With 32 general managers in the NFL, it is hard to determine where their loyalties lie in terms of college conferences. Some tend toward big name conferences while others concentrate on a specific school. No matter what conference a prospect plays in, it is still football and the game film does not lie. However, with so many conferences to scout, which ones does GM Trent Baalke favor? Since taking over as VP of Player Personnel in 2010 to General Manager in 2011, I have followed every pick and came up with three conferences that I feel he leans towards, and they are, the SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten.
The SEC is loaded with talent and is widely considered the best conference in all of football, and how can you argue? They have powerhouses Alabama, LSU, and Florida at their disposal. In Baalke’s short tenure with the San Francisco 49ers, he has drafted three players from the SEC, including RB Anthony Dixon (Mississippi St.), OLB Aldon Smith (Missouri) and CB Chris Culliver (South Carolina). In addition, when he led the Washington Redskins draft in 2007, Baalke drafted S LaRon Landry (LSU) in the first-round.
Baalke seems to favor the SEC earlier in the draft, as they are safer picks, evident by drafting LaRon Landry (6th), Aldon Smith (7th), and Chris Culliver (80th) in the first three-rounds. In addition, the 49ers have a long history of building their defensive line around SEC talent, as four out of eight current defensive lineman are from SEC schools.
The Pac-12 is by far the most popular of the conferences, as a total of four players were selected in the last three drafts. Two of those players were drafted in the second-round, FS Taylor Mays (USC) and RB LaMichael James (Oregon). A coincidence here is that both players were borderline first-round picks, so if a Pac-12 players slides, Baalke will select the “best player available.” And if you thought that was interesting, here is some other food for thought. The other two remaining Pac-12 players selected were both wide receivers and both chosen in the sixth-round. Those players were WR Kyle Williams (Arizona) in 2010 and WR Ronald Johnson (USC) in 2011. Some Pac-12 wide receivers that may be available in the later rounds include Markus Wheaton (Oregon St.), Marquess Wilson (Washington St), and Dan Buckner (Arizona).
The surprising of the three conferences is the Big Ten. It is by far the weakest conference of the three, and yet some of the 49ers best players come out of this conference, including All-Pro ILB NaVorro Bowman (Penn State). However, they do make the Big Ten a high priority as the 49ers reached for WR A.J. Jenkins (Illinois) last year, a player that has yet to live up to expectations. In all, the 49ers currently have 11 players that played in the Big Ten, which is the most of any conference, a sign they value Big Ten talent. Some Big Ten prospects the 49ers may target include DE William Gholston, DT Kawaan Short, CB Micah Hyde, and CB Johnny Adams.
With the NFL combine already in play, look for some of these prospects to shine, as some of them may be on the 49ers watch list.