The San Francisco 49ers were one of the most active teams during the first two days of the 2014 NFL Draft, and addressed some of their needs with straight picks and trades.
After two days, the 49ers either drafted or traded for six new players, highlighted by the acquisition of receiver Stevie Johnson from the Buffalo Bills.
After moving up to select top receiver prospect Sammy Watkins, the Bills were willing to part with six-year veteran Johnson, who missed four games last year after recording three-consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons from 2010 to 2012.
At the cost of a conditional 2015 fourth round pick that could become a third-rounder, the 49ers gave quarterback Colin Kaepernick a new deep threat, alongside every-down wide out Michael Crabtree and third-down veteran receiver Anquan Boldin. 49ers general manager Trent Baalke is repeating his successful trade for Boldin for a sixth-round draft choice last year. Last season, Boldin was San Francisco’s top receiver with 85 receptions for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns.
The 49ers are hoping Johnson can be healthy and return to his top form and help a passing offense that ranked 30th in the NFL last season despite a third-ranked rushing attack.
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San Francisco also made up for the losses of defensive backs Donte Whitner, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers via free agency with their selection of Northern Illinois’s Jimmie Ward, and strengthened its offensive line and linebacker corps.
The 49ers have one pick in the fourth and fifth rounds, none in the sixth and three total in the seventh round. Several positions to watch could be the more help on the o-line, as well as insurance for defensive lineman Aldon Smith.
No. 30, Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
Considered a top five prospect at his position, Ward recorded 89 tackles and seven interceptions in his senior season with the Huskies. 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters Ward is expected to compete in the secondary as a safety and nickel back. Also capable of helping out against the run, the 5-foot-10, 193-pound Ward can play man coverage but could be limited by his slighter frame. Assuming he adds some bulk without sacrificing his 4.6 40-yard dash time, Ward serves as an excellent pick up for San Francisco. Harbaugh also called Ward a “vicious” tackler.
No. 57, Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
One of the most complete rushers in the draft, Hyde totaled 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns with 16 catches for 147 yards and three scores in his final season in Columbus. Baalke moved up six spots and sacrificed a fifth-rounder to Miami for Hyde, a powerful back at 230 pounds who can also catch out of the backfield. Baalke also said Hyde will create a competition with starter Frank Gore, but Gore is also an unrestricted free agent after next season.
No. 70, Marcus Martin, C, USC
A first-team All-Pac-12 selection in his final year in SoCal, Martin is a highly versatile lineman who has experience at guard and center. He was considered one of the best at his position, but slid down to the third to the benefit of the 49ers. In tandem with Hyde and or Gore, Martin keeps San Francisco atop the league in rushing, and in time he’ll likely give Kaepernick more time to work in the pocket. Martin has excellent overall size for his position (6-foot-3, 320 pounds) and arm length (34”).
No. 77, Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin
A first-team All-Big Ten selection three straight years, as a senior in Madison Borland was third in the Big Ten in total tackles (112), generated 4.0 sacks, and was tied for third with two fumble recoveries. At 5-foot-11, 248 pounds., Borland doesn’t have prototypical size for an NFL linebacker, but he’s a proven player with a mind for the game and capable of makings big plays. NaVorro Bowman’s job is relatively safe, but Borland is expected to compete with Michael Whilhoite and Nick Moody for inside linebacker.
No. 100, Brandon Thomas, OG, Clemson
A major value pick for a player who dropped due to a torn ACL suffered during a pre-draft workout. While he could start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, when healthy Thomas has quick feet and is athletic enough to play either guard position. Could also help in pass protection, stands at 6-foot-3, 317 pounds, and played very well against No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney without help.
Predictions: Either the fourth or fifth pick could go to a young pass rusher, and there’s lots of value in Alabama’s Ed Stinson, Texas’s Jackson Jeffcoat or Arkansas’s Chris Smith.
Defensive tackle isn’t a major need for San Francisco, but the seventh round could be a place to snag California’s Deandre Coleman or Syracuse’s Jay Bromley.