The San Francisco 49ers hold the seventh overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The roster is full of holes that will need to be addressed. Could Ohio State tackle Taylor Decker be the 49ers’ Round 1 Dark-horse Candidate?
The 2016 NFL Draft is just a week and a half away, meaning most of what is reported now is posturing from teams. Nobody is anxious to show their hand early. As fans, we’re left to sift through report after report of who is going where, at what time and with whom.
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The needs of the 49ers have been well-documented. The instability at quarterback, inability to block for whoever is taking the snap and the ineffective attempts to disrupt the other team’s passer headline a list that reflects a young and inexperienced, if not poor and deflating, roster.
San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke will enter the draft with 12 picks to make over three days. He’s tasked with quickly refitting this roster to suit new head coach Chip Kelly and the system he’ll prefer to run. The casual approach is to say that Kelly has a finesse, gimmicky offense that wants to utilize speed against the defense.
Only some of that is correct.
Yes, Kelly would prefer to have speed on the edge to attack defenses at all levels. But he is also willing to line up and run power right into the teeth of a defense. The San Francisco 49ers first overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft will be a good indication of how Baalke and Kelly believe they can combine current pieces with rookies to build an effective roster.
If Baalke and Kelly decide that they’d like to address the trenches with their first pick, Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker is a dark-horse candidate.
The 49ers need to rebuild the core of the team that was strongest during the Super Bowl run just a few years ago. With one of the best offensive lines in football, the 2012 49ers routinely wore down opponents on the way to an 11-4-1 regular season record.
Although the team drafted Trent Brown last year, expecting him to suddenly become a dominant right tackle is bold. Brown was impressive during stints of playing time last year, but he’s far from a sure thing. As with any position on the team, competition is never a bad thing.
Former right tackle Anthony Davis has guaranteed his comeback, but the process remains stagnant for now. The 49ers can’t operate under the assumption he will be available in 2016. He may come back in the same form he left, but that’s an awful lot of hoping.
In fact, the right tackle position itself is perhaps the clearest example of what I call the “Anthony Davis Conundrum“. Essentially, the team has a position with potential players but the expectations are largely hinging on the hope that something swings in the 49ers favor.
Anthony Davis has made it clear he’s tired of dealing with Baalke. Well, Baalke may be just as tired.
The offensive tackles in this draft class take a tremendous drop after the top five or so. A team that is looking for a tackle, but perhaps not in the first two rounds, might be interested in Anthony Davis. Baalke is known for his willingness to make trades throughout the draft and Davis is an extra piece to do so.
Davis wouldn’t be worth what he was before briefly retiring. But he is an experienced tackle who, at his best, was an excellent starter. He’s still young–just 26 years old–and he is anxious to play after taking a year off. Teams will make a call to see how interested the 49ers are in unloading Davis, they may have already been doing so.
If the 49ers are able to trade Davis, they’ll need to draft at least one offensive tackle to compete for the starting right tackle job. Even if sophomore Trent Brown wins, he hasn’t earned the job simply based on play last year.
Decker is a three-year starter from Ohio State University. He’s got great size at 6’7″ and 310 pounds, and he has the skill set to be productive in a zone-blocking scheme or a power-run scheme. The versatility Decker offers off the bat is a major plus in his evaluation.
Decker has played left tackle for the Buckeyes and would likely need to switch to the other side as a rookie for the 49ers. 49ers left tackle Joe Staley is still one of the best in the league and could play for another few years at a high level. Decker would be given the opportunity to win the right tackle job and be in line for left tackle when Staley is ready to move on.
On the field, Decker shows incredibly natural footwork and balance in his kick-slides. When he is faced with speed, he does well to mirror movement and stay light as defenders work laterally. He is patient in pass protection and has a knack for timing his punch to catch defenders off balance.
Decker has the athleticism to line up across anybody in the league and combat the things that they do well. He can move comfortably against speed rushers and he has the hips and leg strength to drop his anchor against power rushers attacking either shoulder.
The 49ers have lost some of the nastiness that they had on the offensive line in recent years. Decker would bring some of that along with him as well.
