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A stopwatch and tape measure are fine, but they fail to determine a wide receiver’s functional speed and height.
The 49ers have spent a good portion of the draft process evaluating what figures to be a dynamic crop of wide receivers. A challenge that faces 49ers general manager Trent Baalke and the organization’s coaches and scouts is filling in the blanks of what might be missing with a glance at the objective numbers.
“When you look at the 40, I’ve seen guys run real fast and play real slow,” Baalke said. “And I’ve seen run slow and play fast. That’s why to me the film doesn’t lie.
“Jerry Rice is a great example. Jerry Rice did not have a great 40 time. But his play speed . . . how many times did people ever see him caught, run down? He played fast. Hats off to the decision-makers at that time that saw through that and were still willing to step out there, especially for a small-school guy, because that’s a dilemma. When you’re in that seat, making decisions, it can create some real back and forth at decision time.”
And the same goes with a player’s height. Anquan Boldin was measured at 6-foot 5/8 at the 2003 NFL Scouting Combine. He ran a pedestrian 4.72 seconds in the 40-yard dash. While he has never been known for his speed, it’s clear he plays bigger than his size indicates.
Baalke pointed to one player in this draft and one proven commodity to make a point. Brandin Cooks (Oregon State) measured at 5-9 ¾ and is considered a first-round draft pick. Smith was measured at 5-9 before the 2001 draft. Smith has rolled up 12,197 yards receiving in 13 NFL seasons.
“There’s so much uniqueness to each individual,” Baalke said. “What are their strengths and weaknesses? Brandin Cooks is vertically challenged. Now you’ve got to determine does he play 5-9 or does he play 6-foot? Because Steve Smith was 5-9, but he played 6-1. Right?
“There are good receivers that play small. There are 6-1 guys that play 5-foot-10. Can they go get the ball, play the ball? There are so many things that factor into it. Then you try to get them to marry into your system. Systems matter. Some people maybe don’t agree, but I’m a firm believer systems matter. That’s why our players tend to look similar at positions. There’s a reason for that.”