By Cody Strahm @CodyJStrahm on April 17, 2014
The San Francisco 49ers are a difficult club to project in the 2014 NFL Draft. On one hand, they have a large quantity of picks -- 11 in total, including two second-round choices and three selections in round three. On the other, they have very few roster openings and even fewer pressing needs. Nevertheless, here are five players every 49ers fan should become familiar with as the draft approaches.
The 49ers have developed a reputation for stashing rookies whose value has been decimated by injury in hopes they will recover and live up pre-injury status. They did so in 2013 with Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore. During this year's draft, Clemson guard Brandon Thomas, who was considered a Day 2 pick before tearing his ACL, is a prime candidate for a similar venture.
If the 49ers stay put in the first round -- perhaps unlikely as they possess the ammunition to trade up for a highly-coveted prospect -- TCU cornerback Jason Verrett might be the best player available who also fills a pressing need. The 49ers desperately need help at cornerback, and Verrett, who exhibits the athleticism and speed to thrive in the nickel or on the boundary, could be the instant starter who improves the secondary.
Although Anquan Boldin just inked a two-year deal to remain in San Francisco, he turns 34 this season. Thus, the 49ers need to bolster their receiving corps during the draft in anticipation of Boldin's decline. They're said to prefer bigger physical targets, and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin is just that. Concerns about his ability to separate have lowered his stock, but the 49ers would be happy to swoop Benjamin up on Day 2.
The 49ers could wait around and see what falls to them at the end of the first round, or they could trade up in order to nab an elite prospect. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert is revered as the top corner of the class. He'd be the instant upgrade San Francisco's defense is seeking. If the 49ers indeed trade up in round one like many expect them to, Gilbert will be one of a few prospects they'll target.
Another player the 49ers could trade up for is LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who isn't the big target most expect that they covet but is one of the most explosive playmakers of this draft. What Beckham Jr. lacks in size, he more than compensates for in leaping ability, which he accompanies with top-notch speed, fluidity and run-after-the catch prowess. He could be the big-play threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick is missing.
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