Brian Billick's thoughts for April 14
Billick examines the draft needs of the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams and looks at running backs Allen Bradford and DeMarco Murray.
San Francisco 49ers | St. Louis Rams Allen Bradford | DeMarco Murray
49ers have plenty of options
Of all the teams that made a change at head coach, San Francisco might be the most talented.
That talent led many to pick the 49ers to not only win the NFC West but to go deep into the playoffs. As is usual, the lack of quality at quarterback submarined what appeared to be a great year.
This is obviously priority one for the 49ers. New coach Jim Harbaugh says he likes what he sees in the 49ers' 2005 first overall pick Alex Smith. That may be tested if either Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert fall to them at No. 7 in the upcoming NFL draft.
The Niners have 10 picks and if last year is any indication, they will use them well. Last year's draft saw San Francisco solidify its offensive line with tackle Anthony Davis and guard Mike Iupati. The 49ers also got depth at linebacker with third-round pick NaVorro Bowman. Additionally, second-round selection Taylor Mays has proven to be as much an enigma in the pros as he was at USC.
New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio comes out of the Dom Capers school of defense and may be looking for a rush end or outside linebacker modeled after Clay Matthews.
Running back Frank Gore will return from injury but this is a position the 49ers might consider looking at, albeit not with the first-round pick.
The 49ers have drawn a tough task with having to take on the NFC East and AFC North along with fast-improving Tampa Bay and Detroit.
Rams need help at wide receiver
Normally, 7-9 is not viewed as a great year, but when you have not been above .500 since 2003 and the winner of your division is also 7-9, you can feel pretty good about yourself if you are the St. Louis Rams. God bless the NFC West.
In fact, the last time the Rams were in the playoffs was in 2004 when they went 8-8 and finished second in the division to Seattle, only to go on the road and beat the Seahawks in the wild-card round. The Rams lost to the Atlanta Falcons the next week.
Coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney can feel good about the direction they have the Rams headed. Last year's first two rounds yielded a franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford and a starting left tackle in Rodger Saffold.
The Rams still have a long way to go but Nos. 1 and 1-A are at wide receiver and defensive line. With the injury to Mark Clayton, the Rams starting wide receivers were a sixth-round draft choice they got from Philly and an undrafted free agent who has bounced around the NFC East before landing in St Louis. Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola are great stories but the Rams have to upgrade the position and give Bradford and Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson something to work with.
The Rams have drafted four defensive linemen in the first 15 picks this decade and don’t have a great deal to show for it. Only Chris Long remain,s and the Rams may consider taking one with the 14th pick of the draft.
With the loss of O.J. Atogwe, they will look to solidify the safety position as well — but likely in the second or third round. The first round is too rich for a safety in this draft class.
Whomever the Rams take, they are going to need them to play well early. The Rams schedule includes the NFC East, AFC North as well as the last two winners of the Super Bowl, New Orleans and Green Bay.
Bradford's physical style a plus
Allen Bradford is a bigger back who had 110 attempts for 794 yards his redshirt senior year at USC. That 7.2 yards per carry is very intriguing, but you wonder why he was never able to take over the full-time starting role.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Bradford ran a 4.58 40-yard dash which was an excellent time for weighing in at 242 pounds. But I would have liked to see a more explosive vertical jump than the 29 inches he posted.
On tape, he is a patient runner with deceptive speed and quickness. I really like the way he keeps his feet churning after contact and runs through tackles. With that physicality, he is hardly brought down with just an arm tackle. He doesn't have elite breakaway speed once he is the open field, but he will fight for the tough yardage and get hard earned first downs.
One thing he will want to prove to NFL staffs is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and have some presence in the passing game. Bradford had only 14 career receptions during his time at USC, and with the pass friendly systems of the NFL, he will want to prove he has that skill set in order to be an every-down back.
The more I evaluate Bradford, the more the comparison to LeGarrette Blount comes to mind. Blount had a breakout season for the Tampa Bay Bucs, and I think Bradford can provide that same type of physical running style to his future team. I look for him to be selected in the late third to mid-fourth round.
Murray can aid passing attack
Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray is drawing some comparisons to Adrian Peterson and I don't think that is fair to either player. Really, the only thing these two have in common is their alma mater.
Murray checked in at the Combine measuring 5-foot-11 5/8 and 213 pounds. He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash and jumped a 34.5-inch vertical. Those numbers were surprising to me, because when you watch him on tape he doesn't seem to play that fast or that explosive.
At the Senior Bowl, he wasn't as elusive in space, and you saw his speed only once he got to the open field. He didn't get the edge as well as I thought he would, and didn't hit the hole as quickly as I would have liked to see. In pass protection drills, which is critical for the success of NFL running backs, he often dropped his head and eyes and lost his guy just before contact. That is understandable, considering he had an impressive 71 receptions as a senior at Oklahoma, suggesting that he rarely, if ever, was asked to stay in and protect the passer.
Those soft hands and ability to impact the passing game will be a huge asset, but he will need to firm up his technique in max protection situations.
One thing he did well at the Senior Bowl, he ran hard and physical almost as if to prove to NFL scouts he wasn't as injury prone as his college career may suggest.
I think Murray has value in the NFL as a third-down back with potential to share some first and second down carries later in his career, but to compare him to Adrian Peterson wouldn't even be close. I have him as my eighth best running back prospect.
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