General manager Trent Baalke certainly does not like to give away any secrets when it comes to his evaluation of draft prospects.
But Baalke has been upfront about his emphasis in the scouting process on a certain part of a player’s anatomy.
“I like long arms,” Baalke said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Last year’s draft should tell you that. Length’s important. It’s important in every sport.”
Perhaps the most notable selection of the 49ers’ draft last year was their decision to trade back in the second round instead of selecting Stanford tight end Zach Ertz. Then, the 49ers chose Rice tight end Vance McDonald later in the second round.
Ertz was measured at last year’s NFL Scouting Combine with the shortest arms of any tight end at 31 3/4 inches. McDonald had the second-longest arms of the tight ends at 34 3/8. The 49ers believe McDonald's long arms gives him a better opportunity to develop as a blocker, as well as giving him a better radius as a pass-catcher.
The 49ers selected three players who attended the Combine as defensive linemen who ranked among the Top 14 in arm length: Tank Carradine (34 ¾), Corey Lemonier (34 ¼) and Quinton Dial (34 ½).
In addition, Marcus Lattimore (32 ½) had the third-longest arms of the running backs, and safety Eric Reid (33 5/8) was fourth among all defensive backs.
Exhibit A for Baalke’s affinity for long-armed prospects is Aldon Smith, whom the 49ers chose with the No. 7 overall pick in 2011. While showing film of Smith to reporters in the weeks after the draft three years ago, Baalke commented several times about how the length of Smith’s arms enabled him to make more tackles and quickly get back on his feet after cut blocks.
“Aldon Smith (is a) great leverage player because you can’t get to him,” Baalke said last week. “He’s 36-inch arm length. All of the guys last year on the D-line were 34 or more. I think it’s an important trait. It’s a trait that’s hard to find.
“If you look at this this year’s measurements, you’re not going to find many players in this year’s draft that are 34-plus arm length regardless of position: O-line, D-line, linebacker, so it is a trait we certainly look at.”