Jim Harbaugh doesn't like comparing players because one or both of them could be marginalized in the process.
But comparisons are fun.
We at 49ers.com got to thinking once NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah was asked (on page 7 here) about how the top tight end prospect available in next month's NFL Draft juxtaposes with the top tight end on Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers roster.
So, at the risk of giving too much credit to members of the deep 2014 draft class, we picked out seven 49ers offensive players and paired them with a soon-to-be rookie. Their strengths, according to NFL.com, are followed by our analysis.
QB Colin Kaepernick (Nevada, ‘11) | QB Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M)
Strengths: "Has very big hands and grips the ball well on the move. Dynamic athlete. Exceptional game-day competitor -- rises to the occasion. Has a passion for the game. Played on the biggest of stages and revels in having his back against the wall…Terrific scrambling ability…Houdini-like escapability (uses subtle, nifty sidestep moves) and improvisional ability in the pocket to pull a rabbit out of his hat and create magic... Carries the ball with a fearless confidence that he will find a way to create and usually gains positive yardage on broken plays when he appears trapped. Is mentally and physically tough -- will pop back up from hard collisions and respond to a challenge… Possesses playmaking ability to create on third downs and in critical situations to keep the sticks moving. "
Analysis: Forget size in this comparison. Kaepernick is nearly five inches taller than Manziel. The 49ers quarterback also tips the scales 23 pounds heavier than “Johnny Football.” Kaepernick has a unique body type and not many passers in the draft this year, or any year, will have his long-armed, long-legged traits. Manziel, however, can make plays with his arms and legs just like Kaepernick. Both players have passion for the game and they don’t back down from the big stage. Harbaugh has made plenty of favorable comments about both quarterbacks.
WR Anquan Boldin (Florida State, ‘03) | WR Jarvis Landry (LSU)
Landry’s strengths: "Good balance and body control. Savvy route runner -- uses stems and nods and works back to throws. Confident hands-catcher -- snatches throws off his frame. Extends and high points. Attacks throws and wins "50-50" balls. Makes some spectacular, acrobatic grabs. Good concentration and toughness over the middle. Does not go down without a fight after the catch. Willing blocker…Likes to compete and it shows."
Analysis: Strong hands and an even stronger competitive will? That sounds like Boldin all right. Landry was a team captain at LSU and although Boldin has been in San Francisco for one season, he was a valued presence for younger teammates. Both players shockingly ran 4.7 seconds in their respective 40-yard dash times. But something tells us that if you let them run with pads on, their 40 times would have been faster.
WR Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech, ’09) | WR Davante Adams (Fresno State)
Adams’ strengths: "Has a rangy build with good body length and big hands to palm the ball and make difficult one-handed grabs. Tracks and adjusts to the ball very well downfield. Extends outside his frame and plucks the ball out of the air. Natural hands-catcher. Terrific athlete with good leaping ability and anticipation to properly time jumps and highpoint the ball."
Analysis: College production is what makes this comparison ring true. NFL.com even called Adams a “poor man’s” Crabtree. Adams led the nation with 131 receptions and had 24 touchdown catches last season. In similar fashion, Crabtree caught 134 passes as a redshirt sophomore in 2007 and finished his two-year college career with 41 touchdown grabs.
RB Frank Gore (Miami, ’05) | RB Tre Mason (Auburn)
Mason’s strengths: "Low center of gravity and pad level. Quick out of the blocks. Good vision to pick and slide. Can jump-cut abruptly and change the angle of pursuit…Runs bigger than his size and finishes runs. Flashes good hands and creativity as a short receiver in limited exposure. Trustworthy in pass protection -- faces up rushers…Proved capable of handling a heavy workload and played big in big games against top competition."
Analysis: Mason isn’t being discussed as a first-round prospect much like Gore experienced coming out of college. Mason also didn’t deal with serious knee injuries in college, but he did produce in the most competitive conference in football. Mason stands 5 feet, 8 inches and 207 pounds. Gore is listed at 5 feet, 9 inches and 217 pounds. If Mason can be an every-down runner like Gore, and can handle his blitz pickup duties, he should be in for a successful career, first-round draft pick or not.
TE Vernon Davis (Maryland, ‘06) | TE Eric Ebron (North Carolina)
Ebron’s strengths: "Outstanding athletic ability and receiving skills. Threatens every level. Advanced route runner. Releases cleanly and accelerates into patterns. Pierces the seam and is a mismatch vs. man coverage -- regularly bested defensive backs… Makes one-handed grabs look routine. Big catch radius. Catches on the move and has an extra gear to pile up yards."
Analysis: Ebron’s been compared to Davis for much of the draft lead-up. The North Carolina tight end had 875 receiving yards as a junior, breaking Davis’ ACC record. Ebron has been praised for his receiving skills, something Davis greatly improved in the early stages of his 49ers career. Davis, a two-time Pro Bowler, is also respected for his in-line blocking skills. Ebron, considered by many to be the top tight end in this year’s draft, will have to develop his blocking prowess to truly match the comparisons to Davis. We’ll also have to wait and see if he’s a top-10 pick like Davis was in 2006.
OT Joe Staley (Central Michigan, ’07)| OT Taylor Lewan (Michigan)
Lewan’s strengths: "Accomplished, four-year starter vs. Big Ten competition. Clean kickslide in pass protection. Good knee bend, footwork and recovery quickness to handle outside speed and inside counters… Is quick climbing to the second level to reach linebackers. Plays with intensity and the game is very important to him. Tough and very durable."
Analysis: Staley’s athleticism is unmatched in the NFL. That’s why he’s made three consecutive Pro Bowls. Staley has two career receptions on eligible-receiver plays, and he’s always able to get on the perimeter to be a lead blocker for his quarterbacks. Lewan, too, has speed for a tackle. He posted a 4.87, 40-yard dash. It was the best time by an offensive lineman at this year’s combine. According to urban legend in the 49ers locker room, Staley ran his pro-day 40 in the 4.7s.
OT Anthony Davis (Rutgers, ‘10) | OT Greg Robinson (Auburn)
Robinson’s strengths: "Has long arms and excellent overall body mass. Outstanding run blocker with the strength and power to wash down half of the line. Creates a surge and generates power from his lower body… Excellent reach-blocking, chipping and releasing to the second level. Very good balance in his set and is quick to cut off the rush."
Analysis: At 6-foot-5, 332 pounds, Robinson has the size to be an elite tackle in the NFL. The same could be said for Davis, who is listed by the team at 6-foot-5, 323 pounds. Davis is known for his powerful blocks and athletic blocks on the second level. For a big tackle, Davis is never shy about throwing his body around at linebackers in the box. The book on Robinson points to the SEC prospect being willing to do the same.