In 2011, the 49ers proved how valuable the draft could be. They had five rookies who saw a significant amount of playing time. This goes to show that Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke have an uncanny eye for talent.
What was unique about last year's draft was that the 49ers seemed to ignore conventional wisdom and instead went with their own gut feelings. This is proven in their selections of Aldon Smith, who was considered to be too raw a player for a Top 10 selection, and Bruce Miller, whom they converted from defensive end to fullback.
The following slides will highlight 2012's sleeper picks who can take the 49ers from one-season-wonders to decade-long contenders.
Even though the 49ers' main issues are on offense, they would be wise to select Vinny Curry in the first round.
Curry's 2011 season was statistically better than Quinton Coples, Melvin Ingram and Nick Perry, who are first-rounders. Even after accumulating 168 total tackles, 23 sacks and seven forced fumbles since 2010, Curry is projected to be picked in the first half of the second round.
Like Aldon Smith last season, the 49ers will not be afraid to reach for Curry with the 30th pick. He will fill an immediate need, as outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks will likely be joining another club this offseason. Curry can immediately fill in on passing downs to compliment the formidable Smith brothers (Justin and Aldon).
Rushing the passer is his specialty, but he also has the ability to help stop the run. He is good in pursuit and uses his deceiving strength to push offensive linemen into the backfield.
Curry is not the most technically refined player, but he'll be able to make an impact as a rookie due to his relentless hustle. Like Aldon Smith, he has a variety of moves he uses to get to the quarterback.
The combination of Curry and Aldon Smith will improve an already dominant defense and ensure that the 49ers consistently lead the league in sacks.
Alameda Ta-Amu will be available in the second round. He will add much needed depth to the 49ers' defensive line.
The 2012 draft class has an abundance of top round talent at the defensive tackle position. Ta-Amu's stock is considerably low because scouts doubt that he has the talent to get to the quarterback.
Ta-Amu will be a perfect fit in San Francisco because he will only be asked to occupy blockers in running situations. Initially, the 6'3", 341-pounder will be assigned to give Isaac Sopoaga breathers before replacing him as the starter in the future.
If Ta-Amu can compliment his strong bull rush with a swim or spin move, he could draw comparisons to Haloti Ngata. At worst, he will be a bigger version of Sopoaga, who has been one of the most underappreciated 49ers since being drafted in 2004.
Trumaine Johnson will be drafted to add depth and height to the 49ers' secondary. He will not be expected to start right away, but he'll make immediate contributions on special teams.
Some scouts are calling him a borderline second-round pick. But because he came from a small school and lacks the natural abilities necessary to be second-round worthy, he will fall into the third round.
On tape, he looks similar to Dashon Goldson when he came out of college. Both are tall, lean and very athletic, but lack what it takes to make an impact as a rookie.
Johnson will need to improve his pass coverage. He does not have a very fluid backpedal, which results in receivers getting too big of a cushion. However, because of his height (6'2") and closing speed, he has the ability to get his long arms to the ball as it is arriving to the receiver.
Johnson will be a late bloomer like Goldson and will assert himself as a starter by his third season. In the meantime, he will be a regular on special teams. In college he returned kicks and blocked on the punt return unit.
If the 49ers are able to resign Carlos Rodgers to a two-to-three-year deal, it would allow Johnson time to develop. By the time Rodgers' contract is over, Johnson will be ready to enter the starting lineup.
Brian Quick will be selected between the third and fifth rounds depending on his 40-yard dash time. He has first-round talent but is overlooked because he played for a small school and lacks the speed to beat corners deep.
His stats are tainted because of the competition he played against. But catching 202 passes for 3,418 yards and 31 touchdowns in four seasons with the Mountaineers proves that he is a playmaker.
He is projected to be a red-zone threat. This is something the 49ers desperately need after Braylon Edwards did not live up to expectations.
However, Quick possesses the skills to be more than just a jump ball target. His big frame will make him the perfect fit to block corners in the run game. He also possesses the ability to turn short passes into long gains with his long-legged juke moves.
This offseason there will be a lot of big name free agent receivers for the 49ers to choose from (DeSean Jackson, Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston). If San Francisco can lure an All-Star receiver to line up with Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Quick, Alex Smith will have all the weapons he needs to take his game to next level.
Quick will be one of the biggest steals in the draft and has the potential to compete with Justin Blackmon, Alshon Jeffery and Michael Floyd as the best rookie receiver in 2012.
The 49ers' offensive line was very inconsistent in 2012. They gave up nine sacks to the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving yet played well both times they faced the New York Giants' dominant defensive line.
In the 2011 draft, the 49ers selected two offensive linemen on the last day of the draft (Daniel Kilgore and Michael Person). Both players impressed in a shortened offseason and promise to at least add reliable depth to the 49ers' offensive line in 2012.
Selecting Ryan Miller on the last day of the draft would give the 49ers another promising young offensive lineman.
Miller has impressive athleticism for his 6'7", 326-pound frame. Though he has an offensive tackle's body, he mostly played guard in college. His versatility will be crucial if the 49ers are not able to resign Adam Snyder, who is a free agent this offseason.
He needs to learn to utilize his long arms to keep defenders at a distance. Otherwise, Miller has promising potential. Harbaugh will be drawn to Miller because he plays to the whistle and is always looking to knock someone down.
The 49ers are fine with Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin and Anthony Davis for next season. They will need to bring in a veteran to fill in for Snyder if he is not resigned. Kilgore, Person and Miller will be future backups at worst, but they have enough talent to become NFL starters in the future.