It’s a safe bet the T-rex is not 49ers general manager Trent Baalke’s favorite dinosaur.
Sure, it may have had razor-sharp teeth and a powerful tail, but it also had notoriously stubby arms. And if there’s one thing that’s been clear in the four years Baalke has run the 49ers’ draft, it’s that he prefers long arms.
Really long arms.
In 2011, he and coach Jim Harbaugh gushed over first-round pick Aldon Smith’s reach, which measures 353/8 inches from the top of his shoulder to the end of his middle finger. Smith, a 6-foot-4 outside linebacker, has a nearly 7-foot wingspan, one of the longest of any player in his draft class. The average arm length of the 109 college players at last month’s Senior Bowl – from kickers to offensive linemen – was a little more than 31 inches.
“I like long arms,” Baalke said Friday. “Last year’s draft should tell you that. Length’s important. It’s important in any sport.”
For someone who plays along the line of scrimmage like Smith, a big wingspan helps him keep his distance from blockers eager to grab his pads. He can swing his arms like cudgels to break away from pass protectors on his way to the quarterback. They allow him to occupy a larger area of the field when he drops into pass coverage. And a few extra inches also make it easier to snare ballcarriers trying to escape him.
“If you’re a 32-arm-length guy, you don’t make those (shoestring) tackles,” Baalke said of Smith in 2011. “If you’re a 36, you make them.”
Lanky offensive linemen can make early contact with an oncoming pass rusher. For wide receivers and tight ends, long arms give them a greater catching radius.
If prospects in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine have arms like fire hoses, they’ve touted it.
“God blessed me with some long arms,” said Terrance Mitchell, a 6-foot cornerback who played at Burbank High School and Oregon and will be measured officially today. “At the line (of scrimmage), I can reach out and get my hands on the receiver. Then also, it helps me on throws to the end zone or in the red zone, back-shoulder passes. My long arms can help me deflect the ball.”
Arm length has become a litmus test for would-be 49ers.
Receiver A.J. Jenkins, the team’s first-round pick in 2012, is just 6 feet tall but has 323/4-inch arms and such long fingers that his high school classmates called him “E.T.”
Last year’s top pick, 6-1 safety Eric Reid, has 335/8-inch arms, by far the longest of any safety in his class.
Reid was part of a 49ers theme last year.
Four of the 49ers’ 2013 draft picks – and two undrafted rookies who made the team in 2013 – had arms 34 inches or longer.
Why did the 49ers prefer tight end Vance McDonald over, say, tight end Zach Ertz, who played for Harbaugh at Stanford? Baalke never would reveal his rationale, but it’s notable that McDonald’s arms are 341/2 inches and Ertz’s are 313/4 inches, short for a 6-5 tight end.
This year, Wisconsin inside linebacker Chris Borland is getting all sorts of buzz after leading his team with 111 tackles and being named the Big Ten ConferenceDefensive Player of the Year. But with 287/8-inch arms, you have to wonder where he stands on the 49ers’ draft board.
You probably can scratch Wake Forest wideout Michael Campanaro off their list. His arms are just 285/8 inches long.
Baalke said he didn’t see a lot of long arms in this year’s draft class.
“It’s a trait that’s hard to find,” he said. “If you look at this year’s measurements, you’re not going to find a lot of players that are 34-plus (inch) arm length regardless of position. ... So it is a trait we certainly look at.”
However, two prospects at perhaps the 49ers’ neediest position stand out.
Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is 6-5 and 240 pounds, and his arms are 347/8 inches long. Texas A&M’s Mike Evans’ arms are even more impressive – 351/8 inches long, just shy of Smith’s.
Both players likely will be taken in the first round. The 49ers, who traded ahead to select Reid last year, likely would have to do the same for either Evans or Benjamin.
Whom do they prefer? You might call it an arms race.
49ERS’ 2013 ROOKIES
How the 49ers’ first-year players arms measured up (in inches):
• Safety Eric Reid: 335/8
• Defensive lineman Tank Carradine: 343/4
• Tight end Vance McDonald: 341/2
• Linebacker Corey Lemonier: 341/2
• Wide receiver Quinton Patton: 313/8
• Running back Marcus Lattimore: 321/2
• Defensive lineman Quinton Dial: 341/2
• Linebacker Nick Moody: 315/8
• Quarterback B.J. Daniels: 32
• Offensive lineman Carter Bykowski: 333/4
• Cornerback Marcus Cooper: 323/4
• Defensive lineman Lawrence Okoye*: 341/2
• Offensive lineman Luke Marquardt*: 341/2