Before I get into some impressions from the scouting combine, a couple of admissions. First, while I've been poring over wide receivers and cornerbacks like a chem major cramming for the MCATs, I haven't gone far afield of those two subjects. Today's blog will be WR-centric, tomorrow's will concentrate on corners.
Second, I admit I've been a bit Brandin Cooks crazy the last week or so. But that's because he was the most prominent player local to my newspaper. That he went nuts at the combine was a bonus. Is Cooks my draft crush? No, I don't have a draft crush yet. Could he be my draft crush? Stay tuned. My HBO special, "Draft Crush '14: Race for the Rose" airs May 1 on HBO.
* I keep going back and forth between Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin as the No. 2 receiver in the draft. If the 49ers went up in the first round to get a receiver, I figure it will be one of those two guys. Evans had a decidedly better combine than Benjamin. He ran a 4.53-second 40, he looked smooth and fluid in the gauntlet drill and his arms? They measured 35 1/8-inches. (I heard they had to administer smelling salts to Trent Baalke after he swooned in the weigh-in room). He also said all the right things, including that he would love to jaw with and otherwise go up against Richard Sherman.
* Benjamin, on the other hand, ran his 40 in 4.61-seconds. This after telling reporters he was aiming to run in the 4.3-second range. If, before Sunday, I had bet which player would have been faster, I would have put my money on Benjamin, who consistently put pressure on the back ends of defenses. Both players are raw, but their size - and the fact that they use that size in aggressive and physical manners - make them appealing. Benjamin will get another bite of the apple at Florida State's pro day on March 18.
Cooks is a stone-cold winner. (In fact, he won $100,000 from Adidas by being the fastest receiver at the combine). He's tough, has a chip on his shoulder and has his you-know-what together. He's only 20 and won't turn 21 until September. He probably won't be around when the 49ers pick. And I can't help but wonder if he'd be wasted on the 49ers. While he certainly could be used to put pressure on the back ends of defenses - something the 49ers desperately need - he might be best as a receiver who, like Percy Harvin or Tavon Austin, lines up in myriad spots and is used in creative ways. The 49ers coaches, however, have shown a reluctance to use their receivers in creative ways (See: Ginn, Ted) and have not wavered from their power-based approach. It's one of the reason why 2012 picks, A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James, have seemed like fish out of water in San Francisco.
If you're looking for a speedy receiver who may be a better fit for the 49ers' style, LSU's Odell Beckham is interesting. He has a lot of the same skills as Cooks but has been more of a down-field threat in the Tigers' offense. He has a bigger frame, longer arms (32 ¾ inches) and seems like he could add more weight over time. He ran his 40 in 4.43 seconds. More impressive were his shuttle runs of 3.94 seconds in the 20-yards shuttle and 10.93 in the 60-yard shuttle. (Cooks' times were 3.81 and 10.72 seconds, best among the receivers. See, I told you he was a winner).
Two big players who ran better than expected were Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews (4.46 40) and Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief (4.40). The 221-pound Moncrief is a very physical receiver with good arm length (32 3/8) who caught a lot of balls in traffic last year and who has shown he can go deep as well. His 11-foot broad jump and 39.5-inch vertical jump also suggest he has good explosion. Matthews, meanwhile, has even better arm length (33 ¼) and huge hands (10 3/8). That he is the SEC's all-time leading receiver alone should vault him up in the receiver rankings. He's also a cousin of some guy named Jerry Rice.
There's a difference between being a good prospect and a good prospect for the 49ers. USC's Marqise Lee is expected to drafted in the first round. But he reminds me a bit of failed 49ers wideouts Jenkins and Mario Manningham. He struggled with injuries last season. Would he be able to survive in the rough-and-tumble NFC West? What would happen if Kam Chancellor walloped him? LSU's Jarvis Landry also has been mentioned as a first rounder. He seems tougher than Lee. But he takes little baby steps when he runs. I can't see him putting pressure on defensive secondaries. I can't see Colin Kaepernick throwing the ball to him in traffic.
Clemson's Martavis Bryant seems like Randy Moss in that he's a tall, lanky speedster whose specialty is stretching the field. Like Moss, however, he's not known for going across the middle of defenses. He is one of several underclassmen who could benefit from a couple of years with Anquan Boldin in the 49ers' meeting room.
I don't understand why Oregon's Josh Huff doesn't get more attention. He's got nice size, is tough and consistently broke tackles as a senior. That he played in a spread offense means teams must take a leap of faith that he could deal with press coverage. He certainly has the frame and attitude to do it. A team that can afford to be patient with him might end up with a mid-round steal.
- Matt Barrows