown whether Kendall Hunter can carry the load as he is a smaller back, LaMichael James may be on his way out, and nobody can predict if Marcus Lattimore is going to return from injury as the same promising player he once was. In selecting Hyde, coach Harbaugh gets a talented power back that can carry the load, plus an insurance policy in the event that Gore breaks down.
Next, the 49ers sent their original second round choice–the 61st pick overall–to the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for the Jaguars third round and fifth round picks. San Francisco then used the Jaguars third pick to draft USC center Marcus Martin to provide competition for projected starter Daniel Kilgore. Then with the 13th pick in the third round–acquired from the Titans in a 2013 NFL Draft day trade–the red and gold selected Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland to provide depth at a position that suddenly needs it after the late-season injury to All-Pro NaVorro Bowman. Analysts predicted that the San Francisco would be movers in the draft, but certainly not to this level. The 49ers proved to be as unpredictable as ever on day two of the NFL Draft.
The rapid series of trades in the second round, however, was not the end of General Manager Trent Baalke’s wheeling and dealing as he later shipped the 49ers original third round pick to Cleveland in exchange for the Browns fourth and sixth round picks. Moving up and down through the NFL Draft in almost Bill Belichick fashion, Baalke has received great value in the talent he has selected, while at the same time avoiding unnecessary players. The final value pick came with the very last pick of day two when he selected Clemson guard Brandon Thomas with a compensatory pick the team had received from the loss of Dashon Goldson in the previous off-season. Thomas, originally graded as a second-third round talent, had slid due to an off-season injury, but with a bevy of draft picks in their possession the niners had the luxury of taking a flier on the injured offensive lineman. He will go straight to the PUP list, essentially red-shirting just as Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore did last season, and hopefully he will be ready to hit the field come training camp 2015.
The best move of all, however, might have been the one Baalke made before day two even began, acquiring wide receiver Stevie Johnson from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a conditional 4th round pick in 2015. Johnson, a 27 year old San Francisco native, provides the 49ers with that third dependable receiver they have been lacking for the past several seasons. Although he may not be the speed merchant many feel coach Harbaugh’s offense needs, Johnson is very adept at reading the field and finding the open space in the defense quickly which makes him an incredible asset on third down. The former Bill’s receiver had recorded three consecutive 1000 yard seasons until he was slowed up by a series of injuries last year. If healthy, Stevie Johnson could provide the extra punch that the passing game has lacked in order to take this offense to the next level.
With two days, three rounds, and a handful of trades in the books, San Francisco has added some much needed pieces along with a few surprises. The red and gold know they must get better in the passing game, and the acquisition of Stevie Johnson will certainly help it along, but with the selection of Carlos Hyde there is a message being sent to the rest of the league–San Francisco is still a running team and they are going to pound the rock until you prove you can stop it. As long as Trent Baalke is GM and Jim Harbaugh is the coach, that will remain a constant, just as the 49ers will always remain as unpredictable as they were on this day two of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Commentary by Kalen Skalesky