Public speculation has run rampant over which marquee prospect the San Francisco 49ers should select at the No. 30 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Will it be the tight end phenom, Coby Fleener of Stanford? Or Georgia Tech’s wide receiver Stephen Hill? Perhaps center/guard Peter Konz from Wisconsin?
Will Trent Baalke trade up for a franchise guard in Stanford’s David DeCastro or Georgia’s Cordy Glenn?
Should the GM trade out of the first round and draft guards Kevin Zeitler of Wisconsin or Amini Silatolu of Midwestern State?
The questions and possibilities abound.
But what about the potential draftees in rounds five through seven, the ones not as skilled or renowned but still valuable to an NFL franchise?
This article seeks to address that question by identifying four late-round prospects that Trent Baalke and the 49ers should target in the 2012 NFL draft.
Miles Burris, OLB, San Diego State (Round 5-6)
- Courtesy of NewNFLDraft.com
Sometimes all you need to do is a little gymnastics to garner the attention of scouts.
A backflip, to be specific.
While scouts were less than enthused about Burris’ acrobatic performance, they did recognize his speed and explosive abilities. He’s a versatile athlete that can man both the inside and outside linebacker positions. He runs hard, pursues hard and most especially finishes hard with crushing tackles that display his formidable mean-streak.
But don’t let that mean-streak cloud your judgment: Burris is an exceptionally instinctive player with high football intelligence. He uses those smarts to diagnose underneath routes and take proper angles towards ball-carriers.
His President’s Award for High Academic Achievement and two Scholar Athlete Awards also point to his intelligence—and dedication and hard work for that matter.
The 6’2’’, 246-pound Burris is still susceptible to play-action and isn’t the best at taking on blocks from offensive linemen.
Even though he wont qualify for a starting role in the 49ers’ stacked linebacker corps, he will excel on special teams and even offer his services as a situational edge rusher.
Baalke and Jim Harbaugh appreciate that kind of hard-nosed versatility.
Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M (Rounds 5-6)
Fuller might be just the man for the job—as a wide receiver in Harbaugh’s West Coast offense, that is.
Despite a poor senior campaign that has dropped his draft-status precipitously (compared to his status post-junior season), Fuller is an NFL receiver in the making.
Just take a gander at his physical traits: 6’4’’, 223 pounds with nearly 40’’ arms and enormous 9.7’’ hands. He’s a legitimate deep-threat and run-blocker with that physicality, but also an underrated route-runner.
Fuller does lack an explosive first step and pull-away speed, along with having an inability to consistently separate from opposing defensive backs. Drops can be an issue as well.
However, he runs crisp, balanced routes for such a big body and uses that body effectively to shield defenders when coming back for the ball. This skill set would enable Alex Smith to throw a few more jump-balls instead of just tossing it to the sideline.
The 49ers should take a serious look at a former potential top 50 pick just a year ago—but this time in perhaps the final round of the draft. As a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Red and Gold, his father would be proud if his son continued the family’s football lineage with this franchise.
Kelcie McCray, SS, Arkansas State (Rounds 6-7)
- Courtesy of Scout.com
It is widely known that the 49ers seek depth for the safety position. Selecting Kelcie McCray in one of the two final rounds would satisfy that need.
He possesses the prototypical size (6’2’’, 202 pounds), but his long arms and nearly elite top-end speed are his more valuable physical assets.
His route-recognition and cover skills are above average, allowing him to avoid play-action fakes and operate proficiently in both man- and zone-coverage schemes.
On the negative side, McCray is an average to below-average run-defender. Wes Bunting of the National Football Post even went as far to say that McCray is passive versus the run game.
I, however, do not see it that way. Despite some deficiencies in wrapping up ball-carriers, McCray is a hard-working and adequate enough tackler. His abilities in coverage are top-notch for such a late-round draft prospect as well. Playing quarterback in high school help him in read that position.
This is an athletic, fluid safety that could sit behind Donte Whitner and learn the nuances of this position. He’d also benefit from playing with Colin Jones (drafted as a SS and recently converted to WR) on special teams.
McCray would be a great pick at the end of the draft.
Jeff Demps, RB, Florida (Round 7)
- Courtesy of Zimbio.com
Let me quell any potential outrage by indicating that I’m fully cognizant of Demps’ predilections towards a professional career in track.
With that said, let me throw out the more pertinent fact regarding the ex-Florida Gator: absurdly fast home-run threat every time he touches the football.
As a Gator fan myself, I’ve bore ample witness to this rare type of athlete emerging from this system. Percy Harvin had an exceptional career at Florida and is now a dynamic, proven weapon for the Minnesota Vikings.
Chris Rainey followed in Harvin’s wake, posting ridiculous all around numbers s a running back, receiver and special teamer—both as a returner and as the Florida record-holder with six career blocked punts. He projects as a fourth-round prospect.
Jeff Demps, for his part, is somewhat of a poor-man’s version of the two previously mentioned. Except for his world-class speed—speed that translates to the football field.
He’d easily be one of, if not the fastest player in the NFL and would make defenders look just plain silly as an outside perimeter runner and slot receiver. He has a tendency of making himself invisible at 5’8’’ and 184 pounds, and displays incredible toughness and competitiveness for his small stature.
Demps possesses good vision and instincts, meaning that he doesn’t rely solely on his blazing speed when attacking opposing defenses on the ground. Put him in space—whether as a runner, receiver or on special teams—and watch the homeruns fly.
If Harbaugh can convince him to delay his track career for even just a few years worth of NFL playing time, the 49ers will strike gold in the seventh round with this football contraband.