"What could have been" was Sunday's Super Bowl theme for San Francisco 49ers fans.
Imagination—our transportation away from reality—had many picturing the Niners becoming champions.
I mean, they could've beaten the Patriots.
The reality, however, is that the Niners were just a couple plays away from a Super Bowl appearance, their first since 1994.
Or a couple players away, depending on how you look at it.
The 49ers now face the arduous task of improving an already talented roster. Here's how they can do that in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Round 1: CB Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama
Most want a receiver here, but that will be taken care of in free agency and later rounds (ooh, foreshadowing). Even if Carlos Rogers stays, depth in the secondary is a must in the pass-happy NFL.
With Jenkins, they get a future shutdown corner able to step in and make an impact his rookie season. He's had his share of off-the-field issues, but seems to have matured.
If he slides this far, the 49ers will happily select the cornerback.
Also possible: WR Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers
Round 2: LB/DE Vinny Curry, Marshall
Should Ahmad Brooks leave, the team will need to replace him. Curry is capable of lining up at both linebacker and defensive end. He's athletic, strong and an all-around talent at the position.
Curry fits in nicely with the 49ers' modus operandi: stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback.
Also possible: DE Jared Crick, Nebraska
Round 3: WR Joe Adams, Arkansas
Finally, a receiver. You can now breathe a sigh of relief. This team needs speed at the receiver position to stretch the field and Adams has plenty to spare.
His 40-yard dash time has been clocked in the 4.3 range. He also has good hands and can contribute as a punt return man.
Adams impressed during Senior Bowl week, so the 49ers will be lucky to see him still available in the third round.
Also possible: CB Trumaine Johnson, Montana
Round 4: C Ben Jones, Georgia
Nothing sexy here, but necessary. The 49ers are known for using picks on the offensive line and will continue the trend with this selection. Jones is a second-round talent, but has been sliding of late.
Current starter Jonathan Goodwin won't be around forever and the time is now to train his eventual successor.
The young prospect is smart, strong and a good leader. Exactly what you need at the center position.
Also possible: G Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin
Round 5: RB Robert Turbin, Utah State
Who? The WAC Offensive Player of the Year rushed for 1,517 yards and 19 touchdowns while helping the Aggies reach their first bowl game since 1997. He's also a reliable receiver with four touchdown receptions on the season.
The running back is solidly built (5'10", 225 lbs.) and possesses a surprising burst for his size. Touchdown runs of 80 and 96 yards are evidence of that.
He's a future starter in the league and perfect complement to Kendall Hunter. That's who.
Also possible: WR Marvin Jones, California
Round 6: OT/G Tony Bergstrom, Utah
Bergstrom was a tackle in college (at an All-Pac-12 level), but has the versatility to play guard. With Chilo Rachal all but gone and Adam Snyder a free agent, the 49ers need depth here. They can promote from within, utilize the draft or do both.
The offensive line was a weak link for the team as they surrendered a league-high 44 sacks. Selecting Bergstrom here could be the help they need.
Also possible: S Blake Gideon, Texas
Round 7: DT Matt Conrath, Virginia
There is talent to be discovered in the final round. It worked last year with converted fullback Bruce Miller, and the 49ers hope to repeat.
Conrath is a big guy (6'7", 285 lbs.) with plenty of potential. Having Justin Smith as a mentor would be very valuable to his development. A couple years of grooming and he could become a late-round steal.
Also, his height is quite a weapon for batting down passes and blocking kicks—he blocked three his senior season.
Also possible: TE Rhett Ellison, USC
Don't forget, the 49ers will also look to make noise during free agency. The right moves may be exactly what San Francisco needs in order to lift a Lombardi Trophy in 2013.
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