49ers head coach Chip Kelly did not travel far to watch the pro days of college prospects. In fact, he never stepped in a plane.
49ers general manager Trent Baalke attended just one pro day, as he squeezed in a visit to the University of Minnesota during a trip to the state where he owns a house on one of the 10,000 or so lakes.
The 49ers own the No. 7 overall pick in the draft in late-April. One of the quarterback prospects, North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, held his pro day on Thursday with neither Kelly nor Baalke in attendance. Scout Bob Morris was seen on TV at the workout in Fargo, North Dakota.
This week at the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, Kelly and Baalke did not rule out possibility the 49ers could select a quarterback with the No. 7 overall pick. But, after all, there are six teams that are scheduled to pick in front of them that will ultimately determine their pick.
“You’re always going to take the best player available,” Kelly said when CSNBayArea.com asked him about the possibility of selecting a quarterback in the first round.
“You can go through a lot of mental gymnastics trying to figure out who’s going to be there at seven. But the biggest thing is to target seven guys, so at least one of the seven is available for you. We feel there’s enough talent there that whoever is available at seven, we’re going to get a good football player, regardless of position. When you start reaching, that’s when you get in trouble.”
Said Baalke: “There’s no position that’s ruled out at No. 7. And whether we stay at seven, there’s a possibility we move up. There’s a possibility we move back. This draft is going to have to have some fluidity to it, in terms of willingness to move in every round.”
Kelly said the 49ers have not finalized the top seven prospects on their board. The 49ers have set up 27 of their allowed 30 pre-draft visits, Baalke said. And while Baalke has appeared at only one pro day, he held a private workout Thursday with Clemson pass-rusher Shaq Lawson, Matt Miller of Bleacher Report reported.
Baalke was able to make a stop to see Lawson on his way back to the Bay Area from Florida. The trip fit nicely into Baalke schedule. He said he does not attend many pro days because he can find a better use of his time.
“The film now allows you to see the stuff pretty clearly,” Baalke said. “I can get a lot more done from my office than I can sitting in an airplane flying all over the country. That’s what we have scouts for. We’ve sent our coaching staff out to more workouts this year than normal. So we’ve gotten great coverage from people that we obviously trust. They’re in those positions for a reason. I feel good about the prep where we are right now, knowing we have another month to make a push to the finish line.”
Baalke said the 49ers have stacked approximately 80-percent of their draft board.
Wentz and Cal’s Jared Goff are players who could be options at No. 2 for the Cleveland Browns, even after they signed former Washington quarterback Robert Griffin on Thursday. The 49ers are a potential landing spot for a quarterback, as well. Kelly only went to the local pro days at San Jose State, Stanford and Cal.
“I have not seen Wentz in person,” Kelly said. “I saw him at the combine. And I just went to Jared’s pro day on Friday. I’m impressed with both of those guys. I think they’re really talented. I think there are a couple of really talented quarterbacks. That will be the interesting thing in this draft -- when do quarterbacks go? Are people going to trade to get quarterbacks? That’s probably the intriguing storyline of this draft.”
The top of the draft is not as clear-cut as it was a year ago, Kelly said. After all, the consensus top-two picks a year ago were quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who were back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners.
“It’s a different group of quarterbacks,” Kelly said. “There’s one kid who’s coming out of 1-AA (Wentz) that’s extremely talented and got an unbelievable skillset. But people are still trying to figure him out in terms of what exactly he is.”
Kelly appears to have a better read on Goff, a three-year starter in the Pac-12 Conference before declaring for the draft. Kelly was on the field last week to see Goff paced through his pro day.
“When you get a chance to see Jared in person, he can really throw the football,” Kelly said.
Wentz appeared to have a stronger pro day on than Goff. But, surprisingly, Goff seemed to navigate the challenge of throwing a wet football better than Wentz. At the NFL scouting combine, Wentz’s hands measured at 10 inches, while Goff was just 9 inches.
The biggest question to surface about Goff, seemingly, is the surface area his right hand can grip on the football.
Kelly said, unequivocally, that hand size does matter.
“I don’t think there’s one guy in the National Football League that will tell you that they don’t care about the hand size of a quarterback,” Kelly said. “I’m surprised the stories are out now. But that’s been a metric that they’ve studied for a really, really long time in this game. It’s not the end-all be-all. Obviously, you have to grip a football, so the bigger your hand is, the better off it is. The smaller it is, the less part of the ball you can grab. And when you play in inclement weather, it helps to have big hands as opposed to small hands.”