Before we get to the pick, let’s celebrate, shall we? The San Francisco 49ers haven’t been like this in years past. By “this” I mean “smart, unpredictable and ridiculously confident.” Would the 49ers have signed Randy Moss a couple years ago? Absolutely not.
“We’re already on the precipice of doom, thank you very much,” said some representation of the 2006-10 49ers we can all easily imagine. “No need to accelerate our demise with a character risk!”
The 49ers have choice No. 30 in the first round of the NFL Draft. As I venture a guess on that pick that has a 99.99999999% of turning out incorrect, we’re going to ignore the overwhelming possibility that Trent Baalke with either trade up (woo-hoo!) or trade down (let’s hear it for practicality … sad trombone). Presuming the 49ers stay put, what kind of player makes sense?
1. Best available, please.
The 49ers don’t need to apply gauze to any open wounds right now. Their wide receivers were pretty bad last season, and they’ve lost offensive guards who were either mediocre (Adam Snyder) or completely worthless (Chilo Rachal). But they signed Moss and Mario Manningham, and Daniel Kilgore can’t be much worse than what they had.
2. Alright, they need a guard. However…
But who picks a guard in Round 1 twice in three years? If they hated Kilgore and Mike Person, they would’ve signed a veteran free agent by now. Their lack of concern over what most personnel people deem a not-quite-primetime position during the off-season tells me they’d feel just fine adding offensive line depth after Thursday.
3. Athleticism mixed with production trumps character.
The 49ers aren’t looking for Scott Pioli’s wet dream: a bunch of supposed high-character football geniuses who drive to an orphanage and coach kids after practice. They’re looking for the athletes with the highest ceiling and value. Their position coaches, strength/conditioning people, and teammates can smooth out the rough edges on rookies willing to put in the work. Besides, even with a first round pick who flames out, the 49ers can still succeed in 2012. The Niners are beyond building a new culture based on hard work and dedication — that environment’s already there — they’re just adding talent, piece by piece.
Now that I’ve remained totally vague about this for several paragraphs, let’s get more specific. With the 30th pick, the 49ers will take:
Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
The 49ers got an impact guy last year in the first round, but that was at pick No. 7. It’s much tougher to find a guy who’ll stand out in the NFL as a rookie, but Jenkins is someone with elite starter talent who could fall. Choosing Jenkins would also be a calculated gamble for the Niners, since there were reasons why he ended up at North Alabama after playing at Florida for three years. From ESPN Insider:
Was a model citizen and hard worker early in career but lost his way at some point. In 2009, he was involved in a fight and was arrested and charged with misdemeanor affray and resisting arrest without violence. In April of 2010, Jenkins was kicked off the Florida football team after being arrested twice in a three-month span on drug-related charges. In 2011, was ejected from Delta State game for throwing a punch.
As Scott Warfe wrote recently, Baalke has several reasons to look past Jenkins’ … past.
Given that the 49ers prefer “high” character guys, is there a more perfect player than Jenkins? All jokes aside, the 49ers are generally not phased by marijuana charges. In 2006, they selected Tarell Brown despite impending drug charges. Character concerns notwithstanding, Jenkins is the best man-to-man corner in the draft, according to NFL Films’ Greg Cosell. ESPN Insider describes Jenkins as a “confident competitor who displays natural instincts” and who is an “active and willing” tackler.
In his collegiate career, Jenkins held A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Alshon Jeffery under wraps. You want a value pick? Try getting a guy like this at No. 30 without some sort of red flags attached (from Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com):
Jenkins is a terrific football player. His speed and agility make him a natural cover corner. He’s a ball-hawk (10 career interceptions) with return skills (three punts returned for touchdowns in 2011, alone). Despite an “average” build at 5-10, 193 pounds, he’s willing in run support and has shown great toughness playing through pain. As such, he’s a first round caliber prospect.
Wait, did he just say “natural cover corner … with return skills”? Sounds intriguing. The only exceedingly tough part of predicting this choice is I have no idea what Jenkins said to the 49ers. From Matt Maiocco:
The 49ers have done all of their homework on Jenkins. The club interviewed him at the Senior Bowl and at the NFL scouting combine. A team representative also recently spoke to Jenkins on the phone, a source told CSNBayArea.com.
Here’s more from the same Maiocco article, where he talks to Greg Cosell about Jenkins:
So what I wanted to know from Cosell is whether he saw any evidence of off-field issues when he watched Jenkins on the field.
“No,” Cosell said. “He doesn’t play like that at all. He’s aggressive and intense. He plays physical press man coverage. He plays with aggression and attitude; he’s confident and cocky. . . He looks like he understands coverages, and he’s versatile enough to play the slot.”
Cosell described Jenkins several times as tough and physical. Those are characteristics the 49ers value. And they want cornerbacks who aren’t afraid to stick their noses in on the action. Cosell said Jenkins changes direction well and has the fluid hips to play “off” coverage, as well.
I asked Cosell how Jenkins (5-10, 193) would fit with the 49ers.
“He’d be a great fit,” he said. “The 49ers like to play a lot of two-man, especially in sub. He can play press and not have to worry about getting beat over the top.”
From all appearances, we’re looking at a top-15 talent who could drop into the mid-to-late second round. If that ends up being the case, I see Baalke and Harbaugh having faith that an opportunity for Jenkins to play with what could/should/will be the best defense in the NFL next season will lead him to behave like a normal NFL player (have your fun, but don’t get caught) off the field while displaying the attributes that could make him a star NFL corner when he plays.
To answer a question many of you probably have: no, it doesn’t matter that the 49ers already have Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver. Rogers had a great 2011, but he wasn’t a lockdown corner in the playoffs. Brown was actually playing better than Rogers in December and January, but he suffered an injury that sure seemed like a concussion during the NFC Championship Game. Brown said he “wasn’t diagnosed with a concussion,” and “Once I got the feeling back in my feet, I was cool.” Okay, then.
In 2012, the 49ers face each of the top five passing offenses from 2011. If they believe the best player available when it’s their turn to draft is Jenkins, they’ll choose him.
Hedging bets: my top five likeliest scenarios for the 49ers on Thursday
1. Draft Janoris Jenkins
2. Draft Kevin Zeitler
3. Draft Nick Perry
4. Draft Amini Silatolu
5. Trade up for Michael Floyd (“likeliest” might be a stretch here — go with “pipe dreamiest”)