The last time the 49ers had the 30th pick in the draft they took a wide receiver, A.J. Jenkins, who played in only three games and failed to make a catch before being traded before the 2013 season.
But if there’s reason for the 49ers to dive back into the wide-receiver draft pool, it’s this: Unlike in 2012, when San Francisco selected Jenkins, this year’s draft class is widely considered the most talent-laden in recent memory and is particularly deep at positions where the 49ers have the greatest needs: wide receiver and cornerback.
“From my perspective, this is the best and deepest draft I’ve seen in probably 10 years,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Tuesday in advance of the scouting combine, which begins this week in Indianapolis. “That’s been reinforced by the general managers and scouts that I’ve talked to around the league. I had one GM tell me that a top-20 pick this year is very similar to having a top-10 pick last year.”
NFL Films’ Greg Cosell said the draft’s top wide receiver, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, is the best prospect at his position since 2011 when A.J. Green and Julio Jones were drafted fourth and sixth overall, respectively.
With 12 picks, the 49ers certainly have enough ammunition to trade ahead in the first round to nab someone like Watkins, just as the Atlanta Falcons did when they drafted Jones three years ago.
But unlike that draft, this one has value throughout.
If the 49ers are looking for a big, physical wideout who can contend with the Seahawks’ aggressive defensive backs, they might look at two 6-foot-5 prospects, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans or Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin.
Cosell differed with other draft evaluators in placing Benjamin slightly ahead of Evans.
“I thought he was pretty fluid for a big kid,” Cosell said of the 234-pound Benjamin. “He can turn his hips and adjust for the ball, something a lot of big guys don’t do.”
Mayock said the beauty of this draft is that there are prospects to suit every team’s offense. If a team wants a speedy receiver they can line up at a variety of positions, there’s Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks or LSU’s Odell Beckam. Cooks, who is from Stockton, said he is looking to run the 40-yard-dash in the 4.3-second range.
If a team wants a combination of both, it might consider Beckham’s LSU teammate, Jarvis Landry.
“He has great hands,” Cosell said. “He’s explosive with the ball in his hands and can play both outside and in the slot.”
The draft also is teeming with cornerbacks.
One of the 49ers’ longtime starters, Tarell Brown, will test the free-agent market next month. Another, Carlos Rogers, likely will be asked to take a pay cut, something he refused to do last season.
Rogers not only started on the outside at left cornerback, he moved inside to the increasingly important nickel cornerback position when opponents lined up three receivers.
And if the 49ers wanted a nickel option in the draft? Mayock, a former defensive back, said two undersize prospects stand out to him, TCU’s Jason Verrett and Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner.
“He’s an explosive, quick-twitch athlete,” Mayock said of Joyner, who played on one of the nation’s best secondaries last year. “He can play safety or nickel. He played mostly corner at Florida State and has some special-team ability also. I like him a lot.”
NFL SCOUTING COMBINE