49ers Top 5 needs
1. Offensive line: The 49ers have their starting five, but their depth is woefully thin. After the starting five, the 49ers' backups are Tony Wragge, Damane Duckett, Qasim Mitchell and Jeb Terry.
Injuries are so prevalent on the offensive line, it's always a good idea to have a starter or two (think Adam Snyder and David Baas in previous seasons) stashed away on the sideline. The 49ers must find someone capable to stepping in at right tackle, as Jonas Jennings has yet to make it through a 16-game season.
The 49ers might take an offensive lineman at No. 29. They might take one at 39. If the first two rounds come and go and the 49ers still haven't selected a lineman, there is no need to panic. GM Scot McCloughan said he expects quality offensive linemen to be available in the first four rounds.
This is viewed as one of the deepest drafts for offensive linemen in a long, long time. In 2005, the 49ers invested a pick late in the third round to take Adam Snyder. If they take a lineman in the third round and another with the eighth pick of the fourth round, they could accumulate some pretty good depth.
2. Linebacker: Whether it's someone to rush the passer from the outside or an inside player to line up next to Patrick Willis, the 49ers could add a linebacker or two to increase the competition for starting jobs.
In my first mock draft this week, I chose Quentin Groves of Auburn at No. 29. Some of that was based on the players who were already chosen.
The 49ers should take Groves over just about any receiver on the board (more on that later). But if it came down to Groves, defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer or offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus, who do you choose?
Balmer and Cherilus are certainly possibilities. The thing that would initially make me skeptical about Cherilus is how he struggled when he moved to left tackle last season. (That's based on every report I've read, as I have only watched a few highlights on the guy.) Offensive linemen drafted in the first round should be guys who could dominate at any position at the college level. Because it's not like he wouldn't be facing strong pass rushers on either side in the NFL.
The reason I like Groves is because he is a proven pass rusher. I've made the comment that the 49ers do not have anyone on their roster with 10-sack potential. I stand by that. Heck, Tully Banta-Cain and Parys Haralson combined for six sacks last season.
Manny Lawson returns from a knee injury, but he has not shown any indication of becoming a consistent pass-rush threat at this level. He is a strong-side outside linebacker who can rush the passer, on occasion, but seemed to settle in more as a complete 'backer before his injury.
Also, the 49ers do not know for sure who's going to be lining up alongside Willis on the inside at the "ted" position. There are some strong possibilities: Dan Connor, Jerod Mayo and Curtis Lofton. But as I've written before, I believe that's a position where you can find someone later in the draft to, in essence, do the same work you'll get out of a high draft pick.
3. Defensive line: The 49ers lost two 16-game starters with Bryant Young's announced retirement and Marques Douglas' signing with the Buccaneers.
The 49ers signed Justin Smith to play right defensive end, and they plan to move Isaac Sopoaga to left end. Still, they need another front-line player to add to the rotation.
It might be difficult for the 49ers to find a starter in the draft. Certainly, Smith will start. Sopoaga makes "starter's money," so he'll be in the lineup. The club liked the job nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin did - especially when he was healthy.
The 49ers lack a strong rotation of bench players. Teams can never have too many defensive linemen, that's why the 49ers should take one within in the first four rounds - possibly with one of their top two picks.
4. Wide receiver: Veterans Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson have been added to the mix. The 49ers have struggled in recent seasons finding young playmakers through the draft. Perhaps new offensive coordinator Mike Martz can uncover a gem in the middle rounds.
I don't believe the 49ers will use a first-round pick on a receiver because I don't think anyone selected at the bottom of the first round will be able to make an impact as a rookie.
Martz had success with a couple rookie receivers: Torry Holt and Calvin Johnson. But those are top-10 picks who are incredible talents. Nobody in this draft compares with those players.
Where Martz has had success with middle-round picks such as Shaun McDonald and Kevin Curtis. But, even then, he got little or no production from those players as rookies. McDonald caught 10 passes for 62 yards as a rookie. Curtis caught four balls for 13 yards. Last year, Curtis had 77 receptions for 1100 yards and six TDs with the Eagles. McDonald was 79-943-6 with the Lions.
