49ers general manager Trent Baalke has often said he doesn’t draft for need. He sets his draft board and basically lets it tell him who to pick, choosing from among the highest ranked prospects remaining, regardless of position, rather than reaching to fill an immediate need.
“It was all about best player available,” Baalke said after the NFL draft was completed Saturday. “We went into this draft looking at certain criteria that we felt we needed to do. We wanted to stay big. We wanted to get faster. We wanted to get as much football intellect as we could at each position. We felt we addressed all that.”
Maybe that explains why he didn’t take a wide receiver until the fourth round, and that his choice was Georgia Tech’s DeAndre Smelter, who’s recovering from an ACL injury.
Maybe that explains why he used his top three picks on defense — Oregon tackle Arik Armstead, Samford safety Jaquiski Tartt and Virginia outside linebacker Eli Harold — even though San Francisco ranked fifth in total defense last year.
Baalke has had far more hits than whiffs since taking control of the 49ers’ draft in 2010, so he could turn out looking like a genius. That said, he made a few head-scratching choices this year, especially on Saturday, the final day of the daft.
He used his first of three fourth-round picks on Oklahoma tight end Blake Bell, who was a quarterback his first three college seasons. In the fifth round, Baalke drafted Clemson punter Bradley Pinion to compete with three-time Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee.
In the sixth round he finally drafted an offensive lineman but chose Boston College guard Ian Silberman, who wasn’t even invited to the Scouting Combine.
Baalke did land an every-back late in the fourth round, taking South Carolina’s Mike Davis, but he probably won’t see the field much this year. Using a first-round pick on Armstead made sense because starting defensive end Justin Smith is considering retirement, and the 49ers released defensive end Ray McDonald, another starter. Tartt will likely spend his rookie season as a reserve.
The Raiders appeared to have their second straight solid draft. Last year general manager Reggie McKenzie chose outside linebacker Khalil Mack with the fifth overall choice. This year he used the No. 4 overall choice for Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, who could emerge at the primary target in the pass game before long.
“You have to realize when you come into it, you can’t always fulfill every need that you maybe go into or every person on the wish list,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “But I thought, for the most part, we were disciplined in terms of staying with value and working the board from that standpoint.”
In the third round, McKenzie got Carr and the offense more help, taking Miami tight end Clive Walford, a player who can both catch and block. He drafted 6-foot-4, 323-pound guard Jon Feliciano out of Miami in the fourth round after trading down twice to acquire three extra picks.
It’s still unclear whether McKenzie landed the edge rushers he needed to help Oakland’s anemic pass rush, which finished tied for 30th with 22 sacks. The Raiders gambled a bit in the second round, taking Florida State defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., who had eight career sacks and battled weight issues in college. He has trimmed down to 277 pounds, which should help his quickness. He can play inside or outside.
Virginia defensive end Max Valles, a sixth-round pick, had a team-high nine sacks last year. He played only two seasons in college before entering the draft and is still raw.
McKenzie didn’t take a cornerback until the seventh round. He’s gambling that his trio of young corners — D.J. Hayden, T.J. Carrie and Keith McGill — stay healthy and play well this season at such a critical position.
Raiders Draft grades
Wide receiver Amari Cooper, Alabama: The first-rounder is NFL-ready and will be a primary target for quarterback Derek Carr next season. That said, the Raider need to run more and pass less. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams also was available, and he and linebacker Kahlil Mack could have been a solid base for the defense to build around in the future. Grade: A
Defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. Florida State: From weight to energy level, his college career was plagued by inconsistency. He brings versatility to the front line, where he can be used at any number of spots in the 4-3 scheme. Will he be a run-stopper, a pass-rusher or a bit of both? Coordinator Ken Norton will have a decision to make here. Grade: C+
Tight end Clive Walford, Miami (Fla): Some talent evaluators considered the third-rounder to be the best all-round player available at the position. His average speed doesn’t translate well in man coverage, but he catches most of what’s thrown in his direction. He improved as a blocker last season. Figures to split time with Mychal Rivera in his first season. Grade: B
Bottom line: General manager Reggie McKenzie needed to strike paydirt at the No. 4 pick, and when Cooper and Williams fell into his lap, he couldn’t miss. Linebackers Ben Heeney (Kansas) and Neiron Ball (Florida), defensive end Max Valles (Virginia), tackle Anthony Morris (Tennessee State), return specialist Andre Dubose (Florida) and cornerback Dexter McDonald (Kansas) were the picks in founds fourth through seven. The offense can’t help but improve next season, but the defense remains a work in progress. Overall grade: B+
— Paul Ladewski
49ers Draft Grades
Defensive end Arik Armstead, Oregon: While the Sacramento native made considerable strides last season, he remains something of a project at the next level. His elite size allows him to handle the man in front of him, but he doesn’t always finish the play. He must develop into a consistent pass-rusher to warrant his first-round status. The operative word is patience. Grade: C+
Safety Jaquiski Tartt, Samford: Because the second-round pick didn’t play against big time competition in the Southern Conference, the pro game could make for a difficult transition. He’s an aggressive hitter who has the potential to excel against the run, but his average speed can be a liability in pass coverage. His immediate impact figures to come on special teams. Grade: C
Linebacker Eli Harold, Virginia: He was projected to be off the board no later than the second round, but a perceived lack of toughness might have moved him down one. The pass-rush specialist could be on the field more than any other pick next season. He has the potential to become an effective rusher off the edge, especially if he can beef up and not lose agility. Grade: B
Bottom line: General manager Trent Baalke had more surprises than a case of Cracker Jack in the last two days. He got what he wanted — size and strength — but except for Harold perhaps, did he get enough bang for his bucks? He also ignored needs at cornerback and inside linebacker. Punter Bradley Pinion (Clemson) could replace Andy Lee and his $2-million salary, but the fifth-rounder might have been available later. Tight ends Blake Bell (Oklahoma) and Rory Anderson (South Carolina), guards Ian Silberman (Boston College) and Trenton Brown (Florida), wide receiver DeAndre Smelter (Clemson) and running back Mike Davis (South Carolina) rounded out the last four rounds. Overall grade: C-
— Paul Ladewski