Ricky Jean-Francois 49ersCan you tell I am procrastinating on this whole NFL Draft thing? I’m not sure how some people do it. They create mock drafts that last several rounds, which means knowing something about hundreds of college players. Guys watch YouTube highlights of cornerbacks from NC State, and somehow extrapolate how they’ll do against guys like Larry Fitzgerald and Roddy White based off their hip turn against some wide receiver from Clemson.

Then there’s the NFL Combine, the most homoerotic spectacle in the sports world. And that’s saying something in a sports world which includes MMA, guys patting other guys on the rear, rugby scrums and Barry Zito’s uniform pants, and that’s before we get into fake sports like the “wrestling” found in the WWE. Try having your wife walk into the room while you’re watching some guy in his underwear running a 40-yard dash without feeling uncomfortable. Not that I’d know or anything.

(Hey, let’s talk about those Warriors t-shirt jerseys and pinstriped shorts! Wasn’t that just a HOT MESS? Even Tim Gunn couldn’t make those work, am I right?)

Spandex isn’t the reason why I’m waiting until April to tackle the Draft; it’s easier to judge players who I’ve seen in a 49ers uniform than guys who may look good in one (yes!). And after tackling whether or not the 49ers should bring back unrestricted free agents including Delanie Walker, Randy Moss, Isaac Sopoaga and Ted Ginn, it’s time to check out the story with everyone’s favorite 49er with a hyphenated French last name: Ricky Jean-Francois.

It’s going to be difficult to re-sign RJF for a couple reasons. First, it’s tough to shine on a team with Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. Second, other teams are going to be interested.

The main reason why Jean-Francois may be a good target for the Packers is because he is a bit under the radar right now. Jean-Francois was not able to crack the starting line of the 49ers and is currently overshadowed by bigger names such as Cris Canty and Richard Seymour. He is also not a pass rushing threat like Henry Melton or Desmond Bryant. Big names and more interior pass rushers aren’t what the Packers need. They need toughness along the line. They need run stoppers. They need a guy who can take on two blockers anywhere along the line and free up the linebackers to make plays. Jean-Francois can do this, and shouldn’t come at a ridiculously high price.

Thanks a lot, Acme Packing Company. Real nice. You could’ve written 500 words both praising Alex Smith and hoping against hope that the Minnesota Vikings won’t trade for him, but instead you boost interest in Jean-Francois among Packers fans, which probably won’t mean a whole lot to NFL front offices but could get Jean-Francois’ agent aroused. (What the hell is going on with this post? I need a bubble bath and a cosmo … dammit, thoughts like those aren’t helping!)

One of the reasons why Jean-Francois might be undervalued, at least by the 49ers and/or their fans, is the existence of Justin Smith. When Smith went down, RJF replaced him. Then Aldon stopped getting sacks, the 49ers almost gave up a huge lead in the second half against the Patriots and then got steamrolled in Seattle. But for all of his not-Justin qualities, Jean-Francois had a very respectable season … and not just because he had a pretty important sack in that New England game.

Like every down lineman on the 49ers besides McDonald, Jean-Francois scored negatively as a pass rusher in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus. He had two sacks and two hurries in 164 pass-rushing chances. But unlike Sopoaga, Jean-Francois was a good run defender in 2012 (PFF had him at a 4.2 on run defense, -3.8 as a pass rusher).

Assuming the 49ers don’t re-sign Sopoaga (as I’m predicting), who’s left on Jim Tomsula’s defensive line?

  • Justin Smith (had surgery on his triceps — it was a successful surgery in case you were worried)
  • Ray McDonald (would probably be the best defensive player on several NFL teams)
  • Demarcus Dobbs (talented, but got popped for DUI and went on IR two weeks later)
  • Will Tukuafu (played more snaps on offense than defense in 2012)
  • Ian Williams (32 snaps in 2012)
  • Tony Jerod-Eddie (10 snaps in 2012)
  • Lamar Divens (former Raven who’s on the Reserve/Future list)

The 49ers have a wealth of draft picks, but besides Smith and McDonald there isn’t much in the way of proven talent on the d-line. For that reason, and because I think Acme Packing Company is right about Jean-Francois providing value, I believe they should make re-signing him a priority this offseason. Not a priority that gets in the way of solidifying the secondary and bringing in some receiving help, but a priority nonetheless. What kind of money should he get? That’s where the NFL is different than all the other major North American leagues — it’s nearly impossible to come up with dollar figures and years since guaranteed money and cap numbers are so much more important. Just give him enough money so that he feels good backing up Smith and McDonald and stopping the run when needed.