There is at least a one-year lag time in finding a receiver in the draft who can develop into contributor.
Maybe Jason Hill will add something this season. Bruce is not a long-term answer, and Johnson has a one-year contract. So if the 49ers use a mid-round pick on a receiver, we probably won't know for a year or two whether it was a good pick.
5. Short-yardage back: This is not a need that requires an early-round selection. The 49ers have Frank Gore and DeShaun Foster, but they also need a bigger back who can be unleashed in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The 49ers have really struggled in converting on those situations.
They might grab one of these players in the sixth round. (This is where losing that fifth-round pick really hurts.) Perhaps, a guy like Jacob Hester (LSU) or Peyton Hillis (Arkansas) would be perfect, but they might not last that long. If the 49ers grab a player who fits this description, he'll be expected to be one of the club's core special-teams players, too.
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The Chiefs acknowledge they are speaking with teams about the possibility of a trade involving franchise player Jared Allen. He is free to negotiate with teams because he is not an exclusive franchise player. At the Super Bowl, Allen expressed an interest in the 49ers. However, the 49ers have not expressed interest in acquiring Allen to this point. After signing Justin Smith to a huge contract this offseason, it seems highly unlikely the 49ers would be willing to pay anyone -- including Allen -- more money to play the same position. Not only that, but the 49ers would probably also have to surrender a couple first-round picks to acquire Allen's rights.
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FACTS & FIGURES ON 2008 NFL DRAFT
73rd Annual National Football League Player Selection Meeting.
Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Avenue of the Americas, New York City (Between 50th and 51st Streets).
Noon PT, Saturday, April 26 (Rounds 1-2).
7 a.m. PT, Sunday, April 27 (Rounds 3-7).
The NFL Draft has been streamlined. On Saturday, the first two rounds will be conducted, rather than Rounds 1-3 as in the past. Clubs will be allowed 10 minutes to make their selection in Round 1, rather than 15 minutes as in the past. Each pick in Round 2 will be allocated seven minutes, rather than 10. The draft on Saturday will commence at 3:00 PM ET, rather than at noon.
On Sunday, Rounds 3-7 will be conducted, with each selection allocated five minutes. Sunday's draft will begin at 10:00 AM ET, rather than at 11:00 AM ET.
Representatives of the 32 NFL clubs by telephone communication with their general managers, coaches and scouts.
Seven Rounds - Rounds 1 through 2 on Saturday, April 26; and Rounds 3 through 7 on Sunday, April 27.
There will be 252 selections, including 32 compensatory choices that have been awarded to 15 teams which suffered a net loss of certain quality unrestricted free agents last year.
The following 32 compensatory choices will supplement the 220 regular choices in the seven rounds - Round 3: Washington, 33; Cincinnati, 34; Atlanta, 35; Baltimore, 36. Round 4: Philadelphia, 33; Buffalo, 34; Baltimore, 35; Tennessee, 36; Green Bay, 37. Round 5: San Diego, 33. Round 6: New York Giants, 33; Philadelphia, 34; Indianapolis, 35; Indianapolis, 36; Philadelphia, 37; Miami, 38; Indianapolis, 39; Baltimore, 40; Cincinnati, 41. Round 7: Baltimore, 33; Carolina, 34; Washington, 35; Chicago, 36; Cincinnati, 37; Miami, 38; Cincinnati, 39; Chicago, 40; Chicago, 41; Washington, 42; Carolina, 43; Buffalo, 44; St. Louis, 45.
Dallas (Nos. 22 and 28) has two selections in the first round. Cleveland and Indianapolis do not have first-round picks. All other teams have one first-round selection.
Round 1: 10 minutes each team. Round 2: Seven minutes each team. Rounds 3 through 7: Five minutes each team.
PLAYERS AT DRAFT:
The following players will be at the draft at Radio City on Saturday: LSU DT GLENN DORSEY, Ohio State DE VERNON GHOLSTON, Virginia DE CHRIS LONG, Michigan T JAKE LONG, Arkansas RB DARREN MC FADDEN and Boston College QB MATT RYAN.
NFL Network and ESPN will televise the draft on both days.
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