Decker would join the 49ers with few glaring weaknesses in his game. If anything, he simply needs time and coaching to develop his skills and refine his technique. Decker’s height and strength are a positive trait, but they occasionally limit his technical performance.
Pad height causes Decker to straighten up and, although he has incredible strength in his upper and lower body, he’s still building the mid-section strength to recover against leverage. That’s not to say that Decker is whipped easily, but that he makes himself easier to beat. Even with poor pad height, Decker managed to easily handle opponents. Coaches will work quickly to instill consistent technique in Decker, and they might not have to do much altering when he shows up.
LeCharles Bentley, owner and operator of OLinePerformance and LBOlineDesign, has been training Decker for the last few months in preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine and NFL Draft process. Bentley recently spoke with David Fucillo of NinersNation about his products and his approach to offensive line training that relates to the current NFL landscape.
Bentley is designing offensive line equipment that is more applicable to the skills and techniques necessary to compete in the NFL. One of his first customers was the 49ers, thanks to a connection through former-49er Alex Boone.
Boone was one of Bentley’s first clients and the two have had a close relationship throughout Boone’s time in the league. In fact, he has credited his development to the help he received from Bentley. 49ers fans saw how quickly Boone became an above-average starter. Bentley is now working with Decker in the same manner.
So, if the 49ers are interested in Decker, what will the NFL Draft look like?
We already mentioned the possibility of trading Anthony Davis to a team looking for a tackle. Davis’ value is slightly muddied because of his time off, but he should be worth a mid-round pick. Additionally, the 49ers would not need to hold the seventh overall pick to have a chance at Decker.
The team could be interested in trading back, possibly with the Tennessee Titans, to hold a pick in the teens. Tennessee has an abundance of picks after swapping with the Los Angeles Rams. With the Rams trading up, presumably to take a quarterback, the 49ers might believe that their primary choice won’t make it to pick seven.
General manager Trent Baalke has proved he is willing to trade and, in this case, moving back to acquire more picks may be the second-best option for the team. If the 49ers are able to move back in the first round, they can stockpile more picks and still land a starting-caliber player like Decker.
Although the team likely won’t keep all 12 picks on the active roster, Baalke sees draft picks as currency and is consistently looking to package them together to move throughout rounds. The more picks the team has, the more ammo to use in trade negotiations.
According to the Walter Football NFL draft value chart, the difference between the 49ers and Titans picks are roughly 450 points, or the 45th pick in the NFL Draft. Ironically, the Titans now have both the 43rd and 45th picks in the 2016 NFL Draft. Trades aren’t always exactly what the value says they should be, but the Titans have the collateral to satisfy the 49ers demands.
If the 49ers are able to trade with the Titans, they’d hold three picks in the top 45 and can begin to rebuild the roster with quality rookies. Moving back, although not as exciting as picking a top-prospect, gives the 49ers options and flexibility throughout the draft.
That video from last June is an example of the effortless movement that Decker exhibits with his feet. His kick steps all generate power while gaining depth. He keeps his shoulders square and his hips underneath him. They’re just practice reps but they’re a good blueprint of what a team would be getting from the Buckeye captain.
Decker will likely be available with the 15th overall pick. If the 49ers were to select him, he would immediately challenge Brown for the starting right tackle spot. Brown has a year of experience under his belt but Decker is versatile, athletic and is training with an accomplished offensive line coach in Bentley.
Offensive tackle doesn’t jump off the page as the sexiest or most-pressing need for the 49ers when the quarterback situation is unsettled. However, the best picks are rarely the ones that make the most noise. Investing in a dominant offensive line is the first step in rectifying the consistent barrage that 49ers quarterbacks dealt with in 2015.
Decker is a name that hasn’t been mentioned in the top 10 for the 49ers, but he is a dark-horse candidate for the team to select in the 2016 NFL Draft. He brings a skill set that the team will love. He offers Baalke an opportunity to trade for more draft picks. And he immediately satisfies a need to correct the holes on this roster.
Fans won’t love it, but Decker could be the first choice the 49ers make in this month’s draft.