Twitter Mailbag: Changing draft plans?

Aldon Smith (Getty Images)

In another Twitter Mailbag, Niners Digest Editor in Chief Chris Biderman answers some questions about the 49ers' upcoming draft plans and how they've suddenly been altered by the Aldon Smith sitaution, the LaMichael James news and more.

The draft is exactly three weeks away and with it quickly approaching comes some of off-the-field news for the 49ers involving Aldon Smith and trade speculation about LaMichael James. It's time we offer up another Twitter mailbag. Let's get it started.

It's tough to say without knowing what's going to happen in the draft. The 49ers are likely to add at least one receiver in the early rounds and could add more later, especially one that can return kicks. What's been clear, as you've pointed out, is the soft free-agent market for receivers is a product of the deep incoming receiving class in next month's draft.

If I had to take a stance on this, I would say re-signing Crabtree is less likely given the state of the position with the team and across the league. But again, that could change depending on whether or not the 49ers draft someone that projects to be an every-down player.

If San Francisco drafts a speed guy like Brandin Cooks, Marqise Lee or Martavis Bryant, I would suggest it has little bearing on Crabtree's future with the team because he possesses a different skill set. If they take a big, physical guy like Davante Adams, Jordan Matthews or Cody Latimer, then it would seem the 49ers could replace Crabtree going forward with that guy opposite Anquan Boldin if he shows well his rookie season.

There's little doubt Crabtree is going to want franchise-type money, which means upwards of $11 million per season on average. The ongoing negotiations with Colin Kaepernick and the Aldon Smith situation will have big salary cap ramifications going forward and will be important to watch from Crabtree's perspective. If Smith's days with the team are numbered, then re-signing Crabtree could become easier knowing they will have more salary cap flexibility over the next few seasons.

This will be one of the most-asked questions this summer. Lattimore will come into the season with high expectations, but they will have to tempered by his injury recovery and the fact he's been away from the field for so long. He practiced for two weeks last season which will help him going into training camp. But Lattimore has to be considered an unknown at this point given the severity of his knee injury.

His fit with the offense will depend on how quickly he's able to get up to speed and his blitz protection. One of the reasons Gore received so much more playing time than any other back on the roster in recent seasons was because he's been one of the best in the NFL at picking up the blitz.

In my view, some of the failures to get other running backs going in the offense have stemmed from the 49ers telegraphing what kind of plays their going to run based on their personnel packaging. That was especially true with James, who the team views as a poor blitz-pickup guy. When he was in the game, there was a good chance the play was going to be a run to the edges or the outside to avoid putting James in a situation where he would be one-on-one with linebacker or defensive end.

If Lattimore can learn from Gore and become a good extra blocker on passing plays, then he could get supplant Kendall Hunter (another sub-par pass blocker) as the No. 2 back. And it appears Lattimore is ready to do so. In having a couple conversations with him last year, he told me blocking was the most important thing on his plate and he knows it's his direct ticket to get playing time and carries.

If James gets traded, definitely. But I don't see them using one of their six picks in the first three rounds on a running back, especially with Gore, Lattimore and Hunter already in place. Just a guess, but any running back they take will have return skills.

I think so. I wrote about it in a subscriber piece here. Like we've all been hearing, April 29's discovery hearing for his DUI and weapons charges will tell the team a lot about Smith's future. If the 49ers feel that Smith is worth keeping around, their need at outside linebacker in the draft could dissipate. But you can be sure the team isn't thrilled about having so much uncertainty surrounding the situation just days before draft.

One thing I do know, the team's scouting department has ramped up its efforts to look at outside linebackers projected to go in the first few rounds. They're getting to know Demarcus Lawrence of Boise State (as outlined in the link above) who carries with him three suspensions in two collegiate seasons. The other two guys I looked at are Auburn's Dee Ford and Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu. Ford would likely be an option with their first-round pick at 30 while Attaochu will likely land somewhere in the second round, perhaps before San Francisco picks at 56 forcing them to trade up. We know they have the assets.

I'll answer this in two parts. Yes, I think 22 would be a prime spot for the 49ers to trade up to in order to grab a few different players: Odell Beckham Jr., Bradley Roby, Brandin Cooks or Kelvin Benjamin. But I do not think James will be thrown into that deal.

The fact is James simply doesn't have that much trade value and it's more likely he'll get traded for a sixth-round or seventh-round pick elsewhere. The Eagles seem like a natural fit on the surface considering Chip Kelly's the head coach, but they just signed Darren Sproles to add to LaSean McCoy. If the Eagles were in the market for a running back, it would likely be a bigger, every-down type guy. Could the 49ers offer the Eagles a couple of picks and James? Sure, but I just have a hard time seeing Philadelphia viewing James as a key piece in any big deal like that.

For now, it's Wilhoite's job to lose. But I would expect the team to add to the competition in the middle or late rounds of the draft, as Trent Baalke indicated he would like to do at the combine. When Wilhoite subbed in for Willis early in 2013 while he was dealing with his hand and groin issues he didn't leave the field on passing downs.

When the 49ers go from base to nickel they switch out a nose tackle for a corner, leaving all four linebackers in place. I would expect Vic Fangio to maintain the same philosophy this year.

I wrote about the team's draft needs in another subscriber piece here breaking down seven needs in order of importance. But that was earlier in the month prior to Smith's most recent run in with the law at LAX. I did not have outside linebacker listed for obvious reasons.

Now with Smith's future in question, I would definitely throw outside linebacker in the mix at the top, perhaps supplanting wide receiver at the No. 2 position. Simply put, the 49ers have their starters at receiver in Boldin and Crabtree, but if Smith were to leave, there would be mammoth hole on the strong-side edge of the defense. Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta both played well last year, but neither of whom would come in and impact the game the same way Smith did, quickly becoming one of the league's premier pass rushers.

With Lemonier and Skuta, I still think the 49ers feel better about their outside linebackers than they do at corner, which remains their top need in my view. They see Skuta as a guy who could step in a play base situations while Lemonier is more of a classic pass-rushing specialist. But we'll know more about the evolution of those players when we get to see them in pads during training camp.

That's it for this week! Thanks for all your questions and feel free to keep sending more.

-Chris Biderman


Follow Editor in Chief Chris Biderman on Twitter.

Get updates from NinersDigest by following here and become a subscriber to receive access to premium content and analysis. Recommended Stories

Up Next

With Aldon Smith's future with the 49ers suddenly in question, the team might be forced to use an…


0 Fans online
    Join The Conversation