San Francisco 49ers

On 49ers: Entering Year 6, Trent Baalke’s draft patterns are distinct

Trent Baalke struck out the last time he drafted a wide receiver in the first round. Will the 49ers general manager take another swing this year?
Trent Baalke struck out the last time he drafted a wide receiver in the first round. Will the 49ers general manager take another swing this year? The Associated Press

SANTA CLARA – Trent Baalke spoke to reporters for 35 minutes Friday during his annual – and league-mandated – predraft news conference. As always, the 49ers general manager had his cards sewn, stitched, glued and stapled to his vest

A sampling of how revealing he was in the session: “It’s our objective to get the best football players we can get.”

Still, this will be the sixth year Baalke has run the 49ers’ draft. And some distinct patterns have emerged:

Baalke likes big players – His linemen and linebackers are tall and long-armed. Pass rushers with sub-34-inch arms – a condor-like wingspan – need not apply.

Baalke will tell you he learned this from his mentor, Bill Parcells. But it also comes from former 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan, who brought Baalke to San Francisco from Washington in 2005 and will be running Washington’s draft this year.

Ah, but Baalke is willing to make occasional exceptions as he did last year when he took linebacker Chris Borland, whose arms are a relatively stubby 291/4 inches, in the third round.

“For us, we knew what kind of football player he was,” Baalke said in February. “It was, do we want to make an exception?”

Baalke likes to jump around – He traded up in the first round in 2010 to draft offensive tackle Anthony Davis and he did so again in 2013 when he jumped 13 spots to take safety Eric Reid. Trader Trent wheeled and dealed six times – sometimes forward, sometimes back – during last year’s draft.

This year he’s in a bit of a no-man’s land with the 15th pick.

The elite players could be gone by that point, and the talent available might be similar to players still on the board at pick 25 or even 45. So Baalke might want to trade back.

Then again, he also has five players from last year’s draft who never played in 2014 because they were injured. They are de facto rookies this year. Those numbers could give him confidence to proceed in a dramatic way.

The bottom line: Baalke has nine picks entering the draft. The safe bet is that he won’t have nine draft picks when the draft is finished.

Baalke will gamble on players with character concerns – Davis, NaVorro Bowman, LaMichael James, Carlos Hyde and Aaron Lynch are among the prospects who had red flags beside their names before their drafts.

Baalke has said the team performs deep background checks on players. If they get a good feeling – like the team did with Lynch last year – they’ll pull the trigger.

The 49ers last month quickly and publicly eliminated themselves as suitors for Greg Hardy, who had been involved in a high-profile domestic assault case and later signed with the Dallas Cowboys.

The 49ers reportedly had a predraft visit this week with former Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who was accused in police reports last year of shoving a woman down some stairs. Green-Beckham never was arrested, though he was dismissed from the team following the incident. He previously had been arrested for two marijuana-related incidents.

Baalke would not say Friday whether he has removed Green-Beckham from his draft board.

A more likely target, at least in the first round, is cornerback Marcus Peters, who was kicked off his Washington team after run-ins with coaches. That’s reminiscent of the concerns surrounding Davis, who butted heads with his Rutgers coaches before the 49ers grabbed him with the 11th overall pick five years ago.

Baalke knows defensive players – A former outside linebacker at Bemidji State, he gets an “A” in that category. From Bowman to Aldon Smith to Borland – no one could have predicted he’d retire at 24 – to Lynch, Baalke has shown a knack for finding talent at every stage in the draft.

On offense? Yeesh. He might need to stay after class.

He came out of the gates well by drafting Davis and guard Mike Iupati, but no offensive player he’s picked since has even sniffed the Pro Bowl.

The 2012 draft, which began with two offensive players, is his low point. Receiver A.J. Jenkins (first round) and running back James (second round) are no longer with the 49ers, and Jenkins isn’t on an NFL roster.

Since he selected Jenkins, Baalke has shied from the position, preferring to acquire veterans – Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson and Torrey Smith – instead of developing young players.

Baalke had 12 picks last year in a draft celebrated for its depth at receiver, but he picked only one receiver, Bruce Ellington in the fourth round. This year’s draft is considered nearly as good for receivers.

With veterans Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson gone and Boldin, 34, entering the final year of his contract, Baalke needs to restock the position.

And to do that, he must face his weakness.

Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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