The San Francisco 49ers traded up last year to land a player from LSU in the first round. The same plan could be unfolding this year.
Last year, the 49ers nabbed LSU free safety Eric Reid. This year, the object of their affection could be Tigers wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The Niners are "very interested" in Beckham, a source told The San Francisco Chronicle.
Beckham is considered a certain first-round pick, but how early he goes in the round is the question. While he is a first-rounder, he also is in the second tier of receivers, behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans, both of whom could go in the top 10. Beckham, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and USC's Marqise Lee are in the "race" to be the third receiver picked, and Beckham seemingly is the leader in that group.
The 49ers own the 30th pick, which is too late to get Beckham. But where do the 49ers have to be to be able to snag Beckham? While teams that pick in the early to mid-teens certainly would make room for Beckham, especially Pittsburgh at No. 15, most have bigger position issues than wide receiver. Plus, given the depth at receiver in this draft, those teams could figure they can grab a receiver in the second or third round who fits just as well. But that changes when you get to the New York Jets, who pick 18th. The Jets need to add a lot of talent to their receiving corps and almost certainly would be interested in Beckham.
The Baltimore Ravens pick 17th and are said to be willing to trade the pick; heck, the Ravens' official website posted a story Wednesday with this headline: "Ravens Already Discussing Draft Trades With Teams." (We'll pause here for a minute to let you remember who coaches the Ravens and 49ers.)
San Francisco has 11 picks in this draft, including six in the top 100; in short, the 49ers almost certainly could meet any asking price when it comes to draft picks. And Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome usually does good things with later-round picks.
Beckham (5-foot-11, 198 pounds) played in a legitimate passing offense for the first time as a junior in 2013 -- the Tigers' passing offense was (ahem) less-than-sophisticated until coordinator Cam Cameron arrived -- and saw his draft stock rise. It has continued to rise in the run-up to the draft. Beckham showed off his elusiveness on the field last fall and at February's NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash and looked good in the drills. He has the potential to develop into a legitimate go-to receiver in two or three seasons, and his ability to stretch the field isn't something the 49ers really have right now.
"What he can do in the passing game -- go up and get the football, run after the catch, can stretch the field vertically, and then the added bonus (is) he's an outstanding returner," NFL Media draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said on NFL Network's "Mock Draft Weekly" in early April.
Putting Beckham in the same lineup with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis would give quarterback Colin Kaepernick three intriguing passing targets and likely would improve the 49ers' offense as a whole. An offense that's even a smidgen better than last season's might be enough to get the 49ers back to the Super Bowl.